Friday, May 27, 2016

DEALS: Free Samsung Gear VR headset in this VR bundle

Online retailer Buydig is offering big savings on a 360 bundle on eBay. Called the "Produce and Experience VR" bundle, it includes both a Ricoh Theta S and a Samsung Gear VR headset and is selling for $350. Normally, the Theta S is $350 by itself and the Gear VR headset is normally $99. So, it's like getting the Samsung Gear VR headset for free!

Please note the Gear VR is compatible only with the latest flagship Samsung phones (S6 and above).  However, if you don't have a compatible phone, you could sell the Gear VR and effectively get a big discount on the Ricoh Theta S.

Here is a link to the bundle while it lasts: 

Here's the Insta360 Nano 360-degree camera for iPhone: Unboxing, Details, Specifications, and Availability

The Insta360 Nano is a removable 360-degree camera for the iPhone.  We now have more information about it - including an unboxing, detailed specifications and even a sample photo.  More after the jump.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Insta360 Nano Coming Soon

The Insta360 Nano is a removable 360-degree camera that attaches to an iPhone.  It's an innovative design and is the first 360-degree camera to do that.  My source at Insta360 says the company plans to make it available next month on Amazon.  Having said that, that's not written in stone, and there have been previous plans for release that were later delayed.  In any case, I look forward to the Nano's release.

For related posts on the Nano, including a sample video, click here.

Google Daydream VR headset specs revealed

The specifications for one of the first, if not the first, Daydream-compatible VR headset has been posted, giving us a better idea of its capabilities and how it may stack up with other virtual reality systems.  Mike Cane reported on the AtomicSupermen blog about the ZTE VR headset.  Some interesting specs:
  • built-in 9-axis gyro
  • 96 degrees field of view
The 96-degree FOV is identical to that of the Gear VR.  The Gear VR also has built-in sensors (gyroscopic and accelerometer), although it's not clear how many axes the Gear VR sensor can track.  By comparison, HTC's Vive and Oculus Rift both have 110° field of view, while Playstation VR has 100° field of view.

It appears more and more likely that Daydream's VR headset is very similar to that of the Gear VR.  I've tried the Gear VR and I thought it was pretty good -- significantly better than Google Cardboard.  On the other hand, I felt only a very weak sense of the presence that I felt with Oculus Rift.  But if I had an Android phone and there was interesting content for it, I would most likely buy one.  (update: Samsung Gear VR reviewed here)

Compare sample videos from Samsung Gear 360 and Ricoh Theta S

The Samsung Gear 360 obviously has higher resolution video (3840 x 1920) than the Ricoh Theta S (1920 x 960) but how big of a difference is it?  Check out my sample video!  Please be sure to select the highest video quality (2160p)!

Here is a screenshot from the Gear 360:

Here is a screenshot from the Theta S:

The video was edited with the Gear 360 ActionDirector software included with the Samsung Gear 360.  I'm still having problems with the ActionDirector compatibility with my laptop but I'm glad the Gear 360 video quality is so much better.

For related posts on the Samsung Gear 360, click here.  For related posts on the Ricoh Theta S, click here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Samsung Gear 360 now shipping in New Zealand

The Samsung Gear 360 is now shipping in New Zealand. It is available exclusively through Samsung's online store for NZ$649 (approximately $436 at current exchange rates).

Why Xiaomi's drone is interesting for 360 photos and videos

Today, Xiaomi announced that they were producing two camera-equipped quadcopters.  The drones have more than a passing resemblance with the popular DJI Phantom 3 drone and share similar features, but the news generated a lot of interest because of Xiaomi's aggressive pricing: 2499 yuan (around US$380) for the 1080p model, and 2999 yuan (around US$460) for the 4k model.

Xiaomi's drone could be of particular interest for 360 photographers because it has foldable landing gear and has a removable gimbal and camera.  There are drones that have retractable landing gear such as the hot new Yuneec Typhoon H but they are not cheap (the Typhoon H is $1799 MSRP; $1299 preorder).  Xiaomi didn't say the drone has retractable landing gear - only that they are foldable.  The foldable landing gear would make transport easier.  However, it may also be possible to move the landing gear out of the way to get a clearer 360 shot around the drone, if the drone could be supported on an elevated platform for takeoff and [careful] landing.

