Samsung Gear 360

The KeyMission Could Have Been Nikon’s Future, but it Isn’t Anymore


Nikon released a trio of new cameras at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, all under a new umbrella called “KeyMission.” While two of them were mostly GoPro clones, the third was arguably the most interesting, and not just for its strange name and looks: The KeyMission360. This camera was the most forward-looking product that Nikon has put out, more so than any potential mirrorless camera or DSLR that’s come out in the past few years. And then it let its 360 ambitions wither and die.

“But what about the D850?” brand aficionados will say. That’s a great camera, and it’s got all the megapixels along with both bells and whistles. But it’s an iterative product. It takes a product that’s been around for decades and makes it the best it can be, which is exactly what we’d expect from Nikon.

The KeyMission was the unexpected. It took Nikon into territory that no established camera manufacturer had gone, and, after a few firmware updates, became a solid camera. That last part is key. I used one over a period of six months and was prepared to write the worst review of the camera, until an April 2017 firmware update that fixed every connectivity issue I was having with my very common iPhone 6s. Suddenly, the app was good, and using the camera became intuitive. This fix, even almost a year and a half after its release, put the camera above its competition in the under $1000 class. At the time, Samsung’s 2016 Gear 360 release didn’t work with iPhones and Macs. Even when the 2017 Samsung Gear 360 came out, it had horrible stitching issues. Other small players like 360Fly and the Ricoh Theta S had lower resolution or incomplete 360 images.

While the image quality of the KeyMission 360 wasn’t leaps and bounds above its predecessors, it was decent in 2016 and held its own in 2017. Even well into 2017, it was one of the few cameras that had the horsepower to stitch in-camera, a huge time-saver for 360 shooters. I argued in my earlier review that this feature made the camera. In 2018, though, that’s not enough – image quality is looking very, very dated and 4K resolution for 360 videos isn’t a headline feature.

Nikon squandered its early adopter advantage. Garmin came out last year with a comparable product in the Virb 360 with an app that is just as easy to use as Nikon’s, and it adds higher resolution video (5.7K) and live streaming. GoPro brought its Fusion camera and huge name to the 360 party. Both cameras have apps that let you shoot 360 videos and punch out standard video from that.

Smaller companies such as Xiaomi now offer cameras like the MiSphere and Madventure 360 that offer excellent stills quality. Nikon is no longer the top in any category of consumer and mid-level 360 cameras, but it still costs the same almost-$500 price that it did at launch. This makes no sense.

I’m saddened by this because as a longtime Nikon shooter, I’d much rather use a brand I trust to capture 360 images than to go with a company that’s more known for GPS units or Chinese companies that barely have a foothold in the United States. But that’s what I did. I swapped my KeyMission for a Garmin Virb 360 for video and the Xiaomi MiSphere for stills. I loved the KeyMission 360. It appears however that Nikon does not.

How Can This Be Fixed?

I sincerely hope I’m wrong and that a version two is coming. I even said as much last year: “Nikon did a lot of things right with this first stab at 360 video, enough to make me hope that they’ll keep at it for a second iteration of the KeyMission 360.”

And so if Nikon is listening, here’s how to make the KeyMission 360 Mark II beat the competition:

  • Every company seems to be launching these kinds of cameras with only two lenses and sensors. Use four and beat them in resolution and image quality.
  • Even high-end cameras such as the Insta360 Pro, which uses six cameras, have trouble with dynamic range. Nikon has historically not had trouble with this. Whatever magic makes this possible in their DSLRs, it should be in their 360 cameras. It’s Nikon’s signature feature.
  • Get the software right from the start. It’s good now, but it shouldn’t have taken more than a year. This is not unusual for Nikon, unfortunately.
  • More physical buttons. I don’t need an app to control the Garmin Virb 360 if I don’t want to. This should be an option as phones will change all the time and possibly break your software.
  • Dump the action cameras and focus on the 360 cameras. The action camera market is saturated while the 360 market is not.

It’s not too late for Nikon to stake a claim in this market. They’d beat the heavy hitters such as Canon and Sony to the game. They already have a better camera than Samsung and could leapfrog Ricoh that’s just recently caught up with its Theta V. The door’s still slightly open, Nikon only has to push it open and walk through it.


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