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I was at a family gathering recently when my grandmother asked to see pictures from a road trip I went on to New Mexico. While showing off images of beautiful desert landscapes, I found myself talking about all the incredible sights my camera couldn’t capture, like the pueblo-styled houses in the distance, or some longhorned sheep I saw on a mountain.
It’s impossible to fully showcase the breadth of a landscape with photos from a standard digital camera. I realized the thing that was missing was an immersive experience — which is where 360-degree cameras come in.
The hype around virtual reality is leading to a rise in affordable 360-degree cameras, making it easier to take dynamic pictures without spending a fortune. If you want to capture the full scope of your travels, whether it’s for family or to share online, they’re a great option.
There are several interesting 360° camera models on the market at the moment, and we’ve selected four of the best to consider for your next trip.
Ricoh Theta S: A Fun Addition to Your Travel Video Toolkit
Ricoh’s third-generation camera is the darling of the consumer-friendly 360° market. As the VR craze has picked up, Ricoh’s Theta cameras are an easy option for anyone looking to test out 360-degree video technology.
The Theta’s upright design is reminiscent of a voice recorder or the 2006 Flip camera. You can use the camera to seamlessly shoot 360° shots without additional editing. As with most 360-degree cameras, the Theta S is best used when attached to a tripod or monopod — choosing to not use a stand will leave you with close-up shots of your face.
Since there’s no screen on the camera, it can be tricky to change settings or view your shots, but you can at least make adjustments to the shutter speed and ISO via the bundled app on your phone. Live streaming is available with the Theta S, but the camera must be plugged into your computer for it to work.
This camera definitely isn’t the cheapest, but the portable design and usability make it a good addition to your video toolkit.
Battery: About an hour and a half
Size: 44 mm (W) x 130 mm (H) x 22.9 mm (D)
Memory: 8GB / 30 fps
- Less expensive than many 360-degree cameras
- Wi-Fi connectivity
- The mobile app makes it easy to edit photos and videos on the go
- Easily upload your videos to Facebook
- You only get about 25 minutes of video storage, and need to upload the videos before you can film anything else
- If you want to send videos to theta360.com or YouTube, you need to download desktop software for Windows or Mac
Kodak PixPro SP360: A Good Choice for More Experienced Filmmakers
The Kodak PixPro is great for travelers looking for more flexibility with their filmmaking. You can choose between two packages, depending on how you plan to use the technology.
One option is a single camera that acts more like an extreme panorama lens than a 360-degree camera. The other choice is the SP360 4K Dual Pro Pack which includes two cameras you mount back-to-back to create a complete spherical view.
The image and sound quality of the PixPro are considerably better than other 360-degree cameras on the market, so it’s a good camera for experienced filmmakers.
If you’re thinking about purchasing that Dual Pro Pack, though, keep in mind that mounting both cameras together can be a pain because the mount isn’t designed particularly well. When mounted back-to-back, the battery and SD ports are impossible to access, so you’ll have to take them apart whenever you want to charge or upload content from the camera.
Battery Life: About an hour of recording
Size: 1.96 x 1.88 x 2.06 inches
Memory: Depends on the SD card
- Good image quality compared to similarly-priced models
- Full range of settings such as resolution and white balance can be changed directly on the camera
- Replaceable battery and SD card
- Interactive interface with easy to use features
- YouTube and Facebook compatibility
- Only 360-degrees horizontally unless you buy the Dual Pro Pack
- Mounting the dual cameras can be incredibly frustrating
- You have to stitch the videos together to get a seamless 360-degree image
- Kodak’s desktop software must be installed to upload videos to YouTube
Insta360 Nano: The Best 360-Degree Camera for Beginners
If you’ve never used 360-degree technology before, the Insta360 Nano is a good place to start, especially if you’re an Apple owner. This camera easily attaches to your iPhone via the Lightning connector. Be warned though, you have to take your phone case off while you use the camera. Once it’s clipped into place, you use your phone upside down while in the Insta360 Nano app.
It does take a bit of time to get used to, but if you have difficulties adjusting, you can also use the device independently of your phone. When detached, you can use the camera’s power button as a shutter. Charging the camera requires a micro-USB cable, and the battery lasts about an hour.
Pro tip: Save the camera’s packaging to create your own makeshift VR headset.
Battery Life: About an hour
Size: 110mm x 33mm x 21mm
Memory: MicroSD slot
- Great for beginners
- Can be used to capture still images
- Seamlessly stitches images together for full 360-degree view
- Livestreaming to Facebook and YouTube available
- Only attaches to iPhone 6 or newer
- The exposed lens is easy to damage
- Overexposed coloring can make the videos appear chromatic
Samsung Gear 360: The Best Option for Live Streaming
Samsung’s second-generation 360° camera is a major improvement on its first attempt. Not only is the design of the Gear 360 much better, but its new features also include live streaming to Facebook and YouTube, phone connectivity, and better shooting quality.
Unlike a few of the other cameras listed here, the Samsung Gear 360 has a display on the front that shows battery life, and how much footage you’ve recorded. Indicator lights on the side alert you to different statuses like when the camera is powering off, updating software, or charging.
It’s definitely not an action camera, and you’ll find it records best when left alone on a tripod or level surface. Despite its design, the camera doesn’t stand well on it’s own, but Samsung has accounted for this by including a rubber ring you can attach as a seat for the camera.
Overall, this camera is best for those looking to easily livestream fun moments of their travels, and the price is reasonable compared to other options like the PixPro.
Battery Life: Up to 130 minutes
Size: 100.6 x 46.3 x 45.1mm
Memory: MicroSD card (up to 256GB)
- Easily switch between dual and single camera recording
- Automatic stitching
- Livestream support
- The frame rate is only 24 fps — other 360-degree cameras shoot at 30 fps or higher
- The app only works with Samsung phones and iPhones at the moment
Overall, if you’re looking to get started with 360-degree cameras, I’d recommend the Kodak PixPro or Samsung Gear 360. These two models offer the best image quality and versatility in their price ranges, and neither require you to spend a fortune.
No matter which option you go with, look at 360-degree technology as a tool for creative content. It’s a way to transport your viewers to a place they can’t physically go.
Consumer-level 360° cameras are still in their infancy, so don’t expect the quality to be as high as a professional-grade camera. Keep this in mind as you start shooting with these types of devices, and just have fun with them!
Curious about other camera options? Check out our review of the best compact cameras for travelers.