The 360fly caught the attention in the tech community as the first single-lens 360 camera in 2015, and over the years, built a strong user base thanks to its unique product design. Early this year, they announced the 4K version. This month, both the HD and the 4K versions are available for sale in Singapore through the official distributor, TC Acoustic. The HD version retails at S$590 and the 4K version sells for S$920.
The 360fly 4K is shaped like a sphere with prism-shaped surface cut. The base has a standard screw tripod mount and charging connectors around it. The charging dock is magnetically polarized so that there is only one way to stick the dock to the 360fly.
The 360fly 4K feels heavy, solid, and appears to be able to handle abuse, except the glass lens. Due to the large glass element, it is difficult not to soil the lens with oily fingerprints. The 360fly 4K combines a powerful 16-megapixel image sensor with innovative smart camera features — First-Person POV, Motion/Audio Active, Time-Lapse Mode. Water-resistant to 1 atm (around 34 feet), dustproof and shockproof, the 360fly 4K features 64 GB of internal memory and built-in telemetry sensors, including an e-compass and non-assisted GPS. It is also one of the few 360 cameras that support live streaming using a separate mobile app called LIVIT.
The camera only has one triangular button called OnePush, with various LED colours to indicate the operating status. During charging, it turns green. When camera is powered up, it appears blue. When recording, it shows red. When battery is low, it appears as purple. Together with the function button, the camera base also has an LED surrounding the charging connectors, giving the user easy view of the status at odd angles.
Included in the package is a screw mount adapter for GoPro, a soft zipper case that does not fit the 360fly, USB cable, instruction manual, charging dock, some stickers.
Single-lens, Partial 360
The 360fly is not a true 360-degree camera. It only covers 360-degrees horizontally, and 240-degrees vertically. What this means is that objects directly below the 360fly cannot be captured. Due to such design nature, the 360fly is not exactly a useful camera for doing still photography, something that Ricoh Theta and LG 360 CAM do very well (they are more compact too).
What the 360fly does is the ability to capture action and extreme sports without the need for additional protective housing. Think GoPro in 360. You are likely to mount the camera on your helmet or surfboard. In these scenarios, there is nothing to see at the base of the camera anyway.
The 360fly will immerse the viewer into the action, allowing him to view the moments all around him at eye level and above him. The missing area at the bottom of the scene is cleverly edited to make it look like the 360fly is mounted on a reflective surface.
Making the 360fly 4K work proves to be more difficult than I thought. First, I installed the 360fly companion app on the LG G5. Connecting to the 360fly 4K requires both Bluetooth and WiFi pairing. I managed to connect successfully and even triggered recording remotely. However, when I tried to download the video to the G5, it failed.
A check on the 360fly website shows that the app is tested to work only on selected smartphones, like iPhone 5S, Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, LG G3, and better. Strangely, the latest G5 is not in the list. I tried on the ASUS Zenfone Zoom and it could not even connect successfully to get live preview feed.
Fortunately, I have the HTC One M8, which I got it to work rather flawlessly. The app allows the user to control the 360fly camera to capture photos (up to 3456×3456) or videos. I can also adjust the camera image settings prior to recording, like saturation, brightness, exposure, contrast.
There are several capture modes, from the normal 360 mode, to POV mode where it crops into a normal front-facing lens camera, and time lapse or photo bursts up to 8 frames. The video can be recorded in 30fps (2880×2880), 24fps (2880×2880), or 60fps (1728×1728). 1 minute of footage uses about 360MB.
Instead of using the app, I can also start recording by pressing the button on the 360fly, but only video recording can be triggered, not still photo.
Recording can also be auto-triggered by audio or by video, configured under the camera settings. You can define how long the video will record and whether you want to set a delay in between the trigger. This could have made the 360fly a perfect surveillance camera – if only the 360fly can operate in a more stealthy mode. There is currently no way to disable the LED lights and the vibration every time the camera starts and stops recording.
Playing back footages is just a matter of selecting from the folder. I like that the 360fly app has a VR mode where you can watch the footages immediately using VR goggles. This saves me the trouble of using a third party app to watch the videos.
I also love the “AutoPilot” feature where during preview or playback, the display automatically pans to the area of footage that has the highest degree of motion. This saves me trouble of swiping the screen to look for areas that have movement.
When playing back raw videos of 360fly, it is not possible to tilt downwards because the camera does not capture what is below the camera. After exporting the videos into a standard 360 video, then the footage can be tilted downwards to see the “reflection” I described earlier.
Here’s a video I recorded with time lapse setting. Pan the video and see how the traffic moves so fast.
This is the part that gets really interesting. The app comes with a lot of editing features which I would gladly pay to use for all my 360 videos taken with other cameras. To edit footages, they must be downloaded first. Each file has a small download icon and upon pressing, the download bar appears below the preview image.
To go into edit mode, just click the footage which goes into playback. Then click the scissors icon to go into edit mode. Once clicked, you will see another 3 new icons above a large shutter button. The first button is the normal “Clip Capture” mode, where you can pick sections of the footage to include in your edited footage, and you indicate the footage you want by tapping the large shutter button while the video is playing in real time, very much like trying to re-record the footage into a new video. A really intuitive way of editing, instead of dragging the start-stop markers manually. When you are satisfied, just click the DONE button. You can then preview your edit before deciding whether to save or re-edit. The new footage remains as 360 format.
