There are plenty of virtual reality games letting people soar like eagles and films surrounding you with Cirque du Soleil's acrobats. But the opportunities for people creating their own virtual reality home movies has been limited.
That's changing now as a number of consumer VR cameras hit the market, letting you do everything from putting together a 360-degree video of your kid's soccer game to capturing a holiday dinner with the family.
Unlike typical video cameras, these VR/360 cameras film in all directions (the 360 signifies a 360-degree film radius), giving viewers the option to see all around a scene as if they were swiveling their heads. While companies like Google and Lytro are working on professional grade cameras, several other companies are focusing on cameras for consumers.
Looking to try your hand as a virtual reality auteur or pep up your home movies? Here are a few affordable cameras that can help you do. Just keep in mind that, by and large, you'll need a VR headset— which cost from just $15 to several hundred dollars— to really get the full effect of virtual reality films.
While the camera itself may lack some of the other cameras on this list, the $400 360 Fly has one of the most user-friendly apps. It gives you a live preview of what's being shot (something not all VR cameras do), lets you upload directly to YouTube, and offers a mode that lets you put your phone into a VR headset directly to watch videos rather than transferring them to your headset's proprietary program. It's also water resistant, can handle some rough treatment, and has an ample 64GB of internal storage. Despite the name, it doesn't shoot full 360-degree video (the field of view is limited below the camera's horizontal line of sight). And the video quality is best suited for small to medium screens. But if you don't need a full 360 view and ease of use is the most important factor, it's an option to seriously consider. [Buy 360 Fly 4K here]
The $260 Theta SC shoots full 360-degree video in 1080p (but not higher quality 4K). Rather than the dome shape of many other VR cameras, this one is shaped more like a candy bar with a lens on each side. Your recording time is limited to five minutes, though, so it's not ideal for long-form recording. You adjust the settings and do the editing on your smartphone or tablet. There's an earlier version of the Theta that's $40 more expensive (called the Theta S) that might be tempting, but save yourself the money. There's really no discernible difference between the two devices. [Buy Ricoh Theta SC here]
Kodak aims at a slightly more professional audience with the PixPro SP360 4K, but it's within the budget of most consumers. A single camera cost $449, but if you want full 360-degree video, you'll want to consider the $632 dual pack, which comes with two cameras. (Like the 360 Fly 4K, a single PixPro requires you to forego recording what's below the camera's lens.) Kodak supplies software to let you stitch together the video from the twin cameras, but it may be too complicated for hobbyists to spend time figuring out. If you're looking to record action sports in virtual reality, though, like surfing, bike riding or skiing, this is a tough, reliable camera that can take the abuse. [Buy PixPro SP360 4K here]
Samsung was one of the first companies to really embrace virtual reality with the Gear VR, so it's no surprise, really, that it has a strong 360 camera to go with it. The Gear 360, which costs as little as $215, is lightweight, compact, and offers a complete 360-degree range. Picture quality is a tad lower than the 360 Fly 4K or Kodak's PixPro, but higher than Ricoh's Theta. The biggest caveat is this is a camera that's built to go with Samsung's phone and headset. (A recent Samsung model phone, for example, is the only way to get live previews of your shots.) It's easy to operate, though and the editing software is intuitive as well, assuming you've got the right phone. [Buy Gear 360 here]
Apple hasn't shown a lot of interest in VR yet, so there aren't many options for recording 360 video for iPhone users. The $199 Nano 360 fills that gap, clipping onto your phone and connecting through the Lightning port. The Nano's dedicated app lets you view shots (which are in full 360 thanks to the dual lenses) in real time. While the editing package is basic, it's functional. Image quality is not as good as some competitors, but it's easy to share your 360 videos on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media sites. And, smartly, the Nano 360's retail packaging also serves as a Google Cardboard-like headset (one of the lowest priced VR headsets on the market), so you can easily enjoy the videos you shoot without having to spend more money on a separate headset. [Buy Nano 360 here]