The other interesting feature of the Xiaomi drone is the removable gimbal and camera.  With a 360-degree camera, it is not really necessary to use a gimbal, or even an onboard camera.  A photographer who wants to use a 360-degree camera can therefore opt to remove the gimbal and camera to lighten the drone for greater stability and longer flight duration.  Although a 360 photographer can buy a drone with no onboard camera (e.g. Phantom 2), having a removable camera makes the drone more versatile, giving the photographer the option to shoot conventional aerial photos or videos (with the onboard camera) or a 360-degree camera as needed.

Here is the official announcement.

Here is the Samsung Gear 360 manual in PDF

Are you looking for the official Samsung Gear 360 manual in PDF?  Strange how it's not showing up on Google, huh.  That's because it's currently only in Korean!

Here is the link.  UPDATE: Here is a link to the English instructions (HTML).

7 Videos Showing How to Use the Samsung Gear 360

Here is a playlist of 7 videos by Samsung showing how to use the Samsung Gear 360:

1. Introduction
2. Sample videos
3. Unboxing & Charging
4. Connecting to a Phone
5. Shooting 360 Content
6. Viewing 360 Content
7. Editing & Sharing

As with any YouTube playlist, you can click on the menu on the upper left corner to jump to any video.

Sample video from the Insta360 Nano Removable 360 Camera for iPhone

The Insta360 Nano is a removable 360-degree camera for your iPhone (Android version TBA).  Insta360 just posted a sample video from the Nano.  Check it out! 

If the embed doesn't work, here is the link.  For related posts on the Nano, click here or on one of the labels/tags below the sharing buttons.

Samsung Gear 360 Day 1: Technical Difficulties

So I got a Samsung Gear 360, even though I don't have a Samsung phone.  I was wowed by the build quality.  I've taken a handful of pictures and... zip.  I haven't been able to view them correctly.  Here are some of the things I learned:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

360-degree camera shootout by Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal compared eight 360-degree cameras, taking them to New York and Yosemite:
  • Ricoh Theta S
  • 360fly
  • Giroptic
  • Insta360 4k
  • Kodak SP360 4k
  • LG 360 Cam
  • Panono
  • Samsung Gear 360
Here is the comparison.
  • The most detailed shots were from the Panono.  However, it is "bulky," and there are stitching errors for near objects.
  • The best video quality was from the Kodak SP360 4k dual pro pack. However, you need to stitch the video in a desktop and there's no software for stitching photos.
  • The best balance of image quality and portability / ease of use was the Samsung Gear 360.  But noted that it's compatible only with the latest flagship Samsung phones, and its shape makes it "awkward" for pockets.
  • Most compact was the LG 360 Cam.  "The 360 Cam's pictures and video look OK, though they're a noticeable notch lower in quality than the Gear 360."
Observations on the other cameras:
  • Ricoh Theta S: "easy to use;" but video is "low resolution"
  • 360fly 4k:  Waterproof, but only hemispherical.  "Image quality is just OK."
  • Giroptic: Waterproof, and with removable battery but "Lower-resolution final images; slow response on hardware; stitching sometimes misaligned"
  • Insta360 4k:  Does have 4k video but is "bulky; low 15 frame-per-second rate at highest resolution."

My comment:
To my knowledge, the observations by WSJ regarding these cameras seems more or less correct, and their evaluation seems more fair than other comparisons I have read.  However, I would say that photographers would benefit from a more rigorous comparison of image quality, comparing not just resolution but also dynamic range, color, and other factors.  In my upcoming comparison of the Samsung Gear 360 and Ricoh Theta S, that's what I will set out to do.

Check out the WSJ comparison!

LensBaby wants to make a circular fisheye for GoPro cameras

LensBaby started a Kickstarter crowdfunding project to create a 185-degree circular fisheye adapter for GoPro cameras.  Among other things, a circular fisheye with 185-degree field of view would technically qualify as a hemispherical 360-degree camera, similar to the Kodak SP360 4k or the 360fly 4k.  Moreover, the campaign allows you to get a compatible waterproof case for the modified GoPro.

