The best 360-degree camera
Why take flat images when you can capture all 360 degrees? Instead of watching from the sidelines, a 360-degree camera immerses you in the beauty of the world.
Sounds great, doesn't it? But it can be difficult to know which 360-degree cameras deliver on their promise and which are hype. We did the research and put together this quick and easy guide. Our favorite 360-degree camera, the GoPro MAX, is a remarkable device that combines the rugged build you'd expect from GoPro with the ability to record images of near-cinematic quality.
Considerations when choosing 360-degree cameras
Although inexpensive cameras work on lower resolutions, 4K resolution is common with 360-degree cameras. That's the equivalent of roughly 8 megapixels (MP), which sounds like a lot. On a TV, that would be ultra-high definition (UHD). The difference here is that those pixels aren't on a flat screen. Instead, they go all the way around -- so you've got less pixel density, or in other words, a lower resolution.
Without going into lots of complicated math, let's just say that 4K is generally pretty good. You could get better -- 5.5K is not unusual, and up to 12K is available -- but those are pro-level cameras that are very expensive.
The other main component that impacts video quality is frame rate. A frames per second (FPS) keeps file sizes down so they upload quicker to sites like YouTube, but they might give some flicker. You'll get smoother playback at 30 FPS. Higher frame rates are possible on some models. Gyroscopes and other sensors are sometimes added to minimize camera shake, and software can also enhance playback.
The way in which a 360-degree camera handles the images it captures is important. Most use two cameras, though as many as eight are possible. They then "stitch" the different recordings together to provide one finished video. This is done automatically, but software offers various levels of user intervention. If you're just uploading to social media, you'd probably be OK with what the camera produces. If you're getting creative with it, you might want to check out the post-production features.
With all-around views, it's nice to have all-around sound. Numerous microphones may be included with the camera to achieve an omnidirectional effect. That said, there may be times when you might want to focus on sound from a particular direction. Having that ability is a useful addition.
Camera compatibility is also important. Their built-in screens are small or non-existent. At the very least, you'll want to view the output on a phone. Some apps make that easier than others.
The ability to capture stills is invariably offered, but image resolution varies. Digital lens enhancements might also be included. Wide-angle is a common addition.
Cloud storage for your files might be an option. The ability to upload wirelessly and then clear your camera for more filming is certainly convenient. However, a subscription may be required.
If you're using a 360-degree camera as an action cam -- as many people do -- ease of use will be important. If you're white water rafting, skiing, or off-roading, you don't need distractions!
Although the cheapest 360-degree cameras cost around $100, image quality and reliability may be disappointing at this low cost. Expect to pay between $200 and $300 for a popular mid-range camera and in the region of $500 for the best. Professional equipment can easily cost several thousand.
Q. How much 360-degree video can I record?
A. A number of variables impact this. Image resolution, frame rate, memory card size, and battery life all matter, but generally, you can expect to get somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes. That's more than enough for most people's purposes.
Q. Does the type of SD card matter?
A. Yes. It will almost certainly be microSD but check whether you need SDHC or SDXC as well as the speed rating. Memory size matters, too. Though 256GB cards are available, some 360-degree cameras max out at 128GB.
360-degree cameras we recommend
Best of the best: GoPro MAX Waterproof 360-Degree Camera
Our take: This tough and remarkably versatile camera captures just about any image, anywhere.
What we like: High-resolution videos and stills in standard or 360 formats. Choice of four digital lenses. Horizon leveling for superb image stability. Six microphones for surround sound, plus a directional audio option.
What we dislike: Some compatibility problems with Windows and Android.
Best bang for your buck: Kodak PIXPRO 360 Camera
Our take: A competitively priced package primarily aimed at video for social media.
What we like: 4K resolution with ultra-wide field of view. Comes with a wide range of mounting options. Easy upload to Facebook or YouTube. Remote control possible (extra cost).
What we dislike: Many operations seem overly complex. Buggy app and WiFi connectivity.
Our take: Smart, slender design combines terrific portability with high-quality image capture.
What we like: 4K video or stills. Gyro sensor helps image smoothing. Four mics provide omnidirectional sound. Compatible with most Android and iOS devices. Waterproof housing available.
What we dislike: Users are critical of software and customer support.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.