360 Video Gear Guide

The GoPro Omni in front of the Jefferson Memorial in Washinton, D.C. (Photo by Steve Johnson)

We are in the stone ages of 360 video production. Much like the days of the Nikon D1 (first DSLR) and the Canon 5D (first DSLR to shoot video) we have early adopters and a flurry of Frankenstein-like rigs, systems and solutions to making production as “easy” as possible.

As we enter a full year of 360 video production, we a presented with a myriad of products. After countless tests, multiple workshops, productions and some unfortunate equipment failure, this guide will help you get off the ground for producing immersive content.

Beginners

RICOH Theta S

This comes without question. In order to get a start in 360 production — to get a feel for what it is like shooting 360 video for a little investment as possible — go with the RICOH Theta S.

For $350, Theta is the FlipCam of 360 video production. It is cheap, simple to use and phenomenal for teaching the beginning of shooting 360 video.

There are other options around this pricepoint — the 360fly ($300 for HD / $500 for 4K) leaves a large blind spot since the camera is not true 360 and the Samsung Gear 360 ($375) requires a Samsung smartphone — but none make it as simple to shoot (without stitching) still and video in 360 and share it.

Small Production

If you’re looking to publish 360 content with the quality in both pixel count and sharpness of lenses you have a few more options:

Kodak SP360 4K

Kodak SP360 4K Dual PRO Pack ($900) is out of the box the highest quality and most reliable shooter of 360 video. With two cameras shooting 4K video, you get great quality, a sharp look and it’s almost indistinguishable from some of its six camera big brothers in 360.

The one caveat to the Kodak rig is the very noticeable stitching line where the two cameras meet if you are within 3 feet of the rig. Shoot smart and you’ll be very happy with this starter rig. While the stitching software that comes with the Kodak is simple and buggy at times, it gets the job done for small productions.

Kodak also sells underwater cases and drone mounts for their SP360 4K cameras. This also makes it one of the most versitile 360 video cameras on the market.

Nikon KeyMission 360

Nikon KeyMission 360 4K (price not announced) camera was announced in early 2016 but has been significantly delayed with production issues. Nikon promises in-camera stitching, waterproof up to 100ft and shockproof. Shooters who have gotten their hands on early models speak highly of it and more will be posted here when it is released.

If Nikon lives up to the hype. This camera should top the Kodak in terms of production ease with its lack of stitching needed. The only advantage Kodak will have is the option to mount on a drone.

Medium Production

Now things get to be a little complicated once you upgrade from the all-in-one smaller systems.

As you need more cameras for higher resolution, exposure blending and larger productions, you will also need costly file management software, stitching software and graphics software.

GoPro cameras are at the forefront of 360 video production. Companies like 360 Heros and Freedom 360 have been leading the charge in rigs, software accessories and mounts for the cameras.

iZugar Z4X kit ($1,499) + 4X GoPro Hero 4 Black ($1,796) = $3,295 for a kit and GoPros that was used to make this amazing piece for The New York Times in Fallujah. You will still need AutoPano Video Pro ($680) stitching software to stitch and render the 360 video once you have imported the files from all four cameras. So the total cost of this rig (without memory cards and extra batteries) is about $3,975.

Freedom360 Explorer

There are other kits like the Freedom 360 and Freedom 360 Explorer (for more rugged shooting) — both of which have withstood months of shooting in harsh conditions. The only problem is you also need six GoPros and the stitching software to use these rigs.

Unfortunately, medium production (sub $5,000) rigs are a small batch. To go from the starters to professional takes quite a jump when you factor in multiple cameras, batteries, memory cards, rigs and stitching software.

Large Production

Up until August of 2016, this category would have been filled with various GoPro rigs, Frankenstein tools for fitting multiple cameras into squares for filming and costly accessories to make them all work.

Now, we have Omni.

GoPro Omni

GoPro has had a well documented struggle in the past two years to reinvent itself, and it is betting big on 360 video. The Omni is that bet.

While GoPro announced a more expensive 360 rig, The Odyssey, more than a year ago, the Omni is $5,000 for everything:

  • Omni Rig (syncing all six cameras)
  • AutoPano Video Pro stitching software
  • Six GoPros
  • Six MicroSD Cards
  • Six Batteries
  • External power solution by Switronix
  • USB hub and cords
  • Hard case to carry everything
Omni (all inclusive) rig

See full technical specifications here

Unless you have a specific need to get up in the air or underwater, the GoPro Omni is my number one recommendation for 360 video production. For $5,000 you get everything needed to start your production.

Other software to make your life easier

Outside of AutoPano Video Pro to stitch your video, there are a few other pieces of software to help in your 360 video production:

AutoPano Giga $225 (comes with the Omni) allows you to fix your stitching on a pixel by pixel level. This helps when you need to mask out monopods/tripods to create a truly immersive frame.

360 CamMan $225 (by Hero360) is a very useful tool for managing your 360 files. When formatted correctly, you can ingest up to 13 memory cards simultnaiously. The software will also organize all of your files into takes for easy importing into stitching software.

360 VR Toolbox $1,200(by FX Factory Pro) allows you to insert text and graphics into your spherical video. It is a plugin for Apple’s Final Cut X and Adobe’s Premiere Pro.

Accessories to help you in the field

Once you have your rigs you will need to support them so you can get out of the frame. Here are a few tools to get you started:

Manfrotto Monopod + Foot ($80)

Manfrotto Magic Arm ($160)

Manfrotto Super Clamp ($30)

Studs to extend 360 rig from monopod mount (Stud 1 / Stud 2) ($10)

Conclusion

It is easy to get lost in a myriad of solutions for 360 production. If you’re looking to begin to train your eye in positioning 360 shots and capturing immersive content then the Theta is the perfect beginner. After that, look at your production budget, clients and projects you will be working on to decided wether you should go for the larger rigs like Omni or smaller rigs like Kodak or Nikon.

Yes, there are many other options not covered here. Nokia’s OZO is $60,000 and required no stitching and have 360 audio. The GoPro Odyssey and Facebook Surround 360 are more expensive options that in the case of the Facebook Surround 360 requires you to physically attach it to a computer while filming.

Dip your toe into the 360 environment and then decided how deep you want to dive in.

Workshops or Questions

I offer a 2–3 day on site workshop that will teach you and your team, be it faculty, students, journalists, editors and staff how to plan 360 stories, produce 360 content in the field and stitch, edit and distribute 360 video.


Please contact Steve here if you’d like to schedule a workshop.

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