Aside from offering virtual reality headsets to rent, Virtual Reality Experiences also hires out Gear 360 cameras for people who wish to film their own 360° videos.
The Samsung Gear 360 has a very specific purpose. As the Gear VR aimed to bring the best mobile VR platform to consumers, the Gear 360 does the same for filming and editing 360° videos. My immediate reaction was that it has succeeded in doing this to a larger extent… for consumers. While this camera is accomplished and extremely easy to use for a first generation model, it is definitely not a professional camera – but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is clear that, in order to make VR a success, the general public must be engaged and Samsung are the most visible company making the best attempt to do that.
The size of a satsuma, this tightly packed piece of technology fits very comfortably in the palm of your hand, and is small enough to slip into the pocket of a coat or bag without being uncomfortably space-consuming and bulky. This space-minimalisation is clearly key in Samsung’s design objective as they drive their products towards a masstige market who are unwilling to encumber themselves with masses of equipment. This is reflected in the ‘mini-tripod’ that comes with the camera that doubles as a handle.
It could be said that this camera looks partially like a 60’s sci-fi movie prop, and partially like an old desktop webcam. With its stark white spherical body and two black, protruding fish-eye lenses, it is a futurist’s concept art brought to life. Here Samsung have marked themselves as disciples of Steve Jobs, considering consumer ergonomic comfort, intuitive technology and minimalism (utilising only three buttons), while also setting themselves apart from Apple style by choosing things plastic over metal. Although, this use of plastic can be considered a serious flaw in their design. A slippery-to-hold body and easily scratched lenses mean that this camera is not best suited for high-activity environments. This is a feature that Samsung are clearly aiming to control (as an alternative to current market-leaders Go-Pro who have yet to release a 360° camera) evidenced by their splash and dust-proofing. This damage-proofing will surely be improved in future incarnations, as we can expect this to be the real-world use of these cameras.
One of the great features of the Gear 360 is how easy it is to use. With only three buttons on the body of the camera itself, it is very easy to pick up the controls to record and change settings. There is also the ability to use live view from a Samsung phone, where you can adjust the settings too. The camera has four shooting modes: Photo, video, time lapse, and video looping. Time lapse takes pictures every set number of seconds and stitches them together. Video looping is a memory saving function that overwrites itself when shooting video and has been recording for a set amount of time. Ease of use really puts this ahead of competitors, such as using multiple GoPros whose single button can sometimes be difficult to operate and confusing.
Similarly, a key advantage of buying this product is the built in editing software on the Gear 360 app. Considering the camera’s price point, the footage is extremely smooth although the stitching becomes a little more obvious when objects are close to the lens. Aside from using a phone, you can also edit footage on Samsung’s desktop software which is available on Windows computers. The length of time it takes for the camera to auto-stich any recorded video depends on how long the film is and what its contents are, but it is usually around 3 minutes.
One other useful feature is removable storage. Samsung have given users back the ability to replace batteries and memory cards when they need to, allowing for longer mobile shooting times which are not reliant on being close to a power outlet. This was a superb decision by whoever designed the device, as the battery life isn’t long when in use. Without the ability to quickly put another battery in the camera, its uses would be severely limited.
Unexceptional is the word best used to describe the quality of the film that the Samsung Gear VR records. While this initially seems negative, it is actually quite an impressive feat for a piece of first generation, commercially affordable, and very available piece of technology. Comparing it to the cameras on ‘first-gen’ smartphones or even similar things like the Playstation Camera, it’s not that bad… but maybe that is the least we should expect in the digitalised world in which we find ourselves in 2016. However, to get the most out of this camera when filming it should be set to the highest resolution (3840 x 1920) which is just shy of 4K (though that is 4K stretched over the entire 360°). That is certainly not bad for a camera that costs only £350 compared to true 4K quality which can be achieved by strapping multiple GoPros to synched rigs costing thousands of pounds. There are also plenty of ways to tweak the camera settings, such as: adjusting exposure and HDR, and ensuring that adjusting to things like lighting is easy to guarantee any footage shot is the best it can be.
Comparatively, photos look fantastic, even during bright sunshine. This is due to both lenses operating with a 15 Megapixel sensor, meaning the camera operates with 30 Megapixels in total which is sizeable. Though the problem with photos is that they can be difficult to share, with the only real options being Facebook and Flickr, whereas videos can be uploaded to sites like Youtube.
We are only at the beginning of our journey with VR technology, and Samsung have made an admirable entrance into the market, making it very accessible to consumers by introducing products like the Gear 360. At the moment we are largely unsure how to even use the footage that can be captured using this sort of equipment. Is it best suited for high-octane, adrenaline inducing sport recordings that allow people to experience what it is like to do such extreme activities? Or will it be more utilised like old camcorders that captured memories, letting us relive the past? Only time will tell, but at the moment this camera is covering all the bases, and is still very much in the experimental stage. For a first generation model, the Samsung Gear 360 is a great start at the beginning of a new chapter.
Samsung Gear 360s are available to rent from VRE Virtual Reality Experiences.