360-degree cameras promise to revolutionise photography and video… but what are they?
If you thought that virtual reality was something that’s reserved for computer games, then think again: 360-degree cameras enable you to put the viewer right at the centre of the action. What’s more, viewers are able to take control and pan around your video footage to check out the entire scene for an immersive, interactive experience.
The difficulty with recording in 360 degrees is that most lenses only capture a relatively narrow field of view. Even a fisheye lens like the Sigma 15mm can only see 180 degrees. This means that until recently, shooting 360-degree films was a very expensive process that involved using multiple cameras mounted in a costly rig. Then there’s the issue of having to merge the footage from these cameras into one movie – that takes some serious processing power.
However, recent developments have changed all this, and cameras like the Ricoh Theta S and 360fly offer an affordable means of creating 360 footage for just about anyone.
To get around the lens coverage issue, the Ricoh Theta S has two identical cameras housed back-to-back in the same slim body. Each camera has a 180-degree lens, and they record simultaneously with the footage automatically merged to create one seamless view of the entirety of the photographer’s surroundings.
Meanwhile, the spherical 360fly has a single ultra-wide lens on its top that covers 360 degrees horizontally and 240 degrees vertically – which means you don’t see the body itself in the footage.
Both cameras enable you to shoot Full HD footage, and while the Theta S is small enough to slip in a jeans pocket, the oversized golf-ball-like 360fly is ruggedized, making it ideal for use when you’re mountain biking or surfing – all the activities during which you might use a standard action camera.
Naturally, there are companion apps for the two cameras. These allow you to control the cameras remotely and review footage while on the go. With the 360fly footage, you can even physically move your smartphone to look around the scene while shooting – there’s no need to actually touch or swipe the screen.
One of the best things about shooting with a 360-degree camera is that you don’t need to keep moving it to get alternative angles on a location: the camera does the work for you, and then ultimately, the viewer can choose where they want to look. This ability to transport people to a recorded or virtual world is part of what’s making 360-degree cameras so exciting right now: take a look at the examples on this page and get thinking. What would you capture in 360 degrees?