As immersive content continues to evolve, consumer-centric 360 cameras are caught in the awkward stage of tech adolescence: They are prone to stitch-line breakouts, awkward user interfaces, and less than ideal resolution. But, while the image quality and usability still has some growing up to do, the immersive view certainly has the cool factor going for it. Because this type of camera is so nascent and there’s no standard in design, it can be hard to make heads of tails of all the options out there.
Like any new technology, a 360 camera is still in the early adopter phase, but the medium has potential — especially if virtual reality applications become mainstream. Here are our current favorite 360-degree cameras — and what you need to know before you buy.
Before you buy
If you buy an $ 800 360 camera and expect to see the same quality as an $ 800 DSLR, you’re going to be disappointed. Current specs employed by consumer 360 cameras can’t muster the kind of image quality you’d find in a traditional camera, considering it’s shooting and processing more information. Heck, your smartphone photos will look better. But for now, the point of this niche camera is to capture nearly everything around you, which you can then play back or share as an immersive experience.
Luckily, prices for some new 360 cameras has come down, like Samsung’s Gear 360. So, before you jump into the 360 bandwagon, there are two things you need to know.
4K isn’t the same as a regular 4K camera. In 360, all those pixels are wrapping all the way around a spherical field of view. That means you don’t get the I-can-see-your-pores-from-here detail of 4K in a standard 16:9 aspect ratio. Still, 4K is a good comparison point, since a 4K camera is going to offer better quality than a Full HD (1080p) 360 camera. (Some 360 cams now offer 5K resolution, as well.)
Most 360 footage comes from multiple cameras. A 360 camera is really more like multiple cameras. Most 360 cameras use two or more lenses and sensors to capture the video (the 360Fly is an exception), and then software (either in-camera or on a computer) stitches that data together. Expect to see some sort of stitching artifact or edge in the video, but newer cameras are getting better and better at a creating seamless picture.
At a glance
Ricoh Theta V
Why should you buy this? It’s a simple, capable camera that works alongside Ricoh software to capture and share 360 content with minimal hassle at a reasonable price.
Who’s it for? Anyone who wants a simple, compact solution to capturing 360 content
How much will it cost? $ 400
Why we picked the Ricoh Theta V:
When it comes to the best balance between cost, looks, and performance, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option than the Ricoh Theta V. At $ 400, it’s down the middle on the price spectrum and has a feature set and spec sheet that punches slightly above its weight class.
The Ricoh Theta V captures 14-megapixel stills and 4K video through its two lenses — one on either side of the remote-shaped device. Unlike other 360 cameras we’ve tested, the Theta V rarely, if ever, has noticeable stitch artifacts, aside from a little fringing and exposure difference where the two hemispheres merge together.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the Theta V is that there’s no option for external storage via MicroSD cards, meaning all images are stored directly onto the device’s internal memory, which is capped at a measly 19GB.
The accompanying app from Ricoh is one of the more thought-out companion apps and makes it easy to offload footage onto your mobile device so you have more room to shoot. There’s also a separate Theta+ app available that lets you edit your images on-the-fly before posting them to social media.
One thing worth noting is that the Theta V isn’t waterproof or rugged to any robust degree. If you plan on recording messier endeavors, you might want to consider the Garmin Virb 360, which we mention below.
Our full Ricoh Theta V review
The best 360 cam for social media
Why should you buy this? Reframe 360 video in post for smooth and fun fixed-frame output.
Who’s it for? Just about anyone.
How much will it cost? $ 499
Why we picked the Rylo:
While most 360 cameras are about letting viewers change perspective by panning and tilting during playback, the Rylo takes a different approach. It still records a spherical area like any other 360 cam, but it puts tools in the creator’s hands to reframe that content for traditional fixed-frame output. Using a revolutionary method of keyframes, you can instruct the view to pan and tilt in specific directions at specific times on the timeline and the software will carry out your instructions with perfect smoothness. It can even automatically track objects to keep your subject in frame at all times. This is all done from an expertly made mobile app that’s simply one of the best companion apps we’ve ever seen. When you share the final output, your viewers are treated to a polished fixed-frame video with professional looking camera moves that’s easily digestible on social media.
