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