For over a month, I have been carrying the LG 360 CAM with me everywhere and creating 360-degree photos. Readers following my Facebook page, Twitter, or Instagram, would have seen a lot of images I posted, images that distort perceptions and perspectives, that either wowed viewers or irked them.
Not many people understands 360-degree photography. Also known as photo sphere, it captures immersive photos from the viewpoint of the photographer, allowing the viewer to see all around the point of capture – top, down, left, right, front, back.
The below image can be interacted by the user by swiping to see all around in 360 degrees. Try it.
2 years ago, Android already introduced this form of image capture through its stock camera app called “Photo Sphere” mode. The user has to follow on-screen guide to point the camera in all angles to capture a full 360-degree image. That process takes several minutes, not to mention the imperfect stitching due to moving objects (like people) and changing lighting conditions (like moving clouds).
The other way to capture broadcast-grade 360 footage is to use multiple cameras to record at all angles. The cheapest professional way is to use 6 GoPros and mount in a cube formation, download all the individual files and generate into a spherical footage.
But for casual users, there is no need to spend that much money to create 360 content. All you need is just a pocketable device like the Ricoh Theta S, Samsung Gear 360, LG 360 CAM. These devices have 2 cameras on each side to capture about 200-degrees of the screen, then stitched together instantly by the device to form a photo sphere. In its raw form, it looks like a distorted image, not unlike the atlas map that hangs on our walls. To view it in a 360 format, your photo viewer app must support photo sphere.
Among the 360 cameras, the LG 360 CAM is the most affordable and has the most user-friendly design. It comes with a hard case that protects the entire device and can be clipped below the camera as a grip. There are just 2 buttons: the power button and the shutter button. There is no internal memory, so you must insert a micro SD card to start recording. The tripod screw below allows you to mount on a standard tripod. To use it underwater, you can purchase a waterproof case licensed by LG. The device uses the new USB 3.1 Type-C port.
When the LG 360 CAM is in standby mode, it can wake up instantly to take photos, by tapping the shutter or through the smartphone app. From my experience over the months, the battery does not drain in standby mode. After 5 minutes of non-activity, the camera goes back to sleep.
Taking photos is just a matter of clicking the shutter button. To record videos, press the shutter button longer until you hear a tone, and press again to stop. To view the footage, use any smartphone and install the LG 360 CAM Manager app to download to the smartphone. The app also supports live preview and remote shutter, and lets you change the default shoot settings on the LG360. My default is to set the shutter button to shoot after a 3-second timer.
After the photo or video is captured, you can use the CAM Manager app to download and view it on the smartphone. Photos average 5 MB in size and takes a brief moment to download. Videos take a lot longer because during the download process, the smartphone will convert the video into a 360-degree format. If you intend to download directly from the camera to the computer, you need to use the LG 360 CAM Viewer software to convert it first before sharing.
Since the camera captures 360-degrees, there is no need to get in frame! Just stay where you are, unlike conventional cameras where you need to squeeze in front of the camera lens. The camera captures everything around it, there is no escape! But I try not to put important objects at the sides of the camera. The LG 360CAM does not stitch between the 2 camera units quite seamlessly, hence objects that appear across the cameras may not look perfect. Ricoh Theta appears to achieve the best stitch, so why do I not get the Theta instead of the LG 360?
After reviewing all the 360 cameras through available online resources like YouTube, my conclusion is that besides the stitching, there are no significant image quality difference among these consumer-grade 360 cameras. While they claim to capture 2K or 4K footage, the effective pixel display is much lesser because the footage is stretched to fit 360-degree instead of a small rectangular frame.
The other important reason is that I am just starting to explore 360 degree photography hence affordability and ease of use are more important factors. The content I create is not for commercial purposes and hence there is no need for utmost detail and quality.
Most importantly, the LG 360 is so much more cost-effective. The retail price is S$398 while the Theta S is S$600. The Samsung Gear 360 sells at S$498 and while it possess the highest resolution, it only works with Samsung smartphones. Among these cameras, the LG 360 is definitely the best design, as it is pocketable (like Theta), comes with a case (none has it), and has expandable storage (like Samsung).
