Once the decision has been made to start working with 360° video, the first step is to choose a 360° video camera. This is not an obvious step as new devices with different characteristics are constantly coming onto the market. In this section, we present several features that are important when choosing a 360° video camera.
It goes without saying that the price of a 360° video camera can vary greatly from camera to camera. It is therefore advisable to determine a budget in advance for the 360° video camera and its accessories.
There is often confusion surrounding the meaning of resolution, such as that the resolution is the only thing that will determine the quality of your footage, but this is not entirely true. The resolution of the 360° camera is related to, and provides information about, the number of pixels the image contains. In the case of 360° cameras, this can be described more concretely as light sensors that capture light. Thus, there is ultimately one light sensor per pixel in your final image.
The metaphor of an old television or old monitor is an example that may help to understand this better, as in the past it was possible to actually see and even count the pixels on a monitor.
The number of pixels on a screen, determine the resolution. For example, if we talk about a resolution of 1280 x 1024, this means that the screen has 1280 pixels next to each other (horizontally) and 1024 pixels above each other (vertically). In total, therefore, there are 1,310,720 pixels in the image (1280 x 1024= 1,310,720).
This is important to know, because the greater the number of pixels, the more detailed the image can be. Think of graph paper, the more squares there are on the sheet, the more detailed you can draw. Or think of a puzzle, the more pieces, the more detail you can add to your puzzle.
In practice, resolutions are often expressed with an shortened name or label, simply because it is not convenient to keep talking about 1280 x 720 or 3840 x 2160. Therefore, we use the labels below, where you can also see that for resolutions larger than Full HD, reference is usually made to the resolution of the width:
- Standard Definition (SD): 720 x 576
- High Definition (HD): 1280 x 720
- Full HD: 1920 x 1080
- 2K Quad HD (QHD): 2560 x 1440
- 4K Ultra HD: 3840 x 2160
- 8K Ultra HD: 7680 x 4320
The amount of memory available to the 360° video camera determines how much footage can be stored. A 360° video camera can have a certain amount of memory in two ways: through a fixed amount of internal memory or through an external memory card placed in the camera. The advantage of a fixed amount of internal memory is that you no longer need to buy an additional memory card. On the other hand, this has the disadvantage that it is not possible to expand the fixed amount of memory. When the maximum memory capacity is reached, one can therefore no longer record footage until memory capacity is freed up.
The use of an external memory card, which is most common, offers the possibility to choose the amount of memory capacity yourself. Even when the maximum memory capacity is reached, one can simply replace it with another memory card. This allows the recording of the footage to continue, without the obligation to continuously free up memory capacity.
When purchasing a memory card, there are a number of things to take into account. First of all, check which type of memory card is suitable for your 360° video camera. In most cases, this will be the common micro SD. Then also look at the number of memory cards required for the 360° video camera, as this can vary from device to device. For example, the Samsung Gear360 camera only needs one memory card, while the Kandao Obsidian Go needs a separate memory card for each lens. Since this camera has six lenses, it requires six memory cards, as shown in the image below.
Now that it is clear which type and how many memory cards the 360° video camera needs, there is still a choice to be made in the wide range of memory cards. Here it is advisable to look at the maximum memory capacity of the 360° camera, the writing speed of the memory card and finally the reading speed of the memory card.
Before looking at the writing and reading speed of the memory card, it is advisable to check what the maximum memory capacity of the camera is. To quote the familiar example of the Samsung Gear360, for example, it has a maximum memory capacity of 200 GB. So, if one would use a memory card with a capacity of 256 GB, this would not work. So always choose a memory card smaller than or equal to the maximum memory capacity of the 360° video camera.
Then one can look at the writing and reading speed of the memory card. The writing speed refers to the speed at which the footage is transferred to the memory card. The reading speed provides information about the speed at which the material is viewed on the camera itself or how fast the camera can transfer the material to, for example, a computer. However, there is no unambiguous answer to the question of which speeds are the best. The required speed depends on several factors, such as the number of pixels, the type of footage, etc.
The most important aspect with a memory card, remains the memory capacity. A memory card with a slower write and read speed can still store the images and transfer them to, for example, a computer. Depending on the speed, this will only be faster or slower.
A battery is used to power the 360° video camera. Depending on the camera one buys, there will be a fixed built-in battery or replaceable battery. Which variant to choose depends mainly on the purpose of use. Choosing a camera with a replaceable battery, offers the possibility to provide yourself with extra batteries. When the battery is not charged or when it is empty after filming footage, it is possible to replace it with a spare battery.
