The pros and cons of using 360 video for your project

24 things everyone should know

Filming Halcyon

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan famously stated that “the medium is the message.” Broadly speaking (sorry, Marshall…), he argued that the medium often has more impact on society than the content it communicates.

More than 50 years later, his theories can still be applied to emerging platforms. But with so many different options available, how can content creators ever be certain that they are choosing the right medium to convey their message?

360-degree video is a prime example—just because it’s hot right now doesn’t mean it’s right for every project.

Say you want to film a live-action video and you’re deciding between 16x9 (traditional film) and 360. There are some important questions to consider: Will filming in 360 fundamentally improve your project? Is the environment so interesting, engaging, and immersive in all directions that it warrants being captured in 360? Most importantly, will the benefits of 360 outweigh the drawbacks?

These are not always easy questions to answer. When it comes to the pros and cons of 360, we’ve listed some of the realities below:

12 Major Limitations to Filming in 360

Filming Highway of Tears

1. You can’t frame the action to hide a less-than-ideal environment or set.

2. Ideally, the director shouldn’t be in the shot (if they are, they have to be painted out in post), so they often have to watch the action through a live-stream in another room.

3. It’s hard to hide cuts, so you have to rely heavily on single takes.

4. You can’t zoom in or out. There are work-arounds (i.e. volumetric capture paired with positional tracking), but it’s easiest to keep the camera rig still.

5. If you decide to move the camera rig, the movement must be motivated (i.e. driving in a car), otherwise the viewer will get sick.

6. Any kind of camera movement must be extremely smooth (i.e. using a track or a drone), otherwise…barfing.

7. If actors cross stitch lines, the blurring that occurs is difficult (but not impossible) to correct in post.

8. The camera rigs that are currently on the market perform poorly in low light.

9. Objects need to remain a minimum distance of 3 feet from the camera rig to avoid warping.

10. Objects further than 20 feet away from the camera lose their stereoscopic depth.

11. Because they require 360-degree set dressing and a labour-intensive editing process (for stitching, specifically), professional 360 videos can be expensive to produce.

12. The current technology is not advanced enough to meet peoples’ high expectations. Fidelity won’t improve until phones, computers, monitors, hard drives, and HMDs can handle 8K textures and video.

12 Major Benefits to Filming in 360

Dan Edge from Frontline shooting Ebola Outbreak

1. Instead of showing your viewer sections of an environment, they get to experience the full environment in all of its glory.

2. The viewer gets to decide where they look and when. Although this can be challenging when trying to craft a linear narrative, it’s also liberating to hand over some of the control.

3. With platforms like YouTube and Facebook now offering 360 video streaming, you can easily get eyes on your project.

4. By using a split screen, 360 videos easily translate into VR with the help of inexpensive headsets (i.e. Google Cardboard).

5. Products like Secret Location’s new VUSR make it easy to publish your 360 video across multiple VR platforms (i.e. Gear VR, Vive, Oculus, Daydream, etc.).

6. There are 360 camera rigs priced to fit every budget, from personal use (i.e. Nikon’s KeyMission, Ricoh Theta, Samsung’s Gear 360) to professional quality (i.e. Nokia OZO, Google Jump Camera).

7. 360 videos are especially popular with hard-to-reach Millennials and Generation Z.

8. When viewed in VR, 360 videos offer a sense of presence and immersion that traditional videos can’t match.

9. Because of its immersive quality, 360 videos can help the viewer to connect with the content in a meaningful and emotional way.

10. Stereoscopic sound design means audio becomes a hyper-effective tool for directing attention and furthering your story.

11. If you also film in 3D, innumerable possibilities open up (i.e. with the help of positional tracking, your viewer can physically move within your video).

12. 360 video production is a new frontier, meaning it offers opportunities to explore fresh and innovative storytelling techniques.

360 video is not always the right choice, but when it works, the results can be exceptional.

Here are some 360 videos produced by Secret Location in 2016:

Highway of Tears:

Night of the Storm:

Under the Net:


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