Samsung Gear 360

What 360-Degree Camera Makers Need to Learn From DSLR Manufacturers

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I love 360-degree video. I’ve spent a bit of time with a few different brands on the market. While there are many things I love about the medium, the actual cameras aren’t one of them. I don’t rave about them the way I do about perhaps a Nikon DSLR or Fuji mirrorless. That’s because the manufacturers of these 360-degree cameras aren’t making it easy.

Forgetting the Basics

I’m not talking about a memory card. That ship has sailed with practically all manufacturers a long time ago, though it shouldn’t have. How many new photographers are disappointed when they open the box and can’t take pictures right away? Plenty.

Forgiving the lack of included memory cards, how about a way to charge the camera? Many manufacturers are forgoing the traditional chargers and instead simply supplying a USB cable, figuring that many will just plug the other end into a phone charger. But that really doesn’t make sense when the same manufacturers expect you to use the phone to change the camera’s settings. Unless you buy an extra charger, you’re sharing one between devices and have effectively doubled your charging time. Samsung’s Gear 360, Ricoh’s Theta, and Garmin’s Virb 360 are all guilty of this sin of omission. Nikon’s KeyMission 360 includes a charger. It’s the one from a major camera manufacturer of course.

Incomplete Software Solutions

When the original Samsung Gear 360 came out, there was no support for iPhones or Macs. That’s a good chunk of the 360-loving population.  When the 2017 version was released. When the 2017 version was released, the company added software for the Mac and iPhones. Perhaps they shouldn’t have bothered; the software was clunky, at best and produced files that had stitchlines that moved. It felt as if you were sitting in a 360-degree bowl of Jell-O. The connection from the iPhone app was tenuous at best.

Garmin’s software is even more egregious. The camera’s marketing claims 5.7K resolution from the camera. In the fine print, it’s clear that the camera can only stitch 4K footage in-camera. That’s still OK.

What’s not OK is that Garmin’s software doesn’t provide any way to stitch 5.7K footage from the camera. Nor does Garmin’s website provide any information on how to do that. Its FAQ about the camera doesn’t even touch the issue, instead offering a laughable list of answers to basic questions a that wouldn’t even appease a high school newspaper reporter. Pretty unacceptable for a camera at the top of the consumer/prosumer spectrum at $749. If there’s no way coming from Garmin to stitch 5.7K footage, would it hurt for them to make a guide on how to do it?

If Canon had released the 5D Mark IV and touted its Dual Pixel RAW capabilities to micro-adjust an image after shooting, it would be a real letdown to find out that there wasn’t any software to do it in the box (or free online) or any instructions from the manufacturer on how to do this. But that’s not the case. Canon offers Digital Photo Professional to owners to do just that. It may not be everyone’s favorite editing software, but it’s certainly an end-to-end tool that will help users get the most out of their raw files.

Garmin should take a page from Canon and get their software house in order, stat. GoPro has another month with its Fusion 360 camera, so let’s hope they don’t follow the Garmin playbook on this point.

Integrated Batteries

This one’s aimed squarely at Samsung. Generation 1 of the Gear 360 offered removable batteries. There’s no reason a second generation camera should take a step backward, but it did in the 2017 model.

That’s a shame for a type of camera that is most definitely a battery hog. Removable batteries are 100 percent necessary to survive a day of shooting 360-video, and so the inability to replace the battery is a major step backward. There’s a reason your Fuji X-T2 doesn’t have a built-in battery. 360 cameras fare even worse than mirrorless when it comes to battery life.

Share Your Experiences

These are some of the ways I see that manufacturers of 360-degree cameras have a ways to go before they match the polish of traditional camera systems. Even if you throw more cash at the problem, such as investing $5,000 into a GoPro Omni setup, you’re introducing a different set of problems into the mix.

What do you think of the current state of 360-degree cameras? Where do you think they can improve?

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