The Insider Pick:
* 360 cameras give you a full view of the scene to help you create immersive photos and videos for virtual reality and other applications. Of all the 360 cameras on the market, the Ricoh Theta S stands out because of its easy-to-use features and superb video and photo quality.
Digital cameras create beautiful rectangular shaped photographs and videos. Not surprisingly, most people are more than satisfied with those types of images.
Then there are those people who always wonder how to make something better. For them, the goal is to make digital camera video and photos more closely resemble actual human vision. Several decades ago, cameras went from recording in black and white to full color. More recently, we’ve seen 3D movies, as well as panoramic photos that provide a wider view than normal.
The next step forward is the 360 camera, which creates still images and videos that even outdo a human's 120-degree peripheral vision, offering a 360-degree view. Call it surround sound for the eyes, if you will.
Modern 360 cameras are extremely cool pieces of gear that take some amazing photographs and videos. The footage can even be used in virtual reality applications. These new cameras are easier to use than ever, too, so even photography novices can create these attention-grabbing 360-degree images and video.
How 360 cameras work
A 360 camera often contains two individual lenses and/or image sensors, using software to stitch the images together. Or a fish-eye lens can pair with one image sensor to create the 360-degree photos and video.
- * 360-degree photographs: Shooting a 360-degree still image shares some properties with panoramic photography. The camera may shoot a series of photos, where you move the lens slightly every time to account for each segment of the scene. Some 360-degree cameras make use of multiple image sensors or multiple lenses to record the photographs faster. Others use a fish-eye lens that has a 360-degree view naturally.
- * 360-degree video: When shooting 360-degree movies, a 360-degree camera usually contains two different lenses inside, paired with two image sensors. Each of these cameras records one slice of the 360-degree scene. With two cameras, each camera would shoot a 180-plus degree video, for example. There’s a slight overlap to allow the software to piece the videos together seamlessly. Some cameras rely on a single fish-eye lens to shoot 360-degree video.
With both 360 photos and 360 videos, software inside the camera stitches all of the images or videos together to create the final product. The software also compares the exposure levels and color saturation within each segment and adjusts the individual segments to ensure they all match.
Uses for 360 cameras
Steve Johnson, Business Insider
If you’re unsure whether you’ll be able to take advantage of a 360 camera’s features, read through the list of our favorite reasons to shoot photos and video with a 360 camera.
* Show it all: When shooting standard photos and videos on vacation, you’re able to show a small slice of what you experienced. With a 360-degree image, you can show off the entire scene, giving others the chance to experience it however they want. Viewers are completely engrossed with the 360-degree images, as USA Today discussed in an article.
* To use with VR: As explained by The Wirecutter, shooting 360-degree photos and videos to use with virtual reality gear provides an immersive experience.
* For action: We already provided our list of the best action cameras, which are made for first-person video while performing activities. When using a 360 camera to create action photos and videos, you’ll create some even crazier looks.
* Be in the photo: No longer will you have to embarrass yourself by carrying around a selfie stick, earning the scorn of those near you! With a 360 photograph or video, it’s easy for you to be in the scene.
* Security: Some 360 cameras work great as a security camera, giving you a full view of your property, as discussed by Android Central.
Best of all, this product category is new enough that additional uses for 360 cameras are sure to develop over the next couple of years. Maybe you’ll even create one of those uses that becomes popular, making you Internet famous!
If you're interested in 360 cameras, you should also check out our other great camera buying guides, including the best action cameras, the best DSLR cameras, the best point-and-shoot cameras, the best SD cards, and the best microSD cards.
Although the Ricoh Theta S is our top 360 camera choice, for various reasons laid out in the slides below, you should also consider the Kodak PixPro SP360 4K, the Garmin VIRB 360, the 360 fly 4K, and the LG 360 Cam.
The best 360 camera overall
Why you'll love it: If you’re a little intimidated by a 360 camera, the Ricoh Theta S is the easiest to use and it produces great images and video.
