Author(s): George Jijiashvili
As a photography enthusiast, I've been intrigued by 360-degree cameras and their ability to capture any given moment. For over a year, the CCS Insight team has been using numerous 360-degree cameras including the LG 360 Cam, Panono camera, Ricoh Theta S, Samsung Gear 360 and Gear 360 (2017).
The Ricoh Theta S, which was one of the first 360-degree cameras to hit the market, has been my go-to device for many months. Although I'm happy with its performance, battery life and reliability, the biggest downside for me is its stand-alone form factor. After taking a photo or video, you have to establish a Wi-Fi connection between the camera and a smartphone, transfer the content and only then can you share it with friends.
To reduce friction in the user experience and encourage users to share content, a few companies have emerged delivering attachable 360-degree cameras. Over the past few weeks, myself and CCS Insight's chief of research, Ben Wood, have been using two of the leading devices in this new category: the Giroptic iO and Insta360 Air.
Giroptic iO and Insta360 Air
We've been impressed by the $250 Giroptic iO camera terms of performance, attention to design and its plastic case, which fully protects the dual lenses. The case is robust enough to allow you to have the camera in your pocket with a set of keys, and it also doubles as a stand for your phone when taking a picture or video. The camera is currently only compatible with iPhone devices but we expect a USB-C variant to become available in the future.
A 360-degree image taken at Baseworld 2017, with the Giroptic iO
The Insta360 Air is a ball-shaped dual-lens camera that comes in a rubber protective cover. Like the Giroptic iO, it supports most social networks and offers the ability to live-stream video content. Perhaps the most significant aspect is its price. At $129, it's one of the most affordable 360-degree cameras on the market. It's compatible with most Android devices, and, for iPhone users, the company offers a Nano camera.
"Surroundie" taken with the Insta360 Air
The main strength of both cameras is how easy they are to use, thanks to their plug-and-play functionality — provided that users have the companion apps installed on their smartphone. These apps are continuously improved, and they offer plenty of impressive features such as automatically stitching out the phone and camera from a photo or video, live-streaming in 360-degrees and even generating flat images or videos for social media platforms that don't yet support 360-degree material.
We remain convinced that this new format has real potential (see 360-Degree Content's Huge Potential). It's clear that 360-degree cameras are becoming more accessible and affordable. Perhaps more importantly, as distribution becomes simpler, it's likely to lead to a rapid explosion of user-generated material.
Facebook and Google, with its YouTube division, were pioneers in the distribution of 360-degree content, and have since been joined by Flickr, Periscope, Twitter and Vimeo. We expect Instagram and other social networks to follow in supporting the format. The "surroundie" is yet to become the next selfie, but there are certainly many positive signs pointing to a 360-degree future as devices get smaller, more inexpensive and easier to use.