My favourite video editing mode is “Watch Me“, which allows me to save the 360 video into a normal 16:9 ratio video. Instead of allowing the viewer to swipe around the 360 video, I record the movements – like a movie director – through either the smartphone gyroscope or using fingers swiping on the display. The exported video can be played on any players and on all social media sites. In this mode, I can only save up to 2 minutes.
I also enjoyed adjusting the playback speed at selected parts of the clip to create a “QuickSilver Effect”, a Marvel Comics superhero featured in the X-Men Apocalypse 2016 movie.
Before saving the final output, the 360fly app allows me to stack other edits. One is to add filters to the entire footage. Another is to adjust the playback speed. Finally, I can add soundtrack from a fixed list, with no option to use my own music (for now). When all is ready, hit “SAVE”.
The entire editing process can take quite a fair bit of time. The most frustrating thing is that the video will be saved only if you reach the end of the editing process. There is no option to save as a project file and come back again later to complete the edit. I encountered a few scenarios where the save failed, once due to insufficient storage, the other due to unknown app error.
The final edit mode is the still capture, where you can save any footage into a static image, in 360 or cropped.
All 360fly videos need to be exported before uploading to sites or other apps that support standard 360 videos like YouTube and Facebook. What the export process does is to create a “reflection” at the bottom view of the video as described above.
The desktop version, 360fly Director, have similar features to the smartphone version. To download files from the 360fly, connect the USB cable to the dock and power up the 360fly. From the 360fly desktop app, you can click the “Camera” tab to see the thumbnails of the available footages and select for downloading.
One feature that only the desktop version can do is to merge video clips. This would be useful if you want to create video collage from multiple clips.
Some constraints I find: if you do not have touch screen monitor, you will not be able to zoom in and out for “Watch Me” editing. Another is that during exporting of video, I have to wait for the completion and cannot do other things on the app. Finally, the desktop app requires the computer to run in 64-bit OS to process 4K video taken with the 360fly 4K model.
I also wished the desktop version is able to save the editing videos as project files so that I can modify the edits to finetune or create various versions without having to do the edit all over again.
Here is the test footage during the day, unedited. I used this footage to produce the “Watch Me” video above.
Here is the raw test footage at night.
As you can see, the 360fly does not perform well at low light at all under auto settings.
Another interesting issue I find is that because the lens is pointing upwards, there are higher chances of lens flare when the light source is above. For instance, when shooting indoors with ceiling light.
The final handicap is the inability to capture the perspective below the camera. On the above day-time test footage shot through the car sunroof, the car is completely obscured. Compare that to the footage below, shot with LG 360 CAM on the same car.
The 360fly 4K is capable of continuous recording up to 90 minutes and 14 hours standby. I did not do a power test, but based on general usage, the rated battery life seems accurate. The camera gets warm when recording. Charging takes 2.5 hours when using 1.5A charger. The package does not include any AC charger. As the battery is not removable, it can be a problem if you have a full day of activity. It would be good if 360fly has a battery attachment to extent the power. Due to the comparatively limited battery, I have to turn off the camera after finishing every shot, and turn on when I am about to shoot. The power up cycle requires several seconds, so the camera is not ideal for impulse capture.
The 360fly is a rugged piece of camera gear that competes in the GoPro market segment. It offers solid online community platform to share the works, a massively feature-packed smartphone app and desktop software to edit and publish the videos on social networks like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Its weatherproof design is well-suited for use in sports and extreme activities without the need for added protection.
Due to the incomplete spherical capture, the 360fly is not suited to create Tiny Planet photographs, which requires a full 360-spherical view capture. For consumers who prefer that, they should get the Ricoh Theta S or the LG 360 CAM, the latter having longer standby time which allows instant-on and capture. The alternative product for action and extreme sports is the Nikon KeyMission 360, a full 360 camera which is waterproof, freezeproof, shockproof.
Finally, the 360fly 4K is very picky when it comes to hardware compatibility on the smartphone and the computer OS. Visit the website https://www.360fly.com/apps/ to check the list of supported devices before purchase. The 360fly 4K retails in Singapore at S$920 while the 360fly HD is available for S$590, from TC Acoustic Online Shop.
360fly 4K Spec
Size: Depth: 61mm x Height: 59.5mm
Resolution: 2880 x 2880 pixels
Connectivity: Wi-Fi [802.11 b/g/n], Bluetooth 4.0
Recording Rate: 50 Mbps
Battery: 1.5 hours recording, 14 hours standby
Audio Format: Stereo ACC 48KHz 96Kbps
Microphone: Dual Omnidirectional
Sensors: Accelerometer, E-compass, Non-assisted GPS, Gyroscope
IP67 Rating: Water resistant 1ATM, dustproof, shockproof
Power: 1780mAh Li-Polymer Battery, non-removable
Charging Time: 2.5 hours with 1.5A charger