I ordered my Samsung Gear 360 not long after I worked out how to stitch videos using the expensive but useful Autopano Video software. Immediately I set about getting busy with it. While I've enjoyed my experience playing around with the Brahma Duo, I'd rather spend more time making content than fussing with the technical challenges of the Duo. My first images were made using a hacked version of the Android app for the Gear 360, which meant I didn't have to upgrade to the latest, greatest Samsung models. I've been holding out for the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, but as you probably know, that has a nasty habit of catching fire, so I need to stick with my phabulous Galaxy Note 4 for a little while longer. Armed with 360 camera, I jumped on my bike and scouted for photo opportunities.
Where better than the picturesque campus of my almer mater, Carleton University, Ottawa? There is an attractive stretch of the Rideau river that runs along one side of of the campus. The middle of the river is easily reached at this time of year. I set up the tripod, mounted the camera and scooted off into the foliage. Using the phone app, I triggered the phone to take the following shot.
It was one of my first using the Gear 360 (aside from an awful close-up of me right after un-packaging) and to date, it has the most online views. At the time of writing, the photo had attracted a stupendous 368,000 views on Google Streetview. I don't know why exactly — perhaps it's the novelty factor.
I also shot some video, hoping to show off the 4K capabilities of the camera, but neglected to set it to the highest resolution. Even so, it's not bad. You can view it here. Surprisingly, the phone app handled all the stitching with a minimum of time and bother. You'll note that in the photos and the video, there is a colour and exposure mismatch that can be quite pronounced in certain lighting conditions. The last camera update was supposed to have fixed it, but many Gear 360 owners, including myself, will say differently.
The family holiday offered more opportunities to capture 360 photos and video. I've added some of the better examples below:
As you can see, aside from some of the flaws that I've highlighted already, the camera does a fine job and the app is remarkably good at stitching.
Emboldened by this, I decided to see if I could mount the Gear 360 on my Cheerson CX-20 GPS drone (open source version), a cheap DJ Phantom 1 clone out of China. What I didn't say in the video description is that it was the third flight during my visit to Brighton Beach in Old Ottawa South. I hadn't remembered to factor in the weight of the camera and the occasional gusts of wind, which caused the drone to work harder that it would normally and draining the 2700mah lipo battery faster. As it returned to the shore I heard the low battery warning alarm. At about 20 metres altitude the engines cut out. It landed very hard, as you would expect, but only sustained minor damage. I've ordered a new 3000mah battery, and I will be tweaking the drone settings to do a failsafe return-to-launch if the battery levels drop too low. Here's the video:
For safety reasons, I set the flight plan to stay over the river for most of the time. If it ditches in the river, at least I haven't injured anyone (I made sure the water was clear of paddle boarders). It's clear the landing gear is a problem for 360 video, even more that I expected. Not long after this flight I visited Banggood.com and ordered some retractable landing gear.
While I was waiting for that, I focused my energies on learning more about making the most of 360 multimedia, with journalism applications in mind. Not long ago, the annual House ofPainT festival was on in Ottawa, and one Saturday night I cycled over to the Dunbar bridge to record some video the live performances and the dance competitions. And of course, the graffiti art that had been created for the occasion.
Lessons learned: First, the camera doesn't handle low-light condition well. But it struggled to automatically set exposure levels for the brightly-lit stage against darker areas. Perhaps the Nikon Keymission 360 will do a better job when it's out next month. To improve the quality of the footage, I went back to Autopano Video v2.3 to do the stitching and rendering. It was a definite improvement over the results obtained using Samsung's own Action Director software.
As a freelance journalist, I spend plenty of time sitting on my bum writing, and I prefer to do that outside of the home to promote discipline and productivity. Black Squirrel Books is my preferred workspace. I decided to capture the moment one morning as I put the final edits in place for my story on a new portable DNA testing device for Motherboard.
I have the new landing gear, but managed to crash the drone badly before I was able to get any 360 video, so that will stay on hold for a while longer. I'll post a little bit about that in the next few days.