The Theta S from Ricoh makes use of two 190-degree lenses, each of which pairs with a 12-megapixel image sensor. The camera’s software stitches the images and videos together to create a 360-degree view. The image and video quality are excellent and the Theta S is remarkably simple to use, making it the best 360 camera for most people.
The Ricoh Theta S has a thin and lengthy design, almost like a TV remote. This allows the 360 camera to fit inside a pocket, which is convenient. However, one Amazon customer reviewersaid the Theta S is not very durable, so you may want to carry it in a case.
The Ricoh Theta S impressed the well-known camera reviewer Ken Rockwell with its ability to create accurate exposures consistently, no matter what kind of photo or video scene he encountered. Additionally, one Amazon customer highlighted the ease with which you can shoot group photos with this camera.
Digital Trends appreciates the simplicity with which even novices can operate the Theta S. Anyone can use this camera without too much practice or previous knowledge of 360 photography and video. CNET also points out that the easy-to-use mobile app for the Theta Smakes it incredibly intuitive for beginners and further simplifies the camera’s operation.
One drawback to the Ricoh Theta S is you’re limited to 8GB of internal storage space, and the 360-degree camera has no way to increase its storage space. The space will fill up quickly, so you'll have to download your footage regularly.
Overall, the Theta S is the easiest 360-degree camera to use for people who are just starting out, and it provides more than enough features for photography buffs who are serious about creating 360-degree photos and video.
Pros: One of easiest 360 cameras to use, thin camera design makes it easy to hold, accurate exposures in many different lighting conditions, may use mobile apps to operate the Theta S
Cons: Durability is a question mark, limited to 8GB of storage space
The best advanced 360 camera
Why you'll love it: The Kodak PixPro SP360 4K creates amazing full 360-degree videos with a two-camera setup.
The Kodak PixPro SP360 4K has a design that almost resembles some sort of alien technology. It’s a simple cube with a dome on top that contains the lens, yet it’s smaller than a Rubik’s Cube.
Image quality is a key component of the PixPro SP360 4K. As the name suggests, it offers 4K video recording resolution for its 360-degree video, which works incredibly well for VR technology. The Kodak SP360’s camera also creates 360-degree video that’s both YouTube and Facebook compatible. As Wired points out in its review, you will need two cameras to create full 360-degree video both horizontally as well as vertically, however. A single SP360 4K camera records 4K video with a 235-degree vertical viewing angle.
The SP360 4K Dual Pro Pack, which comes with the two cameras you need for full 360-degree shots, is a good value for creating full 360-degree vertical video versus some other high-end 360 cameras. In its review, ePhotozine says it's well worth getting the Dual Pro Pack. One Amazon customer reviewer praised this camera’s ability to create full 360-degree videos that other cameras aimed at beginners can’t equal.
For simple photographs and video on the 360-degree horizontal axis, the fish eye lens in the dome works great. But because of its high price point and high-quality video, it’s not necessarily made for beginners or those looking for a simple 360 camera, as CNET discusses in its review. In fact, one Amazon customer was disappointed with the time and steps required to create the full 360-degree videos.
Overall, the Kodak PixPro SP360 4K is a better 360 camera option for serious hobbyists than beginners. Pros won't be disappointed by this 360-degree camera.
Pros: Full 360-degree video horizontally and vertically with Dual Pro Pack, great for advanced hobbyists, 4K video resolution, single camera offers 235-degree vertical viewing angle, works great for VR
Cons: Can be overkill for beginners, expensive for beginners, requires two cameras for full 360-degree horizontal and vertical video
The best waterproof 360 camera
Why you'll love it: What’s cooler than shooting 360-degree video in your backyard? Shooting that same video under the water with the Garmin VIRB 360.
Finding 360 cameras that offer waterproofing and the durability of an action cam is an expensive proposition. So even though the Garmin VIRB 360 has a high price point versus some other 360 cameras, its waterproof design sets it apart from the rest of the entry-level market to make it a great option for outdoor enthusiasts.
