With 4K well and truly arrived now the next big thing in video is 360-degree footage.
One of the initial 'LG Friends' peripherals to arrive along with the G5 smartphone, the 360 Cam makes creating 360-degree photos and videos a piece of cake.
It’s all thanks to two 13MP wide-angle cameras, facing in opposite directions. Each captures a 180-degree image, which the G5’s software meshes near-seamlessly together to create a full all-around picture.
But is turning you into a “VR content creator” overnight enough to justify its £200 price tag? I spent a weekend taking many 360-degree selfies in an effort to find out.
Small and lightweight
The 360 Cam is nicely compact, although not so much that it matches up with LG’s description of it as “lipstick-sized” – it’s more like two lipsticks duct taped together, to be honest.
It’s very lightweight (you’d barely notice it in your pocket) and crafted from reassuringly sturdy plastic, and when not in use it can be slid into a protective hard case to keep its lens free from dust, dirt and scratches. While there are no official claims regarding waterproofing or a 'rugged' build, I feel the 360 Cam could survive a rain shower unscathed – just don’t go taking it underwater.
The case also doubles as a 'tripod' – if you flip it and stand it on its top, you can insert the 360 Cam in the other way around. You’ll still need a flat surface to stand it on, so it’s not a particularly great solution beyond giving you a bit of extra clearance from tabletops etc. Fortunately, on the bottom of the camera you’ll find a standard tripod mount, as well as a hatch that flips up to reveal a USB-C port and a microSD card slot (although no card is included in the box, so you’ll have to supply your own).
The USB port handles charging and data transfer, but if you’ve got a G5 you can wirelessly transfer photos and videos easily from the camera to the phone.
App's the way to do it
Control-wise, things are similarly simple. There’s a single button on the side that powers the device on and off when held down and also toggles between the 180- and 360-degree camera settings.
Another button is used to take a still (press it) or video (hold it down to start, and once again to stop). A red LED pulses to tell you when the camera is recording video.
You can also control the 360 Cam from its companion app, and really this is the best way to use it. Not only can you see what it’s recording or snapping live on the screen, but you can trigger it remotely; if you want to take a 360-degree photo without appearing in it, you’re going to have to use the app.
The app also lets you immediately review the photos and videos you’ve taken, rather than having to wait until you get to a computer.
Connecting the G5 and the 360 Cam is nicely simple, thanks to the LG Friends Manager app. It takes almost all the steps out of pairing the camera (which has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) and the phone, detecting it automatically and connecting with a single tap of the touchscreen.
In case you were wondering, it’s not compulsory to own a G5 to use the 360 Cam – Friends Manager and the 360 Cam app are both available on the Google Play Store, so it’ll work with most recent Android smartphones and tablets.
A new kind of photography...
But enough of all that; you’re probably wondering if the 360 Cam’s 360-degree photos and videos are any good. And they are – if you’re aware of the limitations inherent in such photos and videos. So, while LG boasts of the “2K” resolution of the videos, a couple of tiny sensors aren’t going to deliver Hollywood-style colour reproduction, detail and contrast.
There’s colour blocking due to the way the videos are encoded, giving flatter areas of colour a muddy, compressed look. Areas of high contrast (tree branches against a bright sky, for instance), show a lot of purple fringing. These are issues you get with a lot of small, cheap cameras, though, and it doesn’t pay to focus too much on them – you’re going to have to spend a lot more than £200 if you want professional-looking 360-degree snaps and clips.
Really, what’s so impressive about these photos and videos is that they put you virtually in a place that you once stood (or drove, or skied, or cycled…), and give you the ability to turn your gaze in any direction.
Quality-wise, they’re sufficiently decent that you’re not distracted from that too much, and that’s probably enough. The same goes for audio, by the way – there’s a microphone that records 5.1-channel surround sound, and that aids immersion when you’re viewing videos later. But it’s not much cop on a windy day, or when you’re moving at any sort of speed.
NB: If you're viewing the video above on our mobile site or in certain desktop browsers you might not get the full 360-degree experience. In which case try opening it in YouTube instead
LG 360 Cam verdict
If you remain aware of the 360 Cam’s limitations, it’s unlikely to disappoint.
I imagine that in a year or two, 360-degree cameras will have come a long way in terms of image quality, and LG’s first foray into the market will look decidedly outdated. But, as we stand today, it’s one of only a handful of solutions that you can actually buy.
That wouldn't be enough reason for us to recommend it on its own, but fortunately its easy operation and compact design make it one of the best current options for taking 360-degree video and stills.
Review sample supplied by mobilefun.co.uk