IN THE ROUND

Wel­come to the slightly weird world of 360-de­gree video and the cre­ation of im­mer­sive ‘Vir­tual Re­al­ity’ footage.

Camera - - ON TRIAL -

Movie-mak­ers have been trying to recre­ate re­al­ity in a con­vinc­ing way right from the early days of cin­e­matog­ra­phy, first by ad­ding sound, then colour, then the third di­men­sion and even wacky ideas such as Smell-OVi­sion (sub­se­quently listed in the ‘Top 100 Worst Ideas of All Time’ com­piled by Time mag­a­zine). Now we have ‘Vir­tual Re­al­ity’ (VR) which is de­signed to repli­cate ac­tual re­al­ity with­out any of the po­ten­tially nasty side-ef­fects.

A key com­po­nent of VR is 360-de­gree video which, up un­til re­cently, has re­quired a fairly com­pli­cated and ex­pen­sive multi-cam­era rig in or­der to cover all the an­gles. Now you can cre­ate 360-de­gree footage with a lit­tle pocket-sized video ac­tion­cam from Nikon called the KeyMission 360. It’s a cu­ri­ous­look­ing thing with a 180-de­gree fish-eye lens at the front and one at the back which, of course, gives you the 360-de­gree cov­er­age af­ter the cam­era has stitched to­gether the two im­ages. Imag­ine two halves of a sphere be­ing glued to­gether and you’ll get the idea. As the viewer, you’re po­si­tioned right in the mid­dle of the sphere so wher­ever you look – up, down, left or right – you’ll see the scene as you would in real life.

Each of the KM 360’s lenses – which have a fo­cal length of 1.6mm, equiv­a­lent to 8.2mm in the 35mm for­mat – ob­vi­ously has its own sen­sor which is a 1/2.3-inch CMOS with an ef­fec­tive pix­els count of 21.14 mil­lion.

With its front and back taken up with lenses (which sit be­hind pro­tec­tive domes), there’s nowhere for a mon­i­tor screen and very lit­tle room for con­trols, es­pe­cially as one side of the cam­era is oc­cu­pied by the com­part­ment for its bat­tery and me­mory card. You can op­er­ate the KM 360 from the cam­era – well, with 360-de­gree cov­er­age you don’t need to worry about fram­ing, do you? – but you’re lim­ited to video start/stop or shut­ter re­lease for stills (as with the KM 170, there are sep­a­rate but­tons). Con­se­quently, to delve any deeper into the cam­era’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties you need a smart­phone or tablet run­ning Nikon’s SnapBridge 360/170 app. You don’t re­ally have any choice in the mat­ter be­cause it’s the only way to get to the menus which, in­ci­den­tally, are essen­tially the same as those of the KM 170. It’s not the most straight­for­ward of pro­cesses as the cam­era needs to be con­nected via Blue­tooth for ba­sic file trans­fer, but then also via WiFi for the re­mote con­trol op­er­a­tions and for viewfind­ing. How­ever, as far as the lat­ter is con­cerned, live view is only avail­able prior to record­ing and the feed stops im­me­di­ately you press the start but­ton.

IN THE DEEP END

Not sur­pris­ingly, fo­cus is ac­tu­ally fixed – this time from 30 cm to in­fin­ity – with pro­grammed ex­po­sure con­trol and au­to­matic white bal­ance cor­rec­tion. The over­rides are, re­spec­tively, +/-2.0 EV of com­pen­sa­tion and four WB

pre­sets, again for day­light, cloudy, tung­sten light­ing and flu­o­res­cent light­ing. Again, depth-of-field takes care of sharp­ness. There’s an un­der­wa­ter mode, but the KM 360 also has Nikon’s ‘Ac­tive D-Light­ing’ pro­cess­ing for dy­namic range ex­pan­sion in con­trasty sit­u­a­tions and, given the size of the pix­els, this is a fa­cil­ity well worth hav­ing.

Stills are cap­tured as JPEGs at 7744x3872 pix­els if you use both lenses or at 3872x1936 pix­els if you shoot with just one to give a more ‘con­ven­tional’ fish-eye view. Video can be cap­tured in the 4K Ul­tra HD res­o­lu­tion of 3840x2160 pix­els, but only at 24 fps. The 2K op­tions are Full HD 1080p at 24 fps or HD 960p at 25 fps while the slowmo speeds are lim­ited to stan­dard def­i­ni­tion. The time-lapse and ‘Su­per­lapse’ record­ing op­tions are also avail­able, but the KM 360 doesn’t have in-cam­era image sta­bil­i­sa­tion. In­stead, in­for­ma­tion about all the cam­era’s hor­i­zon­tal, ver­ti­cal and ro­ta­tional move­ments along the way is recorded with the footage and then used to cor­rect for cam­era shake dur­ing play­back.

