360 degree video is quickly becoming part of the mainstream, with YouTube now supporting footage uploaded to the site, and ensuring 360 content is available to view via desktop, as well as iOS, Android, and Google Cardboard. The site is even introducing 360 degree video ad formats.
Back in June I saw some new 360 degree video content coming out that really piqued my interest. As a result I contacted the folks over at Kodak to try out their SP360 Action Camera and they were more than happy to send me a rental for the purposes of a review (full disclosure - this is an independent review).
I promised to take you on a full 360 degree ride with me at VidCon if I got my hands on something and I did just that. I also took this little camera all over the place to test out how it works, what it's good for and whether or not it's worth it for you to take the dive into 360 video yourself. Here's some of the VidCon footage I shot using the SP360 Action Camera:
NOTE: The first shots were from inside the main conference hall at VidCon - the lights were turned way down low so the footage is dark. It brightens up later in the video.
After trying out the camera for a few days, I was able to review the product for the purposes of creating 360 degree video. If you are a brand or an independent creator looking to find out more about this type of video production, please check out the links below:
- Your Quick & Handy Guide to 360 Degree Video on YouTube
- 360 Degree Video on YouTube: Marketing Tips and Ideas
Kodak SP360 Action Camera: Pros
The best thing about this little camera is that it shoots in 360 better and longer than any single camera out there right now at a price point that’s easy to handle. I was able to shoot, render and load a 30 second 360 video in under 15 minutes, right out of the box without reading a single bit of instruction. I was also rather impressed by the audio quality of the camera. Even at a concert it was clear, crisp and didn’t peak at all. The Extreme Accessory pack is an absolutely huge box full of added value that allows you to take this camera quite literally anywhere. The SP 360 is quite versatile. I used it in the rain, in the dark, under water, at VidCon, on a tripod, on my car and anywhere else I could think of.
Kodak SP360 Action Camera: Cons
It’s not really a 360 cam, it’s more of a 180 cam. Yes, you get 360 degrees of panoramic rotation, but nearly half of your finished product when filming in 360 is black. There is no video display unless you tether it to your phone via NFC. It cannot record while in WiFi mode unless enabled by the connected device. This makes it challenging at times to instantly load up and grab a live event in the moment. The video quality is somewhat poor in 360 mode, although Kodak reps assure me a 4k version is in the works. Raindrops and smudges show up very well on the lens.
Kodak SP360: Design
I quite like the design of this camera. They have slimmed down previous design into a small cube that fits nicely in the palm of your hand, your pocket or in/on a mount. It is both splash proof and water proof if used with the extreme accessory pack. I dropped this thing into my 210g saltwater aquarium and it worked just great, it was like swimming with the fish, minus the concrete shoes. It is very sturdy and can handle short drops on its own, but becomes tough to impact at all when using the extreme accessory pack. The battery pack is secured via a lock for easy operation. Given the compact design, all of the essential buttons and ports are easy to find and reach.
Kodak SP360: Features
The 16 MP sensor on this camera makes it great for frontal POV action, panoramic stills and most importantly the 360 video content which can be enjoyed via numerous different perspectives via the Kodak software. It has an HDMI output, micro SD slot, USB connection and it even connects via NFC/WiFi to your smart device.
I found the battery life to be quite good for intermitted usage and was able to grab around 45 minutes worth of footage over the course of a single battery. Paired with the app, this is certainly fun to play with, especially the different perspectives of the 360 camera setting. It even has a setting that allows it to be used as a motion sensing camera, which opens it up for all sorts of additional applications.
Kodak has included a lot of features in this camera to allow for maximum flexibility. In video mode it accepts a variety of resolutions from 1920x1080 (30 fps) down to 848x480 (120 fps) and quite a bit in-between. It has noise reduction for wind, white balancing, motion detection, time-lapse modes, loop recording and a few others. In photo mode it can take square photos, traditional 4:3 aspect ratio or 16:9 widescreen stills. Like video, photo also has a number of view effects that allow you to unfold the footage to view it a different way.
SP360 PixPro Action Camera: Image Quality
The imagine leaves a little something to be desired. At long distances the wide-angle of the lens makes it difficult to pick up details and up close it tends to distort the subject. But that’s what enables it to create the stunning 360 environments, so you kinda have to live with it. If you throw it into picture mode, you’ll get some spectacular panoramic shots without the stick marks and rotating you’d normally have to do on a phone or even a nice DSLR. The quality of the video is HD, but only if you use the frontal mode and not if you are using the 360 view. In that case it renders as HD quality, but the distance covered by the camera makes it lower, probably closer to 480 on the finished product. It’s a bit of a tradeoff for now, but definitely worth the 360 experience.
The biggest drawback is the big black bar covering part of the screen when loading the 360 footage to YouTube. You could get around this by using two SP 360s stitched together, which is still more effective for the quality than any other option out there.
SP360 Action Camera: Audio Quality
I expected audio to be an afterthought on the SP 360, but it was surprisingly good. Whether it was capturing the internal sounds of my aquarium, the big sounds of a concert, talking or pretty much anything else, it handled it very well. I like the sound on my videos to be high quality and this was good enough not to detract from the video at all. There is no mic input, but as an action cam it’s not something I would expect either.
If you want to get into the 360 video craze before it gets going full steam, this is the camera to do it with. While the camera has what I’d call a 360 degree panoramic view, it doesn’t really have a full 360 degree experience as the lens is only capturing a 180 degree field of view. But at the cheap price point, it’s hard to refuse this little powerhouse. Used as an overhead cam with a quadcopter or on a tripod really helps avoid the dead zone on this camera.
Just the base package is going on Amazon right now for under $175 and the Extreme Accessory Pack is only coming in at $279. That’s a ton of value at this price point. Given the 360 mode can be turned off for an HD frontal view mode, it could easily replace whatever action/POV cam you’re currently using and would even make a great compact vlogging camera.
For the novelty factor of 360 video, this camera is worth the price. Once that novelty wears off, it’s still a good consumer level camera with a number of applications that make it a great addition to any video toolbox. My biggest gripe would be the black bar that runs along the bottom (or top) of the video on YouTube, but some creative editing and shooting can eliminate the annoying or at least reduce it until Kodak improves upon this design. When the 4k version of this camera is released, it may even start to have some great applications for higher end video as well.
If you want to make your videos stand out, this is a great way differentiate them from the same old format. Not a lot of people are shooting video in 360 yet and this viewing angle could just be the thing that sets your content apart.