Late last year I got the opportunity to head out to the Sydney Motorsport park and spend the day with the Samsung Gear 360 camera, oh and go drifting! The 360-degree camera space is still fairly limited with only a few real entrants currently available in the Australian market. Unlike with traditional cameras, a 360 camera captures everything not just what’s in front of the photographer. This opens up many options and use cases, however, it also brings a few new challenges with it, just remember it’s looking at you as well, so take my advice, do your hair and try not to squint.
From our time experimenting with the 360 format we’ve found that short videos or even stills are the best fit for the format, longer videos tend to be easier to “lose the content in” unless you’re clever to either subtly point viewers towards the correct view or have so much going on that it really doesn’t matter where they are watching.
Samsung Gear 360 Hardware
Measuring 56.3 x 55.7 x 60.1 and weighing in at 152 grams the Gear 360 includes dual 15 MP f/2.0 cameras capable of capturing up to a 25.9 mp 360 image and record 360 video at 3840 x 1920 @ 30 fps with front and rear microphones for audio recording. The device is powered by a 1,350 mAh replaceable battery and includes NFC, for quick pairing, Bluetooth 4.1 and a MicroSD card.
To control the Gear 360 you have two options, firstly the camera can be used completely independently using the on-device controls and post processing of the “stitch” can be offloaded onto a PC with software included with the camera. Alternatively, it can be paired with a Samsung Mobile phone (Galaxy S6 and above) where you get full control of both the camera and the stitching functionality.
The greatest weakness of the Gear 360 is its incompatibility with non-Samsung devices. Samsung originally launched their Tizen-powered watches as Samsung exclusives before making them more widely compatible, I can only hope they adopt a similar approach to the Gear 360 line.
From a design perspective, the Gear 360 is a striking device with an almost perfect sphere sitting atop of a set of collapsible and removable mini tripod legs. The design whilst striking actual makes the device a little hard to carry, especially in a pocket, let’s just say carrying one in your rear pocket will attract odd looks. The tripod feet work well and can easily be unscrewed to reveal a standard tripod mounting post, allowing you to mount swap the camera onto almost any commercially available camera mounting accessory.
Samsung Gear 360 The Stitch
Stitching in the process of combining the 2 images from the 2 cameras into a single 360 video. This is an important element of 360 photography to remain cognisant of when your shooting. On the 2 stitch lines, there will be noticeable artefacts of the processing, especially at shorter distances from the camera. Even with objects further away you likely to end up with some unusual stitching and potential loss of some elements of an image.
Because of this, you have to be on your toes when recording so that if there is some essential action you’re recording that you frame that area directly in front of either lens. The same goes for still photos, I always try and line up “unessential” elements of a 360 scene with the 2 “Stitch zones”
Check out one of our video below:
Samsung Gear 360 Storage
Using a 64 GB SD card I never got to a point where I was worried about capacity, that said I would often transfer the images or videos onto the phone because I wanted to watch them. Additionally, I never really went video crazy with the device either so if you’re heading out for a full day of 360 capturing action your results may vary. However, it is easy to move the videos over to the phone, if a little slow due to the stitching process.
Samsung Gear 360 Battery Life
The battery life of the gear 360 was not great. To be honest I’m not sure if the storage size would be a real issue because I think the device may go flat before you’d manage to fill a decent MicroSD card. On a full afternoon’s intermittent usage I found that at the end of capturing about 2 dozen 30 – 90-second clips and numerous stills, as well as offloading these to the phone that the Gear 360 was nearly flat.
With the MicroUSB port, it is easy to keep topped up so if you’re planning on a big shoot perhaps being a few batteries. The other thing to consider is your phone battery if you’re using the phone and app to control the camera and especially if you’re processing there and then you’re going to need a lot of spare battery power. Viewing, processing and moving the files on your phone runs the battery flat fairly quickly, bring batteries!
Samsung Gear 360 Viewing and Sharing
Okay, it’s great to have these 360 images and videos but what can you do with them? On your Samsung device, the Gear 360 app can take care of curating and displaying the images in a variety of ways. What about your friends? Thanks to Google Photos and YouTube you’ve got free access to some great sharing options. For 360 images simply share the link from your Google Photos album and set.
For videos you can share a link from Google photo’s as well, however, I did find a few browser incompatibilities when sharing to people with older browsers and even to many Mobile devices, I gave up sharing 360 videos via photos. In those situations, YouTube was the solution. Uploading the video to YouTube is simple and from then just share the link like any other.
I have to admit that sharing the results is still a little inconsistent, but I’m sure the major services, phone makers and browser developers will get it all sorted in time.
Samsung Gear 360 Conclusion
The Gear 3650 is a solid contender in a relatively new category of device, and like all new device categories, I think 360 photography is still in its infancy, a solution looking for its problem. That said a few of my 360 still images are now some of my favourite photos. Using the 360 cameras you’re able to capture everyone all at one and really encapsulate a moment.
Photos that were seemingly simple at the time bring back a wave of nostalgia when viewed. My personal favourite is a shot from Barcelona where a few of the Australians at MWC were sitting around following the close of the floor sharing a few beers and having a great time, every time I look at those images I am transported right back there in a way that I have never been with still images of standard video. There is definitely something in all this 360 photography.
The Gear 360 with its manual controls on the device made grabbing a quick shot really easy, it’s got a standard 3-second delay to get your hand back out of the way. I’ve used eh device at Christmas dinners, birthday parties and various other events and it really does complement traditional photography in ways I wasn’t really expecting.
Having used a 360 camera I now often think “I wish I had the 360 on me”, whether it’s to capture all the information about a space for later review or to capture an unexpected moment in time I now consciously think ooh hangon, I want to get this in 360. Perhaps we will see the front and rear camera sensors in our phones one day combine to be used as 360 cameras, and believe me I would buy the hell out of that phone, but until then getting a device like a Gear 360 is something I wholeheartedly recommend especially if you have kids, they’ll thank you one day.