Episode 2: Rigs and Cameras

A whole slew of rig and camera options have come onto the market in the last couple years. In this post we’ll talk about our rig, which is a pretty good starter rig for producing high resolution spherical video. We also go into camera settings for shooting with GoPros — as well as some challenges and workarounds — and offer some other options for entry-level rigs.

What we use

Our work so far has been shot with the Freedom 360 rig (image below under Rig Options) with 6 GoPro Hero 4 cameras.

We’d probably opt for the 360Heros rig if we were to purchase another 6-camera rig, since the snap-in design seems much easier to work with in the field. Given the short battery life, it’s helpful to be able to pull out the cameras and replace the batteries quickly.

These are our cameras and cards:

Label everything!!!

Tips and Camera Settings

Label everything

As you can see in the photo above, each of the cameras is numbered, as is its corresponding card. This is immensely helpful for keeping everything in order when offloading and organizing footage from six cameras. It’s also useful when troubleshooting to easily see which footage came from which camera. Numbering the batteries wouldn’t hurt, either.

Camera settings

At the most basic level: To be able to stitch your footage from this rig, you need to be shooting at 4:3 aspect ratio. Which GoPro setting you can use will depend on your preferred frame rate. At 60fps, your resolution limit is 1920 x 1440. If you’re shooting at 30fps, you can use the 2.7K 4:3 setting for 2704 x 2028 resolution.

GoPro video settings for 60 fps

Resolution: 1440

Frames Per Second: 60

Field of View: Wide

Low Light: Off

Spot Meter: Off

Protune: On

White Balance: Native

Color: Flat

ISO Limit: 1600 for low light / indoor, 400 for bright light / outdoor

Sharpness: Low or Medium

EV Comp: 0

GoPro video settings for 30 fps:

Resolution: 2.7K 4:3

Frames Per Second: 30

Field of View: Wide

Low Light: Off

Spot Meter: Off

Protune: On

White Balance: Native

Color: Flat

ISO Limit: 1600 for low light / indoor, 400 for bright light / outdoor

Sharpness: Low or Medium

EV Comp: 0

Here are the setting recommendations from Freedom 360, with some other frame-rate options. This post is also very helpful for understanding the GoPro settings.

Hardware challenges to consider:

Overheating: GoPros get hot. GoPros packed tightly in what we affectionately call a “camera wad” can overheat quickly. Early on in our adventures, we did a 20-minute shot in a warm room (probably 80–85 degrees Fahrenheit). One of the cameras overheated and shut down after about 7 minutes, so we could only use the first portion of our shot. If you’re shooting somewhere warm, it’s best to check your cameras every few minutes.

Split files: With our camera settings, GoPro automatically splits files after about 8 minutes (4 GB) — after which your footage from a single shot will be split into multiple files that will have to be concatenated (not impossible, but another hassle in an already cumbersome process) — so we’ve gotten in the habit of keeping our shots under 8 minutes. If you’re shooting at 30fps rather than 60fps the length of your files will increase — although the overheating problem will persist.

Battery life: Battery life is another limiting factor on shooting time. In our experience, the battery in a GoPro lasts roughly an hour. That’s why we keep an extra set on hand. Depending on how much you plan to shoot in a day, having a third set wouldn’t hurt. Leaving the cameras’ WiFi on allows you to trigger recording remotely, but will also use some of the battery — so we typically turn on recording by hand and walk away for each shot. And make sure your cameras are off when you’re not shooting!

Rig options

Below is a short list of some other camera/rig options for getting started. These are some of the most affordable of the existing options for shooting 360 video. Note that, of the consumer-level cameras, only the Ricoh Theta S produces full spherical (360 x 180) video.

The cameras we classify as “consumer” don’t achieve the high resolution / higher frame rates you get with multi-camera rigs, but they’re great for getting your feet wet, and for doing test-runs of shots, since they don’t require third-party stitching software to see your footage.

Most of the professional content you’ll see comes from multi-camera rigs — or from rigs that aren’t currently available for purchase, like the Jaunt ONE camera(below).

A mighty beast of a camera. This is the Jaunt camera (with lens caps on) in San Francisco.

Facebook is also releasing specs for a 17-camera array that you can assemble yourself, at home, after purchasing the materials at the bargain price of $30,000.

The cameras listed here are all monoscopic. (For the curious, the brilliant researchers over at EleVR wrote up a good jumping-off point for another internet rabbit hole on stereoscopic 360 rigs.)

Consumer-level

Samsung Gear 360 (full-sphere)

Requires a high end Samsung phone for remote use and may overheat after 40 mins or so (—Brian Nguyen)

(Added thanks to @bhngyn)

Kodak SP360 (half-sphere)

Kodak also offers a kit for mounting 2 cameras on a rig for full spherical video.

Ricoh Theta S (full sphere)

6-camera rigs

Freedom 360

Freedom 360

360Heros Pro6 V2

360Heros Pro6 V2

GoPro Omni (Pre-order only. Expected Aug. 17, 2016)

GoPro Omni

For a comprehensive list of rigs currently available (and promised), see this fantastic survey from Jason Fletcher at The Fulldome Blog.

Who are you?

Good question. Immersed In Journalism is a publication by Bay Area-based production company Tiny World Productions, established in 2016 by Melissa Bosworth and Lakshmi Sarah. Email (immersedinjournalism at gmail dot com) or tweet at us if you’d like us to produce your next immersive content.

Thanks to the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for support.

Immersed in Journalism’s 360 Video Essentials

A start-to-finish guide for producing 360 video

Immersed in Journalism | Tiny World Productions

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Immersed In Journalism is a publication by Bay Area-based production company Tiny World Productions.

Immersed in Journalism’s 360 Video Essentials

A start-to-finish guide for producing 360 video

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