Using a VR camera, also known as a 360-degree camera, is the easiest way to create immersive images that can be viewed in virtual reality. This device has two (or more) built-in cameras designed to capture a photo or video of the surrounding environment from a 360-degree viewpoint.
This spherical-image photo or video can then be viewed through a VR headset, or on a computer, smartphone or tablet. Wearing a headset, you look up, down, behind you, or side-to-side, and your viewpoint of the photo or video should move in sync. This is meant to make you feel like you're in the real environment in which the image was captured. When viewed on a computer, smartphone or tablet, you click/tap a user interface to change your viewpoint. A familiar example of this would be the Street View feature of Google Maps.
These cameras can be an essential tool for real estate, retail, architecture and construction businesses. Before too long, you may even be attending VR teleconference meetings powered by 360-degree cameras. Here's what to know when considering whether to invest in a 360-degree camera.
There are several different shapes and sizes when it comes to 360-degree cameras. The $429.95 Theta series by Ricoh resembles a remote control and is designed to be used by hand. Samsung sells the $166.99 Gear 360, which is a small device meant to be held primarily. But it's a spherical model.
The Fusion by GoPro, like many of their other rugged cameras, is encased in a housing designed to withstand harsh outdoor conditions and can be mounted on a helmet or vehicle. But the rugged design will cost you $699.99. It can be mounted on helmets, tripods or in a full VR-ready contraption like the GoPro Omni, which holds up to four GoPro Hero4 Black cameras.
Nikon's $496.95 KeyMission 360 looks a whole lot like the Fusion from GoPro. It can be mounted on a professional camera tripod. Its housing also protects it from the outdoors and is waterproof to a depth of 98 feet.
If smartphones are more your speed, Motorola makes a 360-degree camera mod for its Moto Z smartphone. It'll cost you $257.99, on top of the price of the phone.
Because the camera is capturing a large field of view, it should be able to do so at a high resolution. Otherwise, the image may look blurry and lack detail. This is important for video: 2K resolution (2048 x 1080 pixels) is recommended, but 4K (3840 pixels × 2160 pixels) or higher may be worth it if you have the budget.
Number of built-in cameras
A 360-degree camera that has more than two built-in cameras produces images that should look better than those from a two-camera model. This is because the lens of each camera doesn't need to distort its view of the surrounding environment as much. The Fusion by GoPro has six cameras.
Most of these cameras come with software you install on your computer to edit and view the spherical images that you capture with them. Or an app can be downloaded and installed on your smartphone or tablet to edit them.
Spherical images captured by the Theta cameras can be uploaded to YouTube or Google Maps. These sites will recognize them as 360-degree images and enable controls for people to navigate them. (In fact, Google launched an initiative in May 2017 to help camera makers certify their 360-degree cameras as "Street View ready.") Facebook also recognizes and posts 360-degree video.