The Samsung Gear 360 review and resulting 360 wedding video
So while I had some time during the festive break I have been testing out Samsung’s new Gear 360 camera for the Insiders network #insidersgear360. So what’s a 360 camera you might ask and why use one? Well, you might have seen a few of these 360° videos on YouTube or Facebook, they are the videos where you can move your smart phone or tablet to look around as if you were there in the room behind the camera (you can also swipe with your finger to move round the video). Not only can you look round but also up and down, but the best bit comes when you view the same 360° video using VR (Virtual Reality) goggles such as the Google Cardboard or, as I used, Samsung’s own Gear VR. So, this brings me back to the Samsung Gear 360 camera, the one issue is that it is only compatible with the Galaxy S6 & S7 (and edge), you can still use the camera without a compatible phone but you will need to use a computer to download and stitch the resulting video content together. The main advantage of using the camera with a compatible phone is that you have easy access to the camera settings giving you full control, basic settings can still be accessed via the built-in menu and display on the camera but as I like to take full manual control of ISO, white balance etc. the phone is a must in my view.
The first thing you need to do when setting up the Gear 360 is to make sure the video settings are at the highest possible resolution of 3840 X 1920 (4k) 30fps, this might sound like high quality, and it is, but you need to remember that once the captured video is stitched together it will be cropped by approx. 6x when viewing, this looks OK on a phone screen or tablet but you will notice a softer less detailed image when viewed with VR goggles, so if the camera is set to anything less than 4k the end result will just not cut it and look too soft. The other thing to note is that stitching is done with the phone app and if you save the video to your phone it will be at a reduced resolution so the only way to keep the maximum picture quality is to download the content to a PC or Mac and stitch/edit that way. The Gear 360 comes with “Action Director” to stitch and edit the footage but I only used this software to stitch the video together and then brought the stitched content into Edius, Action Director is just not cut out for editing professionally. There are some basic tools in Action Director to enhance the video but they are very limited in function, for a hobby user or for personal use it would be perfectly acceptable but not if you want to take things to the next level. The other thing I noticed is that the default ISO limit was set to 1600iso and was WAY TOO HIGH resulting in unacceptable levels of noise in the image so this was limited to 400iso.
Once I had the camera settings sorted out the next step was some real-world use, the idea was to create our first 360 wedding video so a suitable wedding was selected. The church ceremony presented the first challenge, where to position the camera? It’s not like framing a shot with any other camera as everything is in view and you need some foreground interest to make 360 wedding video work, in fact I would say that 360 works best when its right in the middle of the action so you are looking around at interesting subject matter all the time but I don’t think the priest (or couple) would have been happy with a camera placed on a tripod between them, even if the Gear 360 camera is only just bigger than a golf ball. Distant or outdoor panoramic type shots just don’t work in my opinion as the resolution of the resulting stitched footage from the camera is just not good enough but the effect of close subjects or interior views work very well, especially when viewed with VR goggles to give an immersive feel. I settled on a view from the perspective of a guest in the front row and set the camera to record unattended (you can’t man the camera as you would be the focus of attention!), there are two flashing red LEDs (one for each sensor/lens) to let you know you are recording using both front and back facing cameras (you can set up to use one front or back facing camera but not in 360°). The ceremony lasted about 45mins and it was reassuring to see that there was still battery power remaining. This brings me to one good feature of the Samsung Gear 360 and that’s the removable battery, other offerings from some rival camera manufacturers are not removable. The Micro SD card supplied for the review was 128gb so there was more than enough to record over 8hrs of footage, personally I would rather use smaller capacity cards to spilt the content to reduce the risk of losing everything if a card fails but as this was just a test/review I didn’t worry too much. Next I set up the camera on a table at the wedding reception before the guests took their seats, the camera comes with a small folding tripod only a couple of inches high but comes in handy if you have something to set the camera on, in this case a wine glass. The result here work very well as you could look down at the table detail as well as all around the room, a similar position was chosen for the speeches and again looked great. The one issue with camera is the built-in microphone/s, they do a poor job (as do most built in camera mics), I wasn’t too concerned on this occasion as we were shooting with pro kit at the same time and could replace the audio later if needed.
In conclusion, the Samsung Gear 360 is great camera for the price, it’s quick and easy to use and will give good results as long as you know its limitations and set it up right in the first place. To get 360 footage of a higher quality you would need to spend more than 10x as much on something like a 360 Hero Pro rig with 6x Hero 4 blacks at over £4k and from the resulting footage I have seen it doesn’t look 10x better, in fact I’d say the Samsung is close and a lot less outlay and with only one stitch line. I haven’t gone into detail here regarding the post processing or how to export the footage for final delivery/output, in fact there are a few steps to take and to get the best results it is very time consuming, however I have been impressed enough that we are now going to offer 360 wedding video as an add-on or option to our wedding videography services. For more information regarding a 360 wedding video please contact A&G Produtions
Here is the resulting sample 360 wedding video:-