Like the KM 170, the 360 model is de­signed to take a bit of pu­n­ish­ment so its fully sealed bodyshell is wa­ter­proofed down to 20 me­tres – ex­tended to 30 me­tres when you swap to the sup­plied un­der­wa­ter lens pro­tec­tors – shock-proofed for a drop of up to two me­tres and in­su­lated for sub-zero shoot­ing down to -10 de­grees Cel­sius. Ob­vi­ously it’s dust-proof too.

The bat­tery/card com­part­ment cover again has dou­ble locks so it can’t ac­ci­den­tally flick open if, for ex­am­ple, the cam­era takes a knock. The KM 360 also uses mi­croSD cards and the same EN-EL12 lithium-ion bat­tery pack as its sib­ling. This com­part­ment also con­tains the cam­era’s USB and HDMI ports plus a switch for se­lect­ing air­plane mode so the cam­era can be used with­out it con­tin­u­ally trying to con­nect to your smart­phone or tablet (which, in­ci­den­tally, also saves on bat­tery power). The bat­tery is recharged in-cam­era and then it’s good for around 230 still im­ages or an hour of con­tin­u­ous video record­ing. In prac­tice, this ac­tu­ally isn’t all that long – and is re­duced fur­ther if the cam­era is con­tin­u­ally com­mu­ni­cat­ing with a smart de­vice – so pur­chas­ing a sec­ond or even third bat­tery is a good idea (es­pe­cially as the cam­era is out of ac­tion when recharg­ing).

Un­like with the KM 170, the KM 360 isn’t sup­plied with a re­mote trig­ger, but the for­mer’s ML-L6 unit is avail­able as an op­tional ac­ces­sory Given that you’re much more likely to want to trig­ger this cam­era re­motely, it’s a cu­ri­ous anom­aly (but if you’ve bought both cam­eras, you’re set). How­ever, there’s an oth­er­wise handy kit of sup­plied ac­ces­sories in­clud­ing a ded­i­cated mi­cro-USB ca­ble, two mounts with var­i­ous base adapters, a sil­i­con jacket which pro­vides ex­tra body pro­tec­tion and the un­der­wa­ter lens pro­tec­tors men­tioned ear­lier.

CHALLENGES

Shoot­ing 360-de­gree video or stills is a whole new ex­pe­ri­ence. For starters, you’re al­ways go­ing to be in the shot no mat­ter where you po­si­tion your­self which is one rea­son why re­motely trig­ger­ing the cam­era is a good idea. It’s also a good idea to mount the cam­era in some way rather than shoot­ing hand-held which is quite hard to do smoothly, but rather more prob­lem­at­i­cally, your hand gets in the way of one or other lens. Us­ing a selfie-stick is one op­tion if you re­ally want to run-and-gun with the KM 360 or, when shoot­ing stills, you can set the self-timer and then find some­where to hide… or pose your­self as part of the image. Of course, you can al­ways re­touch the image post-cam­era. The shut­ter re­lease and record start/stop but­tons are also the power-on but­tons and there’s a pair of in­di­ca­tor lamps which show green when the KM 360 is in stills mode, red when it’s in the video mode. There’s also a bat­tery power in­di­ca­tor lamp which is yel­low.

As noted at the start of this ar­ti­cle, the two 180-de­gree im­ages are stitched to­gether in-cam­era and this is mostly done very well with the stitch only oc­ca­sion­ally no­tice­able… mostly if a close-up ob­ject tran­si­tions from one lens to the other be­cause there ac­tu­ally is a bit of a ‘black spot’ at the top, bot­tom and sides of the cam­era at around 60 cm or closer. How­ever, the over­all ef­fect is so ab­sorb­ing, you re­ally don’t no­tice the odd vis­ual glitch. It’s more of a prob­lem when shoot­ing 360-de­gree stills

SHOOT­ING 360-DE­GREE VIDEO IS A WHOLE NEW EX­PE­RI­ENCE. FOR STARTERS, YOU’RE AL­WAYS GO­ING TO BE IN THE SHOT NO MAT­TER WHERE YOU PO­SI­TION YOUR­SELF

Top view – we’re sure of it – shows off the twin lens con­fig­u­ra­tion. Of course, each lens also has its own sen­sor. Sep­a­rate but­tons are pro­vided for video start/stop and shut­ter re­lease for stills.

The front of the Nikon KeyMission 360… and, er, the back. Well, we think it’s that way around… isn’t it?

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