There is no doubt that there will be more 360-degree cameras launching that will achieve better quality over the months, but it’s a waiting game that I am not willing to play.
Capturing 360 images seem to be the easy part, but then how does one edit and share the images? If you publish the photos as a 360 interactive photo on Facebook or Flickr, then there is no edit required other than the usual edits like brightness, contrast, sharpness. But what I enjoy is converting the images into static photos. Here are the apps I use and recommend:
- Tiny Planet Maker. It’s simple to use, adjustment is made by swiping the screen. Image is limited to square format.
- Little Planet. Adjustments are made by sliders instead of swiping. It offers more adjustment options and it seems to save the final image with better quality.
- Theta+. I use the official app by Ricoh most of the time because it supports other cropping, as well as basic image editing. The drawback is that it takes a longer time to load the image.
- Theta+ Video. This is one of the few apps that can easily edit 360 videos while retaining the the 360 metadata.
The usual ways of converting 360 degree photos are:
Fisheye: Photo looks like a crystal ball.
I use this effect the least because of the wasted space outside the sphere. But it represents what one of the cameras see.
Tiny Planet: Photo looks like the objects on a small planet that sticks out to the sky.
One of my favourites and certainly the most popular way to share 360 photos due to its quirky viewpoint. It is better to raise the 360 camera above eye level so that the photo captures more surrounding objects, as if the photo is taken on a drone.
Wormhole: Photo looks like the world is wrapped all around.
It is the opposite of “Tiny Planet” where the centre of the image is the sky. Works best if the objects surrounding the 360 camera is very interesting and you want to make them stand out in the photo.
Landscape: Photo is flattened
This is the entire lay-flat raw image of the 360-degree photo. It’s just like how the world atlas is represented on a flat plane.
Fun with 360 Photography
What I really enjoy about 360 photography is the ability to create images that capture everything all around me in one take.
The other awesome thing is the ability to reframe the same 360 photo and save it as different images.
Tiny Planet or Wormhole? Both looks swell! I also try to adjust till I am out of the image (right).
The way you position the 360 camera against the objects around it plays a critical part in the outcome of the image. When camera is nearer to objects or people, they look more prominent. So, if you want a tiny planet effect, it looks best in an open field.
Also, if you take a photo with the thumb on the shutter release, your hand will be prominent on the photo. Hence, using a monopod and enabling timed shutter is highly recommended.
More Fun with 360 Video
Capturing 360 video is a lot of interesting. Here’s why. In conventional videos, there is only a single angle of view which is fixed by the person filming. With 360 video, the viewer – YOU – controls the direction of what to view. So it is never enough to watch the video once, because with every replay, you can change the angle and look at different objects. First take, you might look at the main subject. Next replay, look at the other perspective of what the subject is looking at. Third replay, check out the passersby around you and observe how they would look at you (and the camera) with curious eyes. With every replay, you will find new things.
The drawback of shooting with 360 camera are the images lack details when zooming in, and they appear distorted. It is therefore not an ideal medium for taking proper portraits with proportionate body dimensions.
But seriously, 360 cameras create fun and interactive images and videos that truly capture the moment of everything around. And perhaps of all types of imaging devices, the 360 camera is the only equipment that also captures the photographer in the same frame. It’s about time people stop commenting that the photographer – me – is always not in the picture.
Which 360 camera is best? It all depends on how serious you are in creating 360 content. The LG 360 CAM is definitely a great camera for beginners who want to try out this new way of creating content. But if you want to jump in the bandwagon to get the best compact 360 camera, I will recommend Ricoh Theta S.
Hope this article has piqued your interest in 360 photography. Leave your comments below if you have any questions or things to share.
All 360 photos are captured on a pre-production unit of the LG 360 CAM, courtesy of LG Singapore. The quality of the production unit may vary.