A Guide to 360º Virtual Reality: Part 1 - Cameras

In our previous article, “Virtual Reality (VR) and 360 Videos 101–A Beginner’s Guide,” we gave a basic overview of what you should be familiar with as you enter the world of 360º VR. In this series, we’ll take a deeper dive into each of those topics (devices, resolution, mono vs. stereo, latency, and streaming) in addition to jumping into a few more. To start the series, we will explore the tool at the core of content creation: 360-degree VR cameras.

The recent boom in 360º VR cameras at events like CES and NAB have opened the door for both consumers and professionals to explore making VR content. However, this boom has also led to confusion about what to look for in a 360º camera. Below we will give an overview of some of the important features and what mean in addition to showing some cameras that fit into each category.

  1. Price
    When it comes to price, the camera itself is not the only factor. You must also consider software for stitching and post production and additional hardware such as computers with better GPUs, memory cards, stabilizers and tripods. Specialized camera prices can range from a couple hundred to tens-of-thousands, so be aware of your budget.
  2. Standalone vs Rigged
    One of the major factors in price is whether you get a standalone camera or a rig. Standalone cameras usually have multiple lenses that capture and automatically stitch content in a single device. They tend to be simpler to use and are usually cheaper. Rigs, on the other hand, hold multiple cameras that can simultaneously record content and generally require advanced software to stitch together content afterwards. They usually are more expensive, but also allow more customization and increase the production value of the 360 content.
  3. Stitching
    Stitching is the process of taking the images from multiple cameras or lenses and putting them together. This is important for the 360º effect. Stitching can be done automatically or with software afterwards. Automatic stitching is super convenient and usually included in the price, but it gives you little control. Most algorithms are also optimized for speed rather than quality in stitching, so results may vary and you’ll have to stick with the final result. Post production stitching with software, on the other hand, can be expensive, requires a powerful PC, and reduces portability. However, it can lead to much better results with fewer visible stitch lines with processes like optical flow stitching.
  4. Live vs VOD
    While a lot of cameras now allow you to live stream 360º content and record content, there are still many that will only let you record content (which we’ll refer to as VOD, or video on demand, for convenience). One good way to recognize whether a camera can live stream is to see if it can stitch in real time. If it can’t, it most likely won’t let you live stream in 360º.
  5. Resolution
    The higher the resolution, the clearer and sharper the content will be. Keep in mind though that the resolution represents the entire 360 sphere, not the resolution of a person’s view. Additionally, unless the camera records stereoscopic content, that resolution is further divided between two eyes, meaning that you probably don’t want anything less than 4K total resolution, with 8K+ being ideal. A few other thing to consider are sharpness and low-light capabilities. Sharpness refers to the contrast along the edges, and an increase in sharpness will make your content pop more. The better a camera’s low-light capabilities are, the sharper the images will be especially when shooting while indoors and other low-light condition. Today, low-light capabilities is still a challenge for most of 360 cameras.
  6. Bonus Points: Memory, Mono vs Stereoscopic, and Social Sharing 
    Memory:
    is it on device or stored on a separate SD and how much can it hold.
    Mono vs Stereoscopic: Stereoscopic is harder to record, but it gives you that 3D realistic feel if done correctly.
    Social Sharing: For those live streamers that want to push 360 content straight to platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we’ve listed a few cameras to help you on your camera search. We’ve separated them into standalone vs rigged and have organized them by price. These cameras and rigs only include ones that are currently available in the market to the public, therefore ones like Jaunt, Samsung Beyond, and Facebook Surround are not mentioned.

Nokia Ozo
Level: Professional 
Price: $40,000
Video Type: Live & VOD
Max Resolution: 4K/30fps

The Nokio Ozo is a high end device that lets you create both monoscopic and stereoscopic VOD and live streams in 360º VR, with 360º audio. It comes with software to help the VR content workflow, but requires a powerful computer.

Orah 4i
Level: Professional
Price: $3595
Video Type: Live & VOD 
Max Resolution: 4K/30fps

The Orah 4i records monoscopic video and has real time stabilization. It has built in microphones and can support ambisonic audio. It has real time stitching capabilities for live streaming 4K, but can also be used with Video Stitch Studio for post production audio and video sync (bought separately).