However, please note that you will need separate software to convert the circular fisheye to equirectangular format for viewing on most 360-degree viewers.

LensBaby has previously produced a 185-degree circular fisheye lens for DSLRs and some mirrorless cameras.

Samsung Gear 360 first impressions

Last time, I discussed why I ordered a Samsung Gear 360 even though I don't have a Samsung phone.  I finally received the Samsung Gear 360.  In this post, I'll be discussing what's inside the package, my first impressions, and the menu structure.

UPDATE: menu structure edited to show 1440p and 1280p @60fps
UPDATE: full, detailed review of the Samsung Gear 360 is here

Review: Why the iKross is My Favorite Tripod for 360 Cameras

iKross shown with Ricoh Theta S
My favorite tripod for 360-degree cameras is the iKross Selfie Stick / Tripod.  Here's why:

Update: here's my new favorite compact selfie stick tripod.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Spinner 360: a 360-degree film camera

I'm not here to debate the merits of film vs. digital.  But whichever camp you belong to, this camera is pretty interesting.  It's a 360-degree camera that uses regular 35mm film, designed and developed by Lomography, called the Spinner 360.

Here's how it works:  The aperture is shaped like a slit.  You pull a cord and let go.  As you let go, the camera spins 360 degrees, while the shutter is opened.

Here are samples of photos taken with the Spinner (from the Lomography website here).

It can even be used for vertical 360 panoramas:

Because of how the camera works, it requires enough light so that the image can be captured within a relatively short shutter speed.  Lomography therefore recommends at least ASA400 film.  It is possible to use it in darker conditions, in which case you would have to rotate the camera smoothly.  Lomography sells a separate motorized turntable called the Motorizer.

The Spinner 360 is available at many stores including B&H and Amazon.  If you'd like to purchase one, please consider using the links below, which would be a welcome way of supporting the site, at no additional cost to you.

Deal Alert: LG 360 Cam $170 at Amazon

Seen on Amazon: the LG 360 Cam for under $170 with free shipping!

Note that this is from a reseller (Quality Deals Shopping Center) and other resellers have not posted a similarly low price.  Amazon's own price is $199.99 (available June 1), and some resellers are selling it for as much as $250.

Here is a link to the $170 deal (while it lasts).  If you would like to purchase one, using the link below would be a welcome way of supporting this site at no additional cost to you.

Thanks to David Grass for spotting this!

Aerial 360 made easy with Kodak SP360 and 3DR Solo

Aerial 360 photos and videos are among the most impressive uses of 360 photos.  However, there are a lot of technical challenges involved, including the need to patch the image of the drone, which can occupy as much as half of a spherical photo or video.

There are several ways to solve this issue.  One way is to have a camera both below and above the drone. Kodak posted a teaser on their page about a dual camera drone mount for the Kodak SP 360 4k and the 3DR Solo drone.

Here is a preview of the dual camera mount:

As you can see, it attaches two Kodak SP360 4k cameras to the drone.  With both lenses facing away from the drone, the drone does not appear in the shot.  The video from the cameras would need to be stitched.  However, the SP360 4k already includes software for stitching two hemispherical videos into one fully spherical video.

In the photo above, there does not appear to be a GoPro or gimbal.  It is not clear whether the Kodak will connect with the 3DR's controller to provide a live 360 feed.

Share VR/360 photos with effects on Kuula

There are now several platforms for sharing 360-degree content., is a platform for 360-degree photos and computer-generated images, and it distinguishes itself from its competition by allowing users to add special effects.

Insta360 Nano adds a removable 360 camera to your iPhone

Wouldn't it be cool if your phone could have a small and removable 360-degree camera?  That's the concept behind Insta360's innovative Nano, previewed here.  The Nano is a small 360-degree camera that attaches to the lightning port of the iPhone.  Once attached, the Nano uses the iPhone to show a realtime live preview.  It also makes sharing to social media a snap.

Insta360 just posted a video showing the Nano in operation:

The Nano had been scheduled for release in April but it appears that had been delayed, even though it appeared briefly on Aliexpress.  Hopefully we'll see the Nano soon!

For related posts on the Nano click here.