September 15, 2018

360° Cameras Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow!

Several years before we started STEM-VRSE, I was wandering around Best Buy when I found two different 360° cameras. These cameras were the Samsung Gear 360 & the 360fly and both ran between $300 and $400. Needless to say, the sticker shock for two spherical cameras that made me just want to throw them in the air was real. I passed on the cameras that day but over the next few months I would see them start showing up around our IT office. Little did I know that these two cameras would spark a level of curiosity in me that would ultimately lead to the start of STEM-VRSE and more importantly meeting the team that has made all of this a possibility. 360° cameras have come a long way over the past few years and today I thought I would dive in and see, not only where we have come from, but where we are headed.

samsung cameras photo
Samsung Gear 360 (2016) - 360fly

360° images are believed to have begun with the coining of the term “panorama” back in 1787 by English painter, Robert Barker. Barker painted a continuous painting around a circular room so that when you walked in you were completely surrounded. Over time this panoramic painting would evolve into hand crank swing lens in 1843. These were only 150° images but we were slowly evolving. Finally in 1857, Garrela of England designed a camera that would rotate completely to capture a full 360° view.

panorama drawing
From: Bernard Comment: Das Panorama - Robert Mitchell - 1793

Over the next few decades panoramic cameras would rise in popularity, with the most popular camera being the Cirkut, which was developed in 1904 by a company that would go on to be acquired by Kodak. These cameras represented a leap towards where we are today but they were still incredibly large, difficult to handle, and tremendously expensive with most costing more than $1,000 (almost $30,000 in 2018 US dollars) at the time.

old Cirkut camera photo
Cirkut Camera - 1905

Jump all the way to 1958 and we finally got our first 360° film camera, the Japanese Panorax Zia. Additional cameras would come out in 1969, 1979, and in the 80’s panoramic cameras were everywhere on the market.

So where have all of these panoramic cameras that were heavy and expensive led us to today? Long story short, a whole bunch of cameras that are still expensive but can fit in to our pockets and actually shoot 360° pictures and videos. We now have the capability of shooting 4K video from a small wafer shaped camera like the Ricoh Theta V, live streaming 360° footage to Facebook from the Samsung Gear 360 (2017) that looks like the animated i from Pixar. We can combine two cameras that shoot 235° into 360° with the Kodak PixPro SP360 4K, and we can throw our 360° camera down a mountain with the Garmin VIRB 360. All of these cameras represent the current market for 360° cameras. Over the last few years cameras have gotten smaller, cheaper, and better in quality. However, while the cameras are slowly getting better, the software for editing the content they produce is still slow to catch up. In my several years of using the average consumer cameras, I have grown tired of buggy software that lacks function and usability. However, all hope is not lost. Adobe recently added 360° editing features to Premiere and After Effects, and with an ever increasing number of companies entering the field, the potential for quality software continues to increase.

New 360 equipment photo
Ricoh Theta V - Samsung Gear 360(2017) - Garmin Virb

If we take a step away from the “affordable” cameras in the under a $1000 area, and look towards the more premium line, the future of the industry looks even brighter! For a long time GoPro was the go to for high quality and expensive 360° photos and video. Their Omni Rig runs a cool $5,000 but has recently dropped in price due to other companies entering the market.

GoPro 360 camera photo
GoPro Omni Rig

One of those cameras is Insta360. Insta360 has created cameras that cost $200, Insta 360 Nano, and plug into your phone and have also created $5,000 cameras that you would struggle to find a feature they didn’t have. They are working hard to bridge both the hardware and the software gap between your average consumer cameras and the professional versions. I for one am looking forward to the opportunity to work with the Insta360 Pro 2! I expect that the technology found in the Pro camera and the technology that will come out in the next few years will trickle its’ way down into affordable cameras for all of us. Here at STEM-VRSE we are working everyday to get our hands on the newest technology out there so that we can continue to improve our content and spread it to the education system!

Insta360 camera photo
Insta360 Pro 2

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