The camera also features some of the best image stabilization out there, and serves up a host of other options like picture-in-picture display of two angles simultaneously and a little planet mode. And, yes, you can still output the full 360-degree frame if you want to share an immersive video. With the optional protective case, the Rylo becomes a great action camera, as well — record everything around you, then go back and find the most interesting angles later.
At $ 500, the Rylo doesn’t come cheap, and if you’re just looking for normal 360 output it isn’t necessarily better than other options on this list. However, with its great app and superb editing features for fixed-frame output, we think it’s one of the most useful 360 cameras out there.
Our full Rylo review
Garmin Virb 360
The best heavy-duty 360 camera
Why should you buy this? Easy-to-use, durable 360 action camera that’s both full of features and low on those annoying stitch lines.
Who’s it for? Action junkies who want a 360 camera that can follow the action pretty much anywhere.
How much will it cost? $ 799
Why we picked the Garmin Virb 360:
Most 360 cameras we’ve tried are either lacking in usability or image quality, but the Garmin Virb 360 hits both marks and then tosses in some pretty sweet data overlays for action videos. While you’ll still notice some stitching lines on objects close to the camera (like whatever the camera is mounted to), the Virb 360 had the most seamless stitches we’ve seen yet. That’s thanks in part to two different stitching modes for near and far – so you will have to remember to switch modes when heading from the big outdoors to the inside of a small room. Resolution and detail is comparable with other 4K 360 cameras, but that nearly seamless stitching puts the Virb 360’s image and video quality a bit above the rest.
The Virb 360 is also easy to use, largely because Garmin made room for a small display. The companion smartphone app is still the best way to use the camera, but if you need to leave your smartphone on shore, you can use the camera’s controls to start and stop a video or take a picture — a nice feature considering the camera is rated to head down to 32 feet underwater.
In addition, Garmin added features that are just now coming into the action camera category, including voice controls. The Virb 360 includes image stabilization, with multiple steady modes that make a big difference in the final video. The Virb 360 includes a number of different built-in sensors, much like the Virb Ultra 30 action camera, that allows users to add overlays that share details like how fast you were going or even how high you jumped. Both the stabilization options and overlays are accessible in both the Garmin app and the desktop editor.
Between the almost stitch-free videos, easy use, rugged design, and extras like stabilization and action overlays, the Garmin Virb 360 is a serious performer. Live video is also supported, but it only works with iOS devices. At $ 799, the Virb 360 is overkill for users who don’t need the “action” features, but if you absolutely need the ruggedness and feature set, it’s a solid choice.
Our full Garmin Virb 360 review
Samsung Gear 360 (2017)
The best 360 camera for live-streaming
Why should you buy this? Easy live-streaming in 360, and it won’t break the bank
Who’s it for? Any consumer that wants to get started in 360 without paying big price tag
How much will it cost? $ 100
Why we picked the Samsung Gear 360
The Garmin Virb 360 is a great action camera, but $ 799 is probably overkill for simple 360 shots. The Samsung Gear 360 is an easy-to-use camera from the company that spearheaded the 360 movement and it offers excellent connectivity and simple live-streaming. But the best part? While Samsung still lists the Gear 360 as $ 229, it can be found online for under $ 100 — brand new.
The Gear 360 packs two lenses into a spherical body with a permanently attached stand that doubles as a handle. While the 2017 update maintains a similar design principle as the original model, it’s smaller, weighs 4.6 ounces, and is easier to hold. While it’s not designed to take a dip, it can withstand some dust and scratches.
A companion smartphone app pairs with the the Gear 360 seamlessly — a great improvement over the first version. The app is also more responsive, and is now compatible with select iPhones and Samsung Galaxy devices.
This second-generation camera also brings 4K resolution. The image quality isn’t the best, but it’s pretty decent considering the price point. Live streaming, however, isn’t available in 4K, but you can stream Full HD to both Facebook and YouTube.