As DCRainMaker points out, professional setups for 360 action cameras can run $10,000 and higher, so its $800 price is fairly reasonable in comparison. In its review, SlashGear says this Garmin camera tends to compete more closely with action cams like the GoPro. The Garmin VIRB 360 can be submerged in up to 10 meters of water without any problems.
For further proof of this camera’s ability to function as an action camera, the Tom’s Guide review points out that the VIRB 360 is filled with measurement sensors, allowing you to overlay the sensor data onto the video. Sensors include a barometer, an accelerometer, a compass, a GPS chip, and a gyroscope.
If you want more than 4K video, the Garmin VIRB 360 delivers, offering 5.7K video resolution at 30 frames per second. Despite the camera’s high price, one Amazon buyer was impressed with the extra video resolution. Additionally, the VIRB 360 excels in audio recording, using four built-in microphones for surround sound to go with the surround video.
Pros: 360 camera with action camera capabilities, waterproof up to 33 feet, 5.7K video resolution, includes numerous sensors that can overlay data onto the video, excellent audio recording with built-in mics
Cons: Expensive price point, new to the market meaning longevity is unknown
The best versatile 360 camera
Why you'll love it: It may look a bit like a Magic 8-Ball, but the versatile 360fly 4K camerasuccessfully answers all of your questions about shooting 360-degree 4K video.
If you are looking for a 360 camera with plenty of flexibility to meet your photography and movie making needs, the 360fly 4K fits the bill. The 360fly 4K looks a lot like a Magic 8-Ball that you may have played with as a kid, but there’s no mistaking the high-tech capabilities of this impressive 360 camera.
In its review, Tom’s Guide praised the 360fly 4K’s ability to capture and share video and still images when pairing the camera with the great companion app.
The 360fly 4K includes 64GB of internal memory, 4K or HD video recording, a 16MP sensor for still images, a 240-degree vertical video recording angle, and a standard tripod socket. As ePhotozine points out in its review, it's a very versatile camera. Additionally, you can switch between 360-degree video recording and first-person video recording extremely easily.
As CNET discusses, the video and audio quality with this 360 camera lags a bit behind the market, but it’s extremely easy to use and it allows you to employ it successfully in a number of ways. One Amazon customer reviewer appreciated how videos don’t require stitching and editing before sharing them.
Pros: Flexibility in use cases, offers 64GB of internal memory, videos are ready to share immediately after shooting, strong mobile app with plenty of features, 240-degree vertical recording angle, easy to use
Cons: Image and video quality could be better versus other 360 cameras
The best affordable 360 camera
Why you'll love it: If you’re looking to jump into the world of 360 cameras without spending a lot of money, the LG 360 Cam is the best option.
If you want to test the world of 360 cameras with an inexpensive option, the LG 360 Cam is one of your best options. The LG 360 Cam uses two 13MP sensors to create its 360-degree videos and still images, yet is priced well below most 360 cameras on the market. It works with both Android devices and iPhones, though it's better with Android.
As Android Central discusses in its LG 360 Cam review, the camera uses a pair of 200-degree lenses to create the 360-degree horizontal video and still images, making it easy to use. However, Android Central didn’t like the design of this model, citing its boring gray color and poorly placed buttons.
To be able to offer the LG 360 Cam at such a low price point, the manufacturer did have to sacrifice features in a few areas. Tech Radar shows in its review that this camera only offers 4GB of internal memory. However, you can supplement the camera’s memory with a microSD card. And it doesn’t create videos that are great for VR. The camera can only record video for about 20 minutes at a time, which disappointed one Amazon customer.
Still, it’s incredibly easy to use and the price is right. The LG 360 Cam’s image and video quality is just right for social media sharing, making it well worth considering, according to one Amazon customer reviewer.
Pros: Very low price point for 360 camera, extremely easy to use, includes two 13MP image sensors, small camera is easy to take anywhere, may supplement internal memory with microSD card
Cons: Video and image quality are below average, camera body design has poorly placed buttons, only 4GB of internal memory