The new selfies are 360° photos and videos, and Samsung has made it perfectly clear that they will be positioned for this fact. Last week Samsung announced the August 19th US launch of the new Galaxy Note7, the new Gear VR and the Samsung Gear 360 camera.
Since the Gear 360 has been available in Germany for a couple of months now, we had a chance to pick one up early and I have to say, it’s pretty darn cool. Yes, it has it’s limitations, but for an affordable, compact, social media quality 360° photo and video camera that is fast and easy to use, the Gear 360 is perfect.
Priced at $349, the camera comes with a small tripod, carrying bag, USB cable, hand strap and cleaning cloth. It works with Samsung Galaxy S6 & S7 smart phones but you will need to purchase a separate Micro SD card. It supports cards up to 200GB.
The device’s dual front and back F2.0 fish eye lenses record 3840×1920 high resolution MP4 videos and 25.9MP JPG Photos which are stitched together using the smart phone software after the shot is taken. The shots can be previewed in real time on the phone, because it streams the image via bluetooth. There is a slight lag in the timing, but being able to see how your shot is framed as you shoot is a HUGE advantage to even some of the more expensive 360 cameras. (After spending the last month shooting content with a 6 camera GoPro rig, this was a welcome escape to a much easier 360° video solution.)
Once the shot is taken, it uses WIFI direct to send the stitched content to your phone so it can be previewed in Gear VR or in your phone’s gallery
Installing the Gear 360 Manager app is simple and using the app is relatively intuitive. There are a few settings: File size, Timer, Brightness, White Balance, HDR and there are four 360 degree-capturing modes: video, photo, timelapse and looping video.
The photos are much better quality than the videos. As I mentioned before, the primary use cases for the Gear 360 is it’s ease of use, it’s portability (you can carry it in your jacket pocket) and it’s ability to capture the moment easily and quickly. The camera is great for social media purposes but as a high end, pro quality 360 camera, you might be disappointed.
Stitching photos takes about 2 seconds on my Galaxy S6 and a 1 minute video takes 4-5 seconds. Transferring a photo to your phone takes a couple of seconds, and transferring a video can take a couple of minutes.
I found that the best results were when using a selfie stick held at a distance. The included tripod is convenient, but anything that is too close to the lenses tends to get blurred when stitching. There is a noticeable stitch line around the 180° circumference that is very apparent when shooting things close up or in rooms that have inconsistent lighting. I found that my best results were when shooting outside with consistent light.
The video below was taken at the Marktplatz outside the Mainzer Dom in Mainz, Germany. You can see a slight discoloration on the stitch line on the sides, however, as a little tip, if you stand directly perpendicular to a straight line, it sometimes will cover this up.
The image below was taken inside the Mainzer Dom with relatively consistent but dark light. The stitch line is not so obvious because again, it is masked by the building’s natural lines.
Previewing the content on your phone offers multiple panoramic view modes. If the content is saved to your phone’s gallery, one touch offers the ability to open it directly in your Gear VR.
Currently, however, when you preview in Gear VR, it opens a gallery that, while it shows all of your 360 content, it will only show videos in actual 360° mode. Unfortunately the images only show in 2D for some reason. In order to view my images in 360°, I had to open up the 360 Photos app in Oculus Home. Hopefully they will be able to work that out.
You also can’t wear the Gear VR and view the real time camera images in 360°. This would be an awesome feature that I hope they add soon.
As I mentioned before, the Gear 360 is a great tool for creating social media quality 360 content, Unfortunately, sharing content via the app is a bit janky. The main issue is just the file sizes, which are a bit too large for direct uploading to social networks via your phone. The second issue is that straight uploading of the content does not always work. I was able to upload 360 photos directly to facebook, but that is about as much as you can do before having to copy the content to a desktop machine and upload from there.
Uploading videos directly to facebook also works fairly seamlessly, however YouTube wasn’t working for me. I am not sure if I was doing something wrong, or if there is some sort of meta information missing, but regardless of what I tried, the upload would not work properly and display in 360 mode.
Gear 360 Action Director
The Gear 360 comes with a free license to a program called Gear 360 Action Director, which is a PC only video editing program that allows you to stitch the content. This is primarily useful for those who don’t own a Samsung phone. The camera allows you to take photos and videos without a phone, however since you need the phone software to stitch the content together, any content created just with the camera needs to be stitched in Gear 360 Action Director.
The Samsung Gear 360 is a great little camera for shooting fast 360° photo and video content. The video quality definitely needs some improvement, but for social media quality it works just fine. It is fast, affordable, easy to use and looks freaking cool. Go get one and have some fun.
Sean Earley is the podcast host and Executive Editor of AR/VR Magazine, Modern Musician Magazine & co-founder of RobotSpaceship Podcast Network. He is the Director of New Biz Development, PR and Publishing at KEMWEB, a musician, producer & consultant. He loves guitars, VR and coffee.