- 2016/07/20 – more commentary.
The whole concept of a VR-style picture, where you could move the image and look in all different directions, was pioneered in 1994 by Apple QuickTime VR. In those days, you had to mount a camera on a tripod and take a bunch of photos then have them stitched together using special software. The viewer (QuickTime) then allowed the user to look left and right in the image.
As time progressed, other methods of doing these types of images were developed, including a process where you used a 150-degree fisheye lens and took only two photos and stitched them together. These spherical images allowed you to also look up and down.
The easiest solutions were one-shot devices that used a mirror. The camera would point up towards the mirror and create a donut-like image that could then be turned in to a VR image without any stitching. I always wanted the 0-360 device (about $600), but ended up with a much cheaper one called SurroundPhoto ($250). It produced poor quality images, but you get what you pay for.
In recent years, special multi-lens cameras have been introduced that are substantially cheaper than a camera+lens mirror system, and can offer greater field-of-view (up and down).
The Giroptic 360cam was the first such camera I became aware of when it was announced as a Kickstarter project in 2014. It a three-lens camera that can take a 360 VR-style picture with one shot.
I signed up to get one at the half-price early bird level, and at the time they hoped to ship before the end of the year. A year later, the camera was nowhere to be found. During this delay, other similar devices from established companies entered the market at a much lower price point, including:
- Kodak SP360 – I saw the one advertised at RadioShack for under $300. It used one lens with a huge fisheye pointing up, so it couldn’t get full VR images, but it could create a circular panorama. It could be mounted on a bike or helmet so it was more of a 360 GoPro type device.
- Ricoh Theta – This $350 two-camera came out with a first model, then the m15 improved model (which added video!) . It could instantly create full 360 images with one click. I had the m15 model.
- …and likely many others by now.
The Theta m15 and it was amazing. It was small enough to carry with you at all times, and as fast as a regular digital camera at taking the images. There was an iOS and Android app to download and post photos and videos from the device and share them immediately. The resolution was not great. Photos and video could be especially grainy in lower light situations.
In July 2016, the 360cam finally shipped to all of it’s original 2014 backers. Today I want to quickly review how the 360cam stacks up. To save you some time, I’ll present the conclusion first:
This camera is way too slow to be useful. I believe if you are looking in to a device like this, you should probably get something like the Theta S (now available at Best Buy). It is substantial cheaper, easier to use, and much easier to carry around. If there is any advantage to the 360cam’s three-lens setup, I feel most users will not benefit from it.
The 360cam is neat, and had I obtained it two years ago (before owning a Theta), I would have raved about it. But today, it feels like a dinosaur.
- Heavy. The 360cam is much heavier than the candy-bar style Theta.
- Bulky. It is the shape of a smaller pear, and therefore cannot be carried in a pocket. After lugging mine around, I find I have to carry a fanny pack or other type of pouch with me because there’s just no convenient way to attach something like this to a belt. (The Theta came with a belt strap padded carrier.)
- SLOW! Oh my gosh. This thing is stone-age slow! When you turn it on, it takes about 25 seconds to boot up! This is ridiculous. Forget any concept of pulling out the 360cam and taking a quick photo. You have to plan ahead. Also, switching between video and photo mode is also frustratingly slow. My device spins a little animated mustache graphic for about 28 seconds while it goes from one mode to the next! (And right now, the display is showing me “E801” so I guess I have to go look up what went wrong. A quick look at their support site shows five codes, including the 801, that could mean “Something might be wrong with the camera last firmware update. You can restore your camera to factory settings, and try to update the camera again.” Great.) It also does not take pictures quickly. I have mine set for a 3 second countdown, and it will often display a little animated graphic for a few seconds before it even gets to the countdown! Useless!
- iOS iPad App only works in Portrait Mode. In this modern era, why are any iPad apps still not supporting device rotation? The VR images rotate just fine, but all the menus are set for portrait mode, which seems odd for a world where video and modern digital images are 16×9 landscape.
- More Seams. Three lenses means you will have three seams in your images, rather than just two with a two lens system. With the Theta, you just pointed it at your subject and hit the button. With this thing, you have to make sure one of the three lenses is pointing there to prevent a theme down it. Frustrating, but once you get used to this, it will become second-nature.
- No Bottom View. Since the base of the camera is large, there are no straight down views offered. Instead, a large circular graphic is placed there (just like old VR images had, to hide where the tripod was). The Theta has no problem with straight down.
- SHORT Battery Life! It seems with the unit on (WiFi and GPS enabled), you will be out of juice in 30-60 minutes just having it “on” and barely using it. I am watching the battery drain as I type this. I doubt I could ever fill up my 16GB memory card with only one (or maybe even two) batteries. I managed to completely drain the battery after recording a 9 minute video, and about 30 images. Do not expect to take this with you all day without stocking up on a ton of extra batteries.
- App Required to Change Basic Settings! Why do I need the use my phone and WiFi to change between one picture and self timer mode? By the time I toggle through 360cam menus to turn on WiFi, then connect to the camera. then run the app … I’ve forgotten what I was trying to take a picture of.
- Awful User Interface. The built in color display (big pixels) is neat, but the user interface of two buttons is very sluggish and cumbersome. At least it’s better than having to remember what button to hold down to change modes (like the display-less Theta does; they fixed that with the new S model). Once you learn how to navigate, it becomes easier, but it it still time consuming to dig through a half dozen or more displays to make a simple change.
- SLOW!!! Did I mention how slow this thing is? It’s ridiculous.
That said, let’s look at the PROS:
- Three lenses! This should mean better resolution for video and photos. But does it? I do not have a Theta S to compare side-by-side, so I will leave that to other reviewers. I will say the images from the 360cam look very nice and it handles low light better than my Theta m15 did.
- GPS. The 360cam has GPS built in so images can be geotagged without requiring linking to a phone. That’s nice (but it will drain the battery quicker).
- Removable battery. My Kickstarter package came with two batteries, so I can charge them up and swap them out during the day. Unfortunately, you have to pop open three connectors on each side and remove the base (and not lose the microSD card that seems to pop out easily). It’s a “stop walking to do this” operation.
- Nice iOS and Desktop Software. The app and desktop software are nice, and probably on-par with the Ricoh software. They allow remotely operating the camera, changing modes and limited sharing. You will need to link your 360cam to an iOS/Android device if you want to change modes (one photo, self timer, timelapse, etc.). That is frustrating but at least the modes are there.
- “Patch”. Many 360 image systems allow you to put a special graphic at the bottom of the image where the tripod would go. Giroptic refers to this as the “patch” (I’d call it a logo). You can customize your own logo, which is a nice touch. The last Ricoh I used had no such option.
- NO HUGE FINGERS! Since you can hold the 360cam by the base and take a picture using the self timer, you can voice the HUGE THUMBS problem all the Ricoh Theta selfies seem to have. This is very nice.
I personally plan to get rid of the 360cam and replace it with a Theta S soon. I’m quite disappointed. While I might be able to get used to the pear-shape, the slowness of this device is absolutely unacceptable. “Hey, let me take a cool picture. Everyone wait a minute while I boot up and switch from video mode to picture mode.”
Great attempt, Giroptic, but competition has rendered your device obsolete except for those who may benefit from the three-lens setup. I would have to see a side-by-side comparison to see if the 360cam even has that advantaged.
Just get a Ricoh Theta S and use the heck out of it :) They are $350, versus $499 for the 360cam.