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January2020

360 Degree Cameras Explained

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an extra pair of eyes at the back of your head to see and enjoy what’s happening behind you? Unfortunately, we cannot afford that, but what you can get instead is a 360-degree camera, which offers a 360-degree view of your surroundings!

360-degree Cameras

Also called as “omnidirectional” cameras, which mean “in-all-direction,” the 360-degree cameras capture a field of view in a spherical angle or a complete circle on a horizontal plane. However, the concept of panoramic viewing is nothing new but dates back to the eighteenth century.

A Brief History

It was in 1787, Robert Barker, an English painter, coined the word “panorama” when he displayed his paintings on a cylindrical surface. However, when photography was introduced in 1826, people became less interested in paintings, as photos proved to be more realistic.

No sooner in 1843, Joseph Puchberger, an Austrian, invented the first panoramic camera but could only record a 150-degree field of view. A little more than a decade later, Englishman M. Garrela invented the camera that could rotate around its axis, thus capturing a 360-degree view. Post this, many panoramic cameras were designed using different lenses but weighed over a ton.

Thus, keeping history aside, here is a whole new age of 360-degree cameras that use both the principles of panoramic photography and snap-shooting.

Working of a 360-degree Camera

You can create a 360-degree image in two ways:

1.    Taking a single shot using a pair of lenses or a very wide-angle lens, [or]

2.    Recording multiple photos from different viewing angles and then stitching them together.

Overall Process – In most consumer-centric 360-degree cameras, the second method of capturing and stitching is applicable. Such cameras have dual fisheye lenses located on either side of its body, and each lens offers a 180-degree viewing angle. The camera then records two different images or videos using the dual fisheye lenses in a 180-degree field of view and stitches both the images or videos. The process of stitching can either happen within the camera or carried out using the free companion software in just one click.

Principle of Stitching – What you need to know is that the field of view in each lens is a little more than 180-degrees but less than 200-degrees. Thus, the combined 400-degree angle of view creates an overlap, which helps to conceal the seam created while stitching both the images/videos together. Therefore, the outcome is a 360 image with a very subtle seam.

Role of Sensors – Each lens in the 360 camera is backed by a sensor, which on average, can record 4K resolution at 30 full frames per second.

Prepping for the Shot – It all lies in the dynamic perspective. Most 360 cameras limit your shot because of the use of mini tripods. You can, alternatively, mount the camera on other sources such as attaching it to your wrist, head, bike, or car to get a wider field of view. Once you select the mount, you can preview the footage live and fine-tune it as per your desire. All good companion apps will help you achieve this, in addition to letting you swap between the two lenses and the points of view to get a better image/video.

Image Processing – You can process the images in Photoshop, or using a panorama stitching software.

Ways to Record – There are different ways to record images/videos using your 360 camera. Here are a few common ones.

•    Using the shutter button to capture a feed manually.

•    Employing the free companion app to do most of the shooting, including managing exposure controls, timer settings, and content sharing.

•    Taking advantage of voice control that sometimes comes in-built or is available for purchase separately.

•    Using your smartphone and camera app to create a 360 effect by clicking the shutter and steadily maneuvering the phone in a circle to record the scene.

•    Using your swappable fisheye lens camera by setting it on a tripod and shooting each frame by frame by rotating in a 360-degree circle.

Subtle Drawbacks & Work-in-Progress

•    The closer the subject is towards the 360 camera, the more is the distortion and more noticeable is the seam. Thankfully, research is underway for developing an invisible selfie stick to reduce, if not eliminate, such disfigurement in the final image.

•    The sensors are very small, which result in over-exposure of the highlights and ignorance of details in the shadow areas. Fortunately, companion apps allow a bit of control for filters and exposure compensation, which you can employ to correct the exposures.

Reasons to Buy a 360-degree Camera

1.    To See Everything – Be it capturing that particular move of your child performing gymnastics or viewing your holiday resort before packing your bags, an omnidirectional camera will help you have a bird’s view of things.

2.    Affordability – The earlier models of a 360-degree camera were seen only in the hands of professionals like journalists and photographers, or in sophisticated offices and labs that deal with surveillance and robotics. However, with advanced technology and newer brands, you can find these cameras at competitive prices. Today, you can find a basic model as low as $60 on an e-commerce site or even rent one for trial or occasional use at lower costs.

3.    Brilliant Specs – With its compact size, high resolutions, and image processing capabilities, the usability and specifications of 360-degree cameras are simply mind-blowing. You will even find changes in the camera’s tripod-like model to an easy-to-hold mushroom-shaped design. Further, you can access excellent apps on your phone/PC.

Other Common Uses

1.    Viewing Monoscopic Feeds – You can capture anything by moving around but without the perception of depth and spatial awareness. For example, mapping on Google Maps is an example of a monoscopic feed. It is beneficial in the field of real estate, image filtering, etc.

2.    Viewing Stereoscopic Videos – You can also experience depth and space in stereoscopic videos, which renders more than one image and as multiple inputs to the eye. It finds excellent use in virtual reality (VR) applications because of the 3D aspects that create depth awareness.

3.    Attending Live Events Virtually – Does work get in your way of attending your favorite concert? Worry not! You can now watch live shows and games in the comfort of your home. The positioning of multiple cameras in the venue allows virtual viewers to get a closer shot of live happenings even though you are miles away from the actual location.

4.    Personalizing VR Experiences – If you want to showcase virtual content, then 360cameras are your new best friend. No doubt, virtual content boosts sales and marketing because of the demand for realistic content. The combination of monoscopic and stereoscopic feeds allows 360 cameras to create custom-made virtual experiences. Recreation, underwater studies, marketing, and entertainment are some of the popular fields where you can find extensive use for 360 cameras.

In short, a 360-degree camera helps you traverse beyond the boundaries of standard panoramic backdrops and allows you to capture everything and sometimes even more than what meets your eye in a single 360° photo.