Insta 360 Pro 
Level: Professional
Price: $3499
Video Type: Live & VOD 
Max Resolution: 6K/30fps

The Insta360 Pro Camera can support both monoscopic ( 4K/ 100fps) and stereoscopic video (6k/30fps), has real time stitching and preview, and also comes with real time stabilization.

Z Cam S1 
Level: Professional
Price: $2499
Video Type: VOD
+ Optional Live
Max Resolution: 6K/30fps

The Z Cam S1 can house up to 4 SD cards for a total of 128GB. Combined with their WonderStitch software, Z Cam can stitch in real time for live streaming.

Vuze
Level: Consumer
Price: $799
Video Type: VOD 
Max Resolution: 4K/30fps

Vuze won this year’s CES Innovation Awards. It can’t live stream, but it can shoot stereoscopic videos. It comes in multiple colors and a package full of accessories including a pair of mini VR glasses.

Ricoh Theta S
Level: Consumer
Price: $329
Video Type: Live & VOD 
Max Resolution: HD/30fps

The Theta S is a great fit for beginners and consumers. It comes in multiple colors and has simple controls in addition to social media hookups. However, it is lacking in resolution.

Samsung Gear 360 (2017)
Level: Consumer
Price: $229.99
Video Type: Live & VOD 
Max Resolution: near 4K/30fps

The newest version of this camera has real time stitching and up to 2K live streaming right on your phone. It requires a separate memory card and can hold up to 200GB.

Yi Halo VR (2nd Generation Google Jump Camera)
Level: Professional
Price: $16,999
Number of Cameras: 17

Camera: Yi 360 VR
Type: VOD
Max Resolution: 8K/ 60fps

Paired with Jump, Google’s camera platform, the Yi Halo supplies a rig for 17 cameras. Jump Assembler software, included with the package, automatically stitches together video, drastically cutting down on the time needed to produce a 360º video. The camera has 100+ minutes of battery life and has stereoscopic capabilities.

Mini Eye 3
Level: Professional
Price: $9899 (Rig Alone)
Number of Cameras: 3

Cameras: Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera
Video Type: Live & VOD
Price: $12,999 (Total)
Max Resolution: 3K/ 60fps

Cameras: Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera
Video Type: VOD
Price: $13,899 (Total)
Max Resolution: 6K/ 60fps

The Mini Eye 3 by 360Designs can be used with two different Blackmagic cameras. The Micro Cinema cameras allow live streaming with a max resolution of 3K. If you’re looking for higher resolution recorded content, try it with the Micro Studio camera, which allows up to 6K. If the overlap with this 3 camera rig isn’t good enough, they also have the Mini Eye 4. It can also be used with the Flying EYE drone, which also comes with the Stitchbox, to enable real time stitching for 6K live streaming.

Omni
Level: Professional
Price: $4999.99
Number of Cameras: 6

Camera: GoPro Hero4
Video Type: VOD 
Max Resolution: 8Kp/ 50fps

The Omni by GoPro touts itself as an “All-Inclusive” solution for “capturing, stitching and publishing high-resolution virtual reality and immersive content.” It works with six HERO4 Black cameras and comes with six 32GB microSD cards and a controller.

Pro6 Bullet 360
Level: Professional
Price: $1059 (rig alone)
Number of Cameras: 6

Camera: Hero3, 3+, 4
Video Type: VOD
Max Resolution: 8K/ 30fps

This rig by 360rize holds 6 GoPro cameras, which are not included in the price. This redesign makes it easy to install they cameras and sync them with a wired remote. Content will need to be stitched afterwards with additional software and hardware, but the rig can achieve 8K videos.

360 Helios 8
Level: Professional
Price: $1425 (rig alone)
Number of Cameras: 6–8

Camera: Blackmagic Micro Cinema or Blackmagic Micro Studio
Video Type: VOD
Max Resolution: 4K/30fps

This rig by 360rize holds 6–8 Blackmagic Micro Cinema or Micro Studio Cameras, which respectively enable 2K and 4K videos, and need to be purchased separately. Content will need to be stitched afterwards with additional software and hardware.


We hope that this gives you a better starting ground for your 360º VR journey, and you’ll continue learning about 360 VR content creation with us as we go through this series.

When it comes to streaming your high quality content, Visbit makes it easy. You can learn more about our All-in-One VR Streaming Service, and our live streaming capabilities at visbit.co. Our services are camera agnostic and work across multiple VR platforms, with more to come everyday!

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