A look at iOS 360 Capture Apps

How to take 360s on your phone without a 360 camera, or not

Photo by AJ Colores on Unsplash

I’ve yet to write anything on the 360 camera I bought around a month ago, but I was curious as to the state of apps that attempt to do the same job just using the camera on the back of your phone.

In case you didn’t already know, 360 media would refer to any content that allows you to look around a photo or video in a spherical manner. More importantly it can also be seen as a cheap and easy way to get into the VR space.

Facebook App

Facebook decided to added 360 photo/video support last year, which makes it easier to post 360 photos on the platform to an audience of friends, family, or the general public. In addition to uploading 360 content you can also take 360 images (not videos) within the app itself.

How to capture 360 images in the Facebook Mobile App

The capture modes literally feel like you’re filling in a colouring book, considering the movement of your phone when trying to capture the image in that moment.

Sample of how the 360 capture looks like with the Pano option.
Sample of how the 360 capture looks like with the Fisheye option.

Unfortunately at the time of this posting, when posting Facebook you can’t download the images through the iOS app. If you do want to download the images uploaded you will need to use the desktop website in order to download them.

Also you do have the option to select the start position of a 360 image when posting, but it seems this can’t be edited after posting.

Find below a sample of what I was able to get from the Facebook iOS app.

As far as I know 360 content can be viewed in a Samsung Galaxy Gear VR headset, but unfortunately that requires the need for a compatible Samsung device in order to get the full experience out of facebook.

Overall Facebook provides a decent 360 camera taking experience, but you’re left with either a panoramic shot or a fisheye shot that you can pan around, and not a full 360 degree image which allows greater movement around an image. Plus if you’re really picky you will see the stitching in the rendered images can be quite obvious at times, espeically if you’re trying to take the image in an environment with low light and/or moving objects. Hopefully the stitching will improve with later software and hardware upgrades in the future.

Google Street View (formerly Google Photo Sphere)

Google added 360 capture support into Android around 2013, and decided to have a seperate app for iOS a year after. But it seems Google decided to replace the app all together and turn it into the Google Street View, but you are still able to capture 360 images within the app itself.

If you haven’t tried Google Street view already, be sure to download the app or check it out on a computer to look at some 360 images around the you.

In essence with the Google Street View you can get a true 360 degree view of your environment compared to what Facbook provides.

Probably the reason Street View was set as a replacement for the Google Photo Sphere app is that it would be one less app on the app store, but most likely more an emphasis of sharing the world around you with people on Google Maps.

How to capture 360 images in Google Street View app

Capturing a 360 image using with the Google Street View app makes you feel likes a robot, or more so an android. You have to align the dots in camera capture view at timed intervals, and it’s a bit clunky when trying to determine if you’ve caught the full image, but it does a decent job overall as to capturing a full 360 degree image.

Sample of how the 360 capture works in the Google Street View app.

After the picture is taken you can share it with friends, but provided that you publish it on either the likes of Google Street View or even Facebook.

Warning: Exporting the actual image from the Google Street View app will export an equirectangular, the format in which 360 content is usually represented. So the image would look weird as it isn’t a normal flat image.

Equirectangular example. A direct export of the 360 image taken from the Google Street View app.
A tiny planet representation of the equirectangular image from Google Street View

The quality of the photo in Google Street View is of decent quality, plus you have the option to blur out people’s faces and other parts of the image before publishing to Google Maps.

But it seems the result when exporting to the Camera Roll isn’t as great as you can see from the Facebook post provided below, or the equirectangular image provided in the warning section.

If you plan on taking a snapshot of your surroundings, and not something worth cherishing, then this would be more than adequate, but anything more, the Facebook app seems to provide a better photo capturing experience. If you plan on publishing the image to Google Street View, I would recommend an actual 360 camera but this option is better than nothing.

Google Cardboard Camera

If you didn’t know already, one of the advantages of being able to caputure 360 content is that you can view it in a VR headset such as the Google Cardboard, which a cheap way to view VR content with your phone. For Facebook it seems you need to have a Samsung Gear VR headset.

How to capture 360 images in the Cardboard Camera app

So it seems Google created a camera app for the Cardboard called the Cardboard Camera for the very nature of experiencing 360 photos in VR. The cool thing about the app is that in addition to capturing a panoramic 360 you get the option to also record audio with it at the time of capturing the image.

Sample of how the 360 capture works in the Cardboard Camera app

The only problem with the app is that you can’t view the image properly without a Cardboard or any compatible VR headset. The reason this a problem is that even though you can export it, you can’t hear the audio that is recorded with the photo taken.

The other issue is that you can’t upload the image taken to Facebook as it seems they only allow you to upload certain 360 images compared to others. Find below a sample of the image that was uploaded to Facebook:

And the last issue to mention is that you can’t import any 360 images (except for the ones made with the app), or at least it seems I can’t with the current version of the app I’m using.

If you’re exporting the photos you’ve taken to your Camera Roll it will be a panoramic image that you can double tap and move (pan) from left to right, or vice versa.

To get the most out of the app, you’ll essentially need to get a Cardboard or any other VR headset that can support your phone.

Camera app

Finally the default app on iOS. It’s simple, it comes baked into iOS, and if you upload it to Facebook you have yourself a 360 image to share to a wider audience.

Just incase you own an iPhone and wondered what Pano was for

One of the disadvantages with the camera app is that unlike the Facebook app where you can fill in the blank spaces, you’re forced to follow a straight line with the default camera app.

I would lump the Gallery app into the mix of things as well, because even though you can take a panoramic shot you can’t view it in a spherical manner.

Other than that, the images are easy to share, especially over Facebook. Else you can also send the images over the likes of iMessage or Email. Unfortunately if shared over the likes of WhatsApp, the picture quality tends to be quite poor.

Conclusion

From the four apps, be it Facebook, Street View, Cardboard Camera, or even the default camera, they try to offer something close to a spherical image capture but fall short on the quality you can get from a 200 USD camera, such as the Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere 360 camera. Most likely there are other apps, but I doubt they would fair any better.

Just to demonstrate, the picture seen in the Facebook link provided below was taken with the 360 camera mentioned.

All in all, I think that brings me to the part where I mention that I am currently starting up a 360 company called 180by2 which aims to make 360 content and cameras a bit more widespread in South Africa.

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Happy reading!