360-degree cameras are still uncommon, and for most people shooting with it will be unfamiliar territory. Moreover, you can forget the techniques of traditional photography, such as the rule of thirds.
With 360 pics and VR, you truly feel like you’re somewhere, not just experiencing it through someone else’s eyes. It’s not exactly like being there, but it’s tremendously closer than anything I’ve ever been able to capture or share before and it’s this experience that really excites me.
State-of-the-art cameras through which you can record the world as you see it in 360°. This means the camera captures stills or video from all around up,down, left, right, in front and behind you.
Technically yes you can, there are apps that help you like Google Street View. However this requires you to slowly but surely rotate on the spot several times taking lots of individual pictures as you go to cover a full sphere. This usually takes 5 minutes or so and a lot can move in that time, so this often leaves you with a lot of stitching errors. The only way to shoot 360º video at the moment is using a special 360º camera.
The cameras are essentially taking two pictures (or videos) at the same time using fisheye lenses mounted on each side of the camera usually covering at least 190º, this gives an extra 10º of overlap so the software can align, match and stitch. Once you’ve taken your shot you have to stitch the double fisheye file together, a process that can usually be be done on your phone or computer using software that came with the camera. More on that can be found below.
While media and marketing companies often use these terms interchangeably, 360 and VR are actually two separate experiences.
360 degree cameras, while they can produce photos and videos that can be viewed in a virtual reality headset, output 2D images. In other words they’re the same old traditional flat footage. These cameras excel at creating fully surround images that users can explore on devices such as smartphones, tablets or even cast to your living room TV. But at the end of the day, this still isn’t virtual reality.
VR cameras differentiate themselves by creating a sense of depth, recording footage in full 3D. This creates a hugely different sense of immersion, using sight and sound to trick your brain into feeling like it’s transported to another world. Unlike 360 degree cameras, which limit you to looking at captured footage, VR lets you step into that footage. It’s a completely different experience.
Yes of course, in fact most computers these days have been updated to view 360 with there built in players, but there are also many software options for you to download from 360 manufacturers and you can find them here.
One rookie mistake we all make when first playing a 360 video on sites like facebook & youtube is relying on the default resolution, it makes the videos look terrible. Change the setting, click on the settings icon to max out the resolution to 4K if it allows. On Facebook make sure to select the HD option. It makes a huge difference.
Beginner: Point and shoot and you’re ready to go. The stitching is done on the fly so you can share your shot right away without editing. The Ricoh Theta V, insta360 one, Xiaomi (Madventure360).
Advanced: The Garmin Virb, GoPro Fusion, Yi360 all roughly around £650, the likes of this middle ground camera will give you more post grading ability and slightly better quality being able to shoot at 5K or more, though in my opinion the difference isn’t all that obviously plain to see. I think they need to produce atleast 8k to warrant spending the extra.
Prosumer: The Insta360 Pro costing around £3500 to the Samsung Round £10,000. As you would expect they have all the bells and whistles to come with them, including the ability to shoot 360 in 3D.
All these and more can be found in my recommended 360 camera list.
Monoscopic: Single lens cameras that are attached together via a ring to form a circular formation. Monoscopic camera setups are generally the easiest and lowest cost setup. The most common setup for this style of video usually involves a least six different cameras in six different fields of view to create the full 360° experience.
Stereoscopic: Often filmed with two cameras per FOV. Cameras that utilises two cameras designed for each eye. This can generate the 360° vision and also create a 3D 360° view. Increasingly better stereoscopic options are becoming available all the time.
Equirectangular: Equirectangular format is one single, stitched image of 360° horizontally and 180° vertically. An equirectangular panorama essentially takes a spherical environment and maps it onto a flat plane. The width/height ratio is usually 2:1. A normal panorama is only a horizontal sweep and doesn’t take vertical into account. You also can’t convert any panorama into equirectangular because not all of them capture everything in 360 degrees meaning their will be missing information.
Dual Fisheye: When your camera has two lenses that each capture 180 degrees, this is what the output of the file often looks like when it hasn’t been stitched and it’s opened in a standard player.
Nadir: This is the lowest point at the bottom of your 360 footage.
Zenith: This is the Highest point at the Top of your 360 footage.
Optical flow Stitching: Instead of stitching together images according to a template based one-size-fits-all rule – essentially programming a computer to match dotted line A with dotted line B – the optical flow approach lets a computer keep track of the actual content of an image, down to the level of individual pixels. Letting a computer actually “see” what’s happening in an image, optical-flow-based stitching avoids any obvious stitching errors.
Chromatic Aberration: Also known as Purple fringing. This is where you’ll see purple appearing on some edges of objects in high contrast situations. This can be corrected in post.
You need to remember that the camera will capture everything surrounding it, so if you don’t want to be seen you will need to hide out of view and make use of the timer feature. When scoping for a shot, consider the fact that the viewer will be able to explore the whole image, so it’s best to try and find a location with plenty of interesting features and put the camera in the centre. You can find even more shooting tips here.
RAW file is basically an image that preserves most of the information from the camera, such as sharpness and contrast, without processing and compressing. When shooting in JPEG image information is compressed and lost. Because no information is compressed with RAW you’re able to produce higher quality images, as well as correct problem images that would be unrecoverable if shot in JPEG format.
There are desktop softwares like PTGui and most of the 360 camera manufacturers themselves now supply desktop software that can stitch, but i think this is not necessary and time consuming unless you have a whole bunch of photos to batch stitch all at once.
Personally i would advise to use your camera manufacturers available mobile app to select the photo you want from the apps gallery, then you simply download it to your phones gallery from the camera app. Its during the download process that the app stitches your photo to equirectangular and then you will be able to see the downloaded file in full 360. For more on 360 players click here.
If you choose to remove the memory card and download straight from the memory card to your computer you will then find you have the unstitched double fisheye file, this wont display in 360 and you’ll need to stitch it using desktop software or put the card back in the camera, load the cameras app and download it to your phone. For more on stitching click here.
Even if you do everything right things are bound to go wrong when shooting in 360. I learned most lessons from trial and error during shooting: avoiding the stitch line, remembering to take the position of the sun/shadows into account, remembering to take spare batteries, make sure you have your SD card with you, and if you don’t’ want to be in the shot, where to hide.
Everyone from the camera makers to the content creators are still trying to figure out this new frontier. Improvements are happening all the time, so expect products and the footage to improve significantly very very quickly.