Recently B&H Photo sent me three 360 spherical cameras to test and compare: the Samsung Gear 360 4k ($158), the Ricoh Theta 360 V 4k + TA-1 3D Microphone ($649), and the Insta360 One 4K ($299). Of course, there are other 360 cameras out there, but I chose these three based on their lower-end price range in the consumer-level category. Ultimately, the goal was to see if the camera’s price converts to a quality increase. Read on for the pros and cons for each one.
1. Samsung Gear 360 4K
The Samsung Gear 360 is best suited for the beginner 360 video creator. Cosmetically, the device is easy to hold and well designed, but the photo and video quality is quite low compared to the Ricoh Theta V. There are, however, a variety of shooting modes to choose from.
WiFi Connection: The Gear 360 was by far the most reliable WiFi system for me. To connect the Gear 360 to the mobile app on an iPhone, you just hold the “Menu” button until it says “Connect to iOS.” From there, it will give you a password to connect to the built-in WiFi connection.
Mobile UI: The mobile app’s design is very intuitive and easy to use. You can easily switch to five different modes: Video, Photo, Timelapse, Video Looping, and Landscape HDR. You can also easily adjust the f/stop, white balance, and enable/disable HDR.
Hardware Design: You can control the camera modes and settings from the device itself using the screen on the camera. You don’t need to hook it up to a phone to control it. Of course, you can’t see what the camera sees in this mode, but it’s helpful to have that extra screen interface to see what’s going on.
Low Price: The Samsung Gear is $200 dollars cheaper than most consumer-level spherical cameras.
Live-Streaming: This could just be a bug with the iPhone 6 I own, but when I selected “Live Broadcast,” it said I needed to “Update Gear 360 Firmware.” I was able to download the Firmware update (which took about two minutes), but as the app would try and transfer the update to the device, the app on my phone would crash and not complete the update.
Poor Quality: The images and videos produced by the Samsung 360 App had poor dynamic range, lots of noise, and the stitching of the two images was noticeable. You can see what I mean in the video timelapse video test below
2. Ricoh Theta V
The Ricoh Theta V camera is suited for the semi-professional 360 video filmmaker. You can capture high-quality video and photos that you can use to build 360 video tours and documentary experiences, while also using it for social media.
Mobile App UI: There are lots of manual photo settings you can control from the Ricoh Theta V app. There are four main modes: Auto, Shutter Priority, ISO Priority, and Manual. In Auto, you can also choose HDR Rendering (good for capturing all the bright and dark areas of an image, but requires a tripod), DR Compensation (good for outdoor shots where there’s large contrast between the dark and bright areas of the image), or Noise Reduction Mode (good for darker indoor shots). For video, there are only two modes: 1080p vs 4k (no manual settings), plus the ability to adjust the external microphone gain.
Excellent Desktop App and Stitching: The Ricoh Theta Desktop App will stitch and convert your video to an equirectangular format that you can easily edit in Premiere Pro. This is something I absolutely need, as I like to edit my videos using the 360/VR effects now built into Adobe Premiere Pro.
External 3D Microphone: Unlike the other cameras, there’s an external mic input that can capture audio in 360 space. The audio quality surprised me; it was very clear. Also, the mic comes with a wind-shield and carrying case.
Sharp and Crisp Images: Unlike the Insta360 camera and the Samsung Gear 360, the Ricoh Theta’s images were not blurry or out of focus. For photo images, you have the option to enable HDR mode (great for outdoor locations with bright and shady areas) and Noise Reduction mode (good for inside/dark space).
WiFi Connection: It took me several tries before I could successfully connect my iPhone to my Ricoh. It proved to be quite unreliable out in the field, which can be frustrating in the cold.
No Expandable Memory: This can be considered as a PRO if you don’t want to spend extra money on an SD-card slot. But if you’re out in the field and run out of space, you have to be near a computer to offload the footage. For example, I ran out of space after just filming on and off for two hours.
Tethered Livestream: You have to be connected to a computer via USB to stream to YouTube or Facebook, meaning you stream from just anywhere with the device alone.
Five-Minute Recording Limit: You can only record video up to five minutes at a time, so if you want to capture an awesome timelapse over 30 minutes, it’s not going to happen.
3. Insta360 ONE
The Insta360 Camera is best for the active social-media 360-video-sharing guru. It’s not intended for professional 360 filmmaking, but you can achieve some level of professional shots within the app settings.
MicroSD Card: When you order the Insta360 camera from B&H, it comes with an 8GB MicroSD Card, so you can go out and test without having to buy extra memory from the get-go.
Bullet Mode: This is one of the most unique aspects of the Insta360 camera. It comes with a string attachment that screws into the base of the camera, letting you shoot orbiting video while standing still. None of the other cameras have this feature, but the quality of the Bullet Mode videos was very low, turning out darker and grainier than expected.
360 Editing Desktop App: You can view, trim and export photos and videos for sharing on social media and editing in Premiere Pro with this app. The only downside is that you can’t review RAW photos or Bullet Mode videos before export. The UI of the desktop app could also be improved.
Independent Mode: The bluetooth connection with my iPhone didn’t work, and to use the camera independently of your phone, it requires an InstaOne SelfieStick remote. So you can’t attach your camera to a tripod and walk away to capture photos or video with your phone.
Mobile App and UI: While I enjoyed the variety of shots and modes the camera provided (e.g. LOG and Bullet Mode), it was not easy to know if the camera was recording or not. For example, the Ricoh has a red flashing video icon when it’s recording video, making it easy to know.
After testing, it was difficult for me to choose one camera that I preferred over the others, as there were pros and cons to each of them. But based on intended use, I recommend the following:
If you want to make short 360 films or tour videos or submit you footage to Pond5: Ricoh Theta V + TA-1 3D Microphone
If you want to create short social media videos: Samsung Gear 360
If you want to share 360 videos from your mobile device only: Insta360 ONE
Do you have experience with any of these cameras that you’d like to share? Are there other consumer-priced 360 cameras you would recommend? Sound off in the comments, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions!
Top image: Samsung Gear 360 courtesy of Samsung