In the course of being a visual journalism educator, I’ve come to realize that while here at Fstoppers my colleagues and readers might be attuned to 360 cameras and imaging, by and large most of the viewing public is not, but perhaps it's time they should be.
The first time I pull up a 360 video for many people, I watch as they don’t move at all while viewing it on a phone or computer. The concept of being able to look around a video and see everything is alien to them. It doesn’t help that Vimeo and YouTube, while being able to host excellent quality 360 video, require a bit of brain retraining and clicking around to look at video on a desktop or laptop. VR headsets haven’t reached critical mass in the market despite such wonderful and accessible options such as the Oculus Quest or Go headsets, but these kinds of experiences are where people truly see the power of 360-degree storytelling.
However, just because the market isn’t quite ready to view content in 360, that doesn’t mean 360 cameras are a bad buy. Models such as the Insta360 One X, the GoPro Max, and many other models on the market let you capture video and photos in full 360, yes, but they also let you punch out specific parts of those 360 videos or photos to pull still photos and video for high-resolution, 2D images. In a way, buying a 360 camera is like getting three cameras for the price of one: A 360 camera, an action camera and a still camera (albeit with a wide angle lens only, pretty much). If you believe GoPro’s marketing, you can even call its Max a vlogging camera, which it certainly makes a good case for with the front facing screen.
On a recent trip to Holy Land USA (an abandoned religious theme park in Waterbury, Connecticut) my colleague and I were able to capture some compelling 360 photos from all around, but were also able create interesting two dimensional photos with the same image. Check it out in 360 here, and envision that any part of this could easily be made into a 2D flat image:
Short of needing 4K or the ruggedness of the camera (which can be added with a case for the Insta360 One X or is a feature on the GoPro Max), there’s not a compelling reason to spring for a dedicated action cam like GoPro’s own HERO8 when you get 99% of the features with a 360 camera. These days as I travel, I’m often leaving wide angle lenses out of my bag entirely and bring my photo-centric portable cameras like my Olympus E-M10 Mark II or Fuji X-T1 because I can these functions which a much smaller, lighter, and feature-packed 360 camera.
What do you think? Is it time to stick a fork in action cameras or are 360 cameras still not ready for prime time? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Holy Land USA Image used with permission and courtesy of Taylor Sniffen.