There are a lot of 360-degree cameras out there, and there are going to be more. These are the best we’ve used.
This is going to be a big year for 360-degree cameras. And we don’t mean big 360-degree cameras. Rather, we’re talking about consumer-friendly cameras that are as easy to use as they are affordable. Cameras that can fit into a pocket or purse, and won’t bust your wallet in the process. These are cameras that connect to your phone for remote shooting as well as sharing. These are cameras from mobile companies you know, like LG and Samsung, and others that you might not, like Ricoh and 360fly.
And there are a lot of cameras out there already, and so many more to come. We’re going to take a look at as many as we can and rank them here.
Ricoh Theta S
The best consumer-grade 360-degree camera you can get (so far)
- Solid design
- Good still image quality
- Decent sharing platform
- Video quality is just OK
- No expandable storage
- App UI can be confusing
When it comes to 360-degree cameras, you tend to get what you pay for. While the Ricoh Theta S costs a little bit more than other options out there, the difference is immediately apparent, and Ricoh gets a few features right that other manufacturers didn’t. That starts with the design. Theta S is a single piece and comes with a neoprene sleeve to protect it. (Be sure to use it!) The shutter button is perfectly placed, and you shouldn’t accidentally hit it when going for the power button. Still images come in at about 14MP, while video hits 1080p at 30fps, which unforutnately is pretty low when you’re talking about 360-degree work.
Ricoh has its own service for uploading videos and pictures, which particularly is good for the latter since Google+ and Flickr remain the only main social platforms on which you can share those. (Facebook is still coming.) Perhaps most important is the inclusion of a Wifi Direct on/off toggle, so you can quickly disconnect your phone from the camera if you need proper data back. The Theta S also smartly (though with a clunky UI) lets you choose a data method to share your pictures — 3G/LTE, Wifi access points, etc. — because, again, your phone will be connected via Wifi Direct, which doesn’t doesn’t have access to the Internet.
Theta S isn’t the perfect platform. But it’s the best we’ve used so far and comes in under $300.
Samsung Gear 360
- Excellent software experience
- Very good pictures and video
- Every feature you could hope for
- Unique design isn’t easily pocketable
- Only works with Samsung’s phones
- Stitch lines are very apparent
Really good, with a couple hangups …
Samsung’s Gear 360 has been the spherical camera we’ve really been waiting for. It’s Samsung. It’s got to be good, right? And for the most part, the Gear 360 is that, with its dual 15-megapixel lenses.
First, it’s a joy to set up and use. It’s the only 360-camera we’ve used that we’d be fine handing to our mothers, leaving them to figure it out. Samsung has the software experience nailed, and we’ve had exactly zero connection problems. Sharing pictures and video to the usual places — Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. — is as easy as sharing any other file from one app to another, too.
Our first issue is that the Gear 360 doesn’t fit in your pocket like the other cameras on this list. And if you can’t carry it around easily, you’re not going to use it as often. (If you’ve always got a bag of some sort of you, that’s moot.) Second is that the Gear 360 currently only works with Samsung phones — the Galaxy S6 and GS7, and the Note 5. That might change at some point, but for now it’s the way it is. The good news is the Gear 360 works really well without a phone at all, thanks to the buttons and display built into the thing. It’s not quite as easy, but it can be done. And lastly is that pictures and video from the Gear 360 are pretty prone to stitching lines — that is you can clearly see where one of the pictures tries to blend into the other. This is more apparent if there’s an object near the camera itself.
- Smallest 360-degree camera by far
- No storage or data transfer woes
- Reasonably priced
- Comparably low resolution
- Being attached to the phone isn’t always great
Compact and effective
Instead of a standalone camera with its own battery, its own connectivity problems, and its own storage limitations, Insta360 offers a compact camera you can stick on to the bottom of your phone whenever you want to take a photo. The carry case included in the box keeps everything safe, so you can keep the camera in a travel bag for weeks and reach for it when you need. As soon as you tap the shutter button in the included app, the photo or video is immediately available on your phone to edit and share.
The cost of this convenience? You can’t use the camera without connecting it to a phone or computer, which means your hand will always be in the bottom of the shot. The compact size also means smaller sensors were used, making the resulting photos about half the resolution of the Ricoh Theta S.
If you’re looking to create dramatic or artistic 360-degree photos without a set of knuckles in the shot, this probably isn’t your camera. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to add the occasional 360-degree photo to your Facebook feed, Insta360 is reasonably priced and gets the job done.
- Waterproof down to 30ft
- 360-degree live streaming supported
- Great battery life
- Not exactly pocketable
- Not a perfect sphere
- Photos are inconvenient
Built for anything
360Fly is one of the early offerings in the 360-degree camera space, and the focus was clearly on being durable. The orb design is rugged, and the casing is sealed such you can go down 30ft in water before you run into any problems. The one button on the casing starts recording video after a press, and lets you know with LEDs when the battery is getting low.
As clever as the hardware design is, 360Fly’s software is very specifically purposed. There’s no easy way to take a single photo without the app, and the Desktop app isn’t exactly user friendly.What you do get is an app that is plenty feature complete but clearly designed for replacing a GoPro instead of acting as a friendly point and shoot. If you’re ok with installing a partner app, you can even stream that 360-degree video in real time to any of your friends. You also aren’t recording a complete sphere, since 360Fly only has the one camera.
If you’re looking for a 360-degree camera to hold up like an action or sport camera, 360Fly has what you’re looking for. If you aren’t planning on biking down a mountain or surfing, you may find this isn’t quite what you want.
LG 360 CAM
A decent starter 360-degree camera
- Easy to use
- Non-threatening design
- Works on Android and iOS
- Image quality is just OK
- Wi-Fi Direct is wonky
- App could use some work
LG was the first of the major mobile companies to come forward with a 360-degree camera. And it’s an accessible little shooter. It looks like a camera, first and foremost, with dual 13MP lenses that see everything (except directly below it) that output a 16MP spherical image or video. The 360 CAM has a single shutter button, charges via USB-C and has a 1,200 mAh battery.
It’s easy to use, and the results are decent, but not spectacular. Lighting plays a key to this, and to that end the included application provides for full manual control over ISO and aperture and what not. Stitching between the two lenses also can be pretty apparent. The 360 CAM Manager app is a little clunky (as is the Wi-Direct connection a phone needs to connect with the camera), but it gets the job done and is pretty full-featured. A nagging issue is that you have to first download your picture or video to your phone and then make sure to disconnect from the camera manually before trying to share anything. But from there you can easily share pictures to Flickr or Google Maps in 360 degrees; same for video to Facebook our YouTube.
All in all, you get what you pay for: Decent images, ease of use, and the knowledge that more money will get you better quality.