Our full Samsung Gear 360 review
The best high-end 360 camera
Why should you buy this? Durable and powerful, the Fusion is the 360 cam of choice for professionals.
Who’s it for? Anyone who’s looking for a robust 360 camera with a collection of mobile and desktop apps to make the most of its images.
How much will it cost? $ 700
Why we picked the GoPro Fusion:
Considering the success of its action cameras, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that GoPro has one of the most complete 360 cameras on the market.
Looking at the outside, it’s clear GoPro took inspiration from its lineup of GoPro Hero5 and Hero6 action cams. The Fusion features a two-tone ruggedized design that’s waterproof down to 16 feet and is more than capable of holding up to a few falls here and there.
Like other 360 cameras, the GoPro Fusion features two cameras — one on either side of its cuboid shape — and captures 5.2K footage at 30fps. Unlike other dual-lens 360 cams, GoPro has opted to offset the two cameras on the device, a decision that’s said to minimize stitching artifacts. Interestingly, GoPro has also incorporated dual card slots, with each camera recording to a separate memory card. While not necessarily a negative due to GoPro’s seamless merging of files when offloaded from the camera, it does mean you’ll need to remember to insert and format two memory cards.
One of the most compelling features of the GoPro Fusion is what GoPro calls OverCapture. Built into the accompanying GoPro Fusion smartphone app, OverCapture is a tool that lets you pull out traditional 16:9 fixed-frame video from the 360-degree footage. While OverCapture and other features are available within the accompanying app, we noticed the results were far less impressive when processed on a mobile device compared to stitching and exporting the footage via GoPro’s desktop app. In our review of the GoPro Fusion, DT’s Daven Mathies said, “[On mobile] the stitching line remained clearly visible both during preview and after export, and was no better than other 360 cameras we’ve tested — and perhaps a bit worse than some.” When processed on a desktop computer, however, the result was “by far the cleanest stitching of any two-lens 360 camera we’ve seen.” Exporting from the desktop, however, takes considerably more time and may only be worth it for professional users.
The GoPro Fusion also includes a GPS, compass, accelerometer, 3D audio, and a gyroscope, making it one of the most feature-packed options on the market. Sure, its $ 700 price tag is a bit much, but if you’re serious about 360 video and want a robust-yet-simple solution to get the job done, the GoPro Fusion is what you need.
Our full GoPro Fusion review
The best for smartphone photographers
Why should you buy this? Shooting in 360 is as easy as shooting with a native camera app.
Who’s it for? Smartphone users who want to capture in 360.
How much will it cost? $ 299
Why we picked the Insta360 One
You don’t need a dedicated device to capture casual 360-degree content. The Insta360 One makes shooting 360 video from an iPhone and now even an Android quick work. The smartphone-attachable camera is easy to connect because there’s no Wi-Fi pairing process, thanks to a physical connection (the Lightning port for iPhones and a Micro USB or USB Type-C connector for Android phones via an adapter). Without waiting on wireless, the camera is also more responsive and easier to use. Once connected, the companion app automatically launches. Of course, if you want to capture 360 video without having it connected to your phone, you can do that as well, opening up a whole new world of possibilities.
The Insta360 One will shoot both the scrollable, virtual-reality-style 360 shots, as well as the little planet effect. Recording is as simple as plugging the device into the phone, navigating the app to select photo, video, or live broadcasting, and hitting the onscreen shuttler button. Like the Samsung Gear 360, the ability to live-stream straight to YouTube is a big perk — just make sure you have good signal before starting a broadcast.
Quality wise, the Insta360 One captures 24-megapixel stills and can record 4K video at 30fps — not too shabby for a device as small as it is. Overall, the Insta360 One offers an incredibly easy interface and a reasonable price point from a device that will fit in a pocket.
Our Insta360 One hands-on impressions
Should you buy?
It’s worth repeating: 360 cameras are still a nascent technology that have some quirks, but the ability to drop the viewer into the middle of a scene, for many users, makes it worth the risk on a newer technology. As 360 cameras continue to grow up, expect to see some lower price points, better stitching, higher resolution, and probably some new features we haven’t even thought of yet.