When you think of major camera makers, names like 360fly, LG, and Ricoh may not spring to mind. Such newcomers have staked out early spots in the emerging 360-degree virtual reality video market. That changes today as Nikon launches its KeyMission 360 virtual reality camera.
Nikon teased the device way back in January at CES, but it's finally released all the specs, the price (about $500), and availability (October). It also launched a pair of traditional action cameras today. Aside from a famous name, what else does Nikon have to offer against over a dozen competing models?
"They're all about imaging, no question about it," says Steve Heiner, a senior technical manager at Nikon. "That's why we make the lenses in the cameras...We're into very high-quality imagery." It will be a few weeks before anyone knows if Nikon has met that goal, although it has put out some slick video samples.
The KeyMission 360 already has some tough competitors. Tech reviewers have been gushing about the image quality of the 360fly 4K (about $500) and the Kodak Pixpro SP360 4K (about $450), for instance. All three cameras offer 4K/Ultra HD resolution, although only the Nikon captures the full spherical view with no blacked-out sections (which often appear at the bottom of the video). That's because the KeyMission 360 actually contains two 20-megapixel cameras, one on each side under roughly 190-degree wide-angle lenses. (You can, however, connect two of Kodak's cameras to get seamless video, for twice the price.) Heiner brags that Nikon's in-camera image stitching, which combines the two hemispheres of video, is cleaner than that of other multi-cam models, which also remains to be seen.
The KeyMission 360 is a heck of a lot more durable than competitors: able to plunge 100 feet underwater for up to an hour, survive a 6.6-foot drop (onto plywood), keep out dust, and get chilled down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Of the VR action cameras that are waterproof, around 30 feet is usually the deepest any go.
Video from the KeyMission 360 can be transferred over Wi-Fi to phones, where Nikon's new Android and iOS app can handle basic video trimming and posting videos to YouTube, one of the few online sites that host 360-degree videos. Nikon also throws in a Google Cardboard-style headset that turns a smartphone into makeshift 3D goggles.
Despite the consumer-grade price, Nikon says it may end up selling a bunch of KeyMission 360 cameras to corporate and industrial customers. Since Nikon first teased the camera, several companies have contacted it with interest in using the camera for tasks like equipment inspections and shooting 360-degree training videos. "It took us by surprise," says Heiner. "In fact, we're working with a very large airplane manufacturer." Like everyone else, however, none of these companies have yet had a chance to actually try out the camera.