I have posted this review to Samsung.com, BestBuy.com and Amazon.com so far. It is a bit long for typical reviews on those sites, but I really like to talk about this camera.
If you want to take full 360 degree photos and video, this is a very reasonable and simple way to do it. With the on camera display and menu system you can easily take pictures, video, time lapse video, or video loops. You can change the settings of each from the device, set a timer, and snap the shot with the push of the button on top without the need of any external device to control it.
As for controlling it externally, the only designed way is with one of Samsung’s current phones (S6 and above). There is a modified way to control it with other phones, but that is not 100% and not supported by Samsung. Also, you can’t do 4K 360 video stitching on any phone less than an S7, unless again you use the modified app. However, you can take the pictures and video off the camera to a PC and using the Action Director software provided, or any 3rd party program you can use to make 360 panoramas, you can get the stitched photos for upload to social media or Google Maps.
The image quality and video quality do leave a little bit to desire. Though they are listed as 30MP pictures and 4K video, when they are stitched and zoomed to make a 360 sphere details are lost. When a 360 photo is made with multiple pictures from a regular digital camera, they are much sharper in detail, really noticeable when signs with words are present. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t worth having.
When uploaded to social media, I get a lot of comments on “How’d you do that” but looking at the media on a computer or on a phone does not give them full justice. If you view the media through a VR device it really brings out the true effect of having a 360 photo or video. Well worth it when you can really put people in place and let them look around.
The Samsung Gear 360 phone app is simple to use and rather snappy. Compared to other devices I did not have any issues with connecting back to the phone when my screen was turned off or I stepped out of range. The app is basic in options though. You can change all the setting of the camera, control it, and save the stitched media to your device. However, there is no real editing. The biggest problem I have had is a slight shift in the image, if the camera is not perfectly level, that can’t be modified using the app or the Action Director software. However, 3rd party apps designed for Ricoh Theta have worked to correct the angels and allowed other modifications. After several crashes each time I load Action Director you find that additional editing options are really limited. Hopefully as time goes there will be Samsung specific options to correct the images and provide additional editing.
Another issue I have found, and I don’t know if this is specific to me, but the GPS location is tagged when the media is saved to my phone. If I copy the images straight from the camera to the PC they don’t have location details and if I save them to my phone at a different location, I now get the GPS tag of that location. This has become really bothersome when trying to upload images to Google Street View. I have had to use 3rd party apps to correct the Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) data of the images, just as I did with the slight angel corrections. On that note, you can fix the image correction with PC software such as Photoshop, however, Google Street View uses the Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) data and when you correct an image visually and not the XMP data you can end up with a really crooked image.
The small tripod that it comes with is cute, handy at times, but really makes for some bad angles for 360 media. If you want to give the viewer a perspective of a mouse, it’s perfect. If you want to hold the tripod, you can look like some alien as your hand is merged in the blind spot of the dual lenses. The best way to make use of this camera is with a monopod. The standard tripod threading on the camera makes it easy to interchange with other equipment. There are many types out there, from the simple selfie stick to six foot expandable pole with attached tripod. I prefer the six foot option as it gets the camera high enough to be at a “normal” eye level perspective and gets the camera to a point that the merge lines blend a lot better.
On the subject of merge lines, depending on how close objects are to the camera depends on how visible the merge lines are. Understanding the placement of the two cameras and trying to adjust the angle so that you can place farther objects on the sides and closer objects on the front or back can really make the difference. However, you also have to try to find a good balance on light, as you will notice a lens flare if lighting is brighter from one direction. The best option I have found for this is to try and align the bright light source to a side so that both lenses get equal lighting. Also, not as noticeable in photos, but in videos there is a distinction in where the equirectangular (the format the stitched images and videos are save in) lines come to meet. The odd thing is that the rear camera is technically the “front” camera when the stitched media is saved and half of the front is split on each side of that. So not only are there stitch lines where the 2 camera are merged, but there is a stitch line in the middle of the actual front camera. This is extremely noticeable with lots of motion and the motion control feature is enabled.
As this is a new market I say this is a great start. However, due to the IP53 rating, this camera does not make for a safest action camera option, not dustproof or waterproof. Currently there are no action cases available, as of this review, like there are for other action cameras that can help change that. However, it does come with an exchangeable battery and expandable memory which is better than some other 360 camera options, so there is some benefit as to why the rating is lower than some others.
Bottom line, I really like this camera. With a little tweaking of their software and maybe the firmware, this camera can be a lot better. In comparison to other 360 cameras I have used or seen, for the price this is the best. It takes a little practice to get the perfect angle, but eventually you will start making pictures and video a virtual reality to remember.
Video examples can be seen on Youtube. Search for “KY Action Park 360”. Attached pictures are examples how blurry it looks with words, how bright light has to be lined up and the last one is the split in the “Front” facing camera during a shaky seen as during playback. That is not the left/right stitch line that you can notice when watching the video.