Also keep in mind that battery life differs, just like with all traditional digital cameras. Therefore, it is advisable to always look at the suggested battery life, which is usually placed among the specifications of the 360° video camera. Here, information will be offered about the time the camera can record, with a fully charged battery. The example below corresponds to the ‘INSTA360 ONE X’ (https://www.insta360.com/product/insta360-onex).
Some 360° video cameras have a fixed maximum recording time. This varies from device to device, so be sure to check the specifications listed with the 360° video camera.
For example, a certain camera may have a maximum recording time of, for example, 25 minutes. When one wants to shoot 30 minutes, the camera will stop filming after the first 25 minutes. The camera must then be restarted to film the remaining 5 minutes.
Every video consists of a sequence of separate frames. Therefore, ‘Frames per second’ (FPS) refers to the number of frames per second recorded by the camera. This means that the frame rate will determine how smooth the footage will be. A higher frame rate is recommended when you want to film fast movements fluently, as the camera takes more frames per second and can therefore record the movements more fluently. Which frame rate is best depends on the purpose of use.
When talking about the dynamic range of a camera, this refers to the nuances between the dark and light parts of the image. The function of this dynamic range, is to ensure that nuances between these darkest and lightest parts become visible. Think for example of a landscape that is completely white because of the snow. If there is a black rabbit somewhere in the landscape, then one wants to be able to capture this as well. It is therefore that the dynamic range plays a role. If this is not high enough, perhaps a black spot will be visible, but it is not possible to determine whether this is a dog or a rabbit. When the dynamic range is sufficiently high and the camera is able to put clear nuances between the white and black, it will become clear that it is a rabbit and not a dog.
The best way to get an idea about the dynamic range of a camera, before buying it, is to watch online sample videos of the relevant 360° video camera.
Perhaps the most important question one should ask oneself is ‘What can the 360° video camera do and what not?’ Here we give an overview of the possibilities a 360° video camera can have. Please note that this is not an exhaustive overview. New developments happen every day, making it impossible to list all the possibilities. That is why we have chosen to display the most common ones. Which possibilities the 360° video camera should have depends on the personal use.
- 360°-photos: the possibility to take 360° photos.
- 360°-photo loops: The ability to set the 360° video camera to automatically take a 360° photo every desired number of seconds.
- 360°-videos: the ability to record 360° videos.
- Time lapse: the ability to record fewer images per unit of time, which ultimately results in an accelerated movie. For example, one can put the camera in front of a flower that is still closed and leave the camera until the flower is open. This allows you to play the opening of the flower in a video of, for example 3 minutes, instead of the full time the flower needed to open.
- Timer: the recording of the footage only starts after the set time. This has the advantage that you yourself for example, still have 10 seconds to disappear from the shot, if you do not want to be on the footage.
- Built-in microphone: there is already a microphone in the 360 ° video camera, which records the sound.
- Streaming: the ability to put the footage live online.
- Waterproof: the camera is waterproof, so it is not damaged internally by water.
- Stabilization: the camera has a built-in feature, which stabilizes the images. This ensures that there is no or limited vibration in the image, for example when wind hits the camera.
- No ‘stitching’ required: the ability to immediately get a 360°-video that has already been stitched by the camera itself or through the application. *Note: it is possible that this has a negative impact on the quality of the footage.
- Compatibility: not all 360° video cameras are compatible with MAC, Windows, Android and IOS. Always check this, to prevent the camera from not being compatible with the operating system of your computer or smartphone.
It is important that the camera is easy to use. That’s why a number of aspects are listed here, which can come in handy:
- Indicator lights: it is always useful to have a number of indicator lights, which indicate for example when the battery is low.
- Digital dashboard: a digital dashboard is often more convenient to use than just a number of push buttons. On a dashboard, for example, one can see in an eye fold which function is active.
- App: a number of 360° video cameras are supported by an application that can be downloaded on a smartphone. This has the great advantage that the images are visible live on the smartphone. On the 360° video camera itself, there is often no screen that shows the footage live. Through the application, one can therefore immediately see for example, whether the camera is in a good position. *Note: this often requires a wifi connection, so this is not always possible.
- Size of the 360° video camera: at first glance it does not seem important how big or small the 360° video camera is, but especially when often filming on the go, this can have an influence. Often one has more things to carry besides the 360° video camera, such as: an ordinary camera, a number of tripods, bags, etc. Therefore, a 360° video camera that fits easily in the hands is recommended in such situations.