While 360 cameras haven’t quite entered the mainstream for most photographers, Kandao’s QooCam 3 makes a solid case why they should: Kandao’s third entry into its QooCam lineup is a solid 360 action camera at a bargain price.
Kandao provided me with a QooCam 3 for this review, and to start, I’ll get the elephant in the room out of the way: The company’s previous effort in the line, QooCam 8K, was one of the best consumer 360 cameras of its day three years ago, due in large part to its massive 8K resolution. The QooCam 3 comes in at 5.7K video, so it doesn’t quite reach the dizzying video specs of its predecessor, but it still holds its own.
A Kandao spokesperson explained that because of the continued chip shortage around the world, suitable parts for 8K video couldn’t be sourced, and so, the company focused on getting the best possible results with 5.7K video. I would say they achieved that goal.
That same shortage, the spokesperson said, is why the QooCam 8K was discontinued. Could this also be the reason most other consumer 360 cameras have stagnated around 5.7K video?
By focusing on improvements for the rest of the camera, though, the overall package is more compelling for photographers and videographers. Reframed 4K video from 360 footage looks better than its predecessor, photo resolution takes a huge leap from 20 MP to 62 MP, the lens features a faster f/1.6 aperture, and the sensor is a large-for-its-class 1/1.5” version. Oh, and the weather resistance actually works.
If your goal is to specifically shoot 360 video for use as 360 video (for 360 playback on a computer, streaming service, or headset), it’s the one area where the lower resolution hurts, but otherwise, everything else is an upgrade.
Design and Body
Kandao’s design has changed wildly from generation to generation, with the latest version landing squarely in the GoPro Max’s design territory. You would be forgiven if you mistook this one for that camera, but it’s definitely larger and with more modern internals. It’s definitely a classier looking camera than the previous model that looked like a bar of soap or the original QooCam. Suffice to say, I think this design on the new one works well.
Like the GoPro Max, the camera is a small square that fits easily in the hand, with lenses staggered on either side. On the back is a screen that lets you see what you are shooting from either lens by hitting a toggle switch. The camera also uses Kandao’s latest version of its touchscreen controls that are similar to the previous camera, swiping in from the sides of the screen to access playback, system settings, and shooting settings. It’s pretty simple to understand without even reading a manual.
The materials have a heft to them, and everything, in typical Kandao fashion, feels good in the hand. The only complaint I have is that the battery door is a bit finicky to use. Apparently, the designers also thought so, too, as there is a sheet with a diagram in the box showing just how it works.
Under wins and losses, the camera gains a removable battery, but loses its microphone input. That said, the four-channel audio with the built-in microphones is much better than before and may, for some eliminate the need for this. In any case, recording audio separately and syncing in post isn’t too difficult.
There’s also no more built-in memory (the QooCam 8K came with 64 GB), but in the last few years, prices have dropped on Micro SD cards, so this isn’t too much of an issue.
The company claims IP68 waterproofing on this new model, versus none in the past. I made sure to test this out:
On a technical level, IP68 is more about submerging the camera for a short time, not jets of water, but the camera handled it (and a feisty child) just fine. The six-axis stabilization did its job pretty well as far as little planet videos go.
That brings me to the software side of things. Kandao’s been at this for a while now, and the company’s app for the camera (a new one for this, the QooCam 3 App) follows the usual design language from the company’s previous cameras, that is to say, it works pretty well and has the usual set of intelligent tracking tools you’d expect from a 360 camera.
There’s also a desktop editing solution called QooCam Studio, which I much preferred. It’s easy to do all of the usual staples with 360 cameras, such as reframing video to make “2D” clips, little planets, keyframing, etc. Again, it’s a piece of software that’s been around for a while, so it just works.
I was able to easily reframe video from the QooCam 3 to produce this side-by-side comparison with the QooCam 8K.
In it, you’ll see that the audio quality is better on the new camera, as is the image quality for reframed 4K video. This is likely because the camera was able to use a lower ISO due to the larger sensor and wider aperture lens on the QooCam 3.
Back to the software though, I wish there was some better explanation of what all of the bells and whistles in the software do. For instance, exporting a video with “ambisonic audio” caused it to not work on my iPhone, and it wasn’t immediately clear why, but all in all, it’s not an unpleasant experience.
One major difference I noticed with the QooCam 3 over its predecessor was speed. The connection to the app, all the menus, even the act of taking a picture or video, all just worked faster than before with almost no lag for most operations. The camera slowed down a little bit when using the DNG8 mode (that combines eight exposures to make an image with more dynamic range), but that’s expected, and it’s still faster than before.
A casualty of the different chipset used in this camera is the loss of the SuperHDR mode from the older camera. Sadly, to get the same effect, you’ll have to use auto exposure bracketing and manually combine the images. It works fine, but it's time-consuming.
While you can use the app to access all of this, most of these features are available directly on the camera, so you don’t need to rely on a smartphone or tablet to get most of the functionality.
The videos above gives a pretty good look at what kind of video quality you can expect out of the camera. It’s certainly better for reframing 4K video than the QooCam 8K, at least to my eye, and that's ultimately one of the most important use-cases for a 360 camera: shoot first, frame later.
Straight up 360 video, just by nature of the resolution looks better in 8K. More resolution is simply more resolution. Still, 5.7K 360 video at 30 fps is pretty standard in this range of camera, so it’s not behind its peers.
Still photos at 62 MP are pretty sharp, and while on a computer screen, the difference between 20 and 62 isn’t all that noticeable, as screen and headset resolutions increase, 62 MP buys you a lot of future-proofing. There’s just a bit more dynamic range to be had in the new sensor as well, and that can be seen on a computer screen. Check out this difficult scene with mixed lighting on each camera:
Additionally, the new camera can shoot exposures for as long as 30 seconds compared to 1 second, which allows for the use of lower ISOs and better image quality.
In general, in the same way more resolution in video helps with quality, the same applies to still images. The upgraded lens and sensor don't hurt either. The new camera shoots better, more detailed photos than the old, as you can see in another direct comparison here:
Is that difference worth upgrading? At $350, the better usability of the new camera makes it worth it. If you’re using something like the original QooCam or any other 360 camera from that era (circa 2018), it’s a quantum leap.
Kandao’s tried some weird things in the past with the QooCam lineup. Its first entry had a neat party trick of stereoscopic 180-degree 3D images, but with no practical way to view those images. The QooCam 8K threw a ton of video resolution at users and is still one of the only cameras on the market with built-in memory.
By comparison, the QooCam 3 is a fairly ordinary 360 camera. No tricks or gimmicks. It hangs in there with its nearest competition from Insta360 and others, at least specs-wise, but undercuts almost all of them on price, and it comes paired with a better lens and bigger sensor than much of the competition. For the price, this is a lot of camera. Kandao has made a worthy follow-up to the QooCam 8K.
What I Liked
- Easy to use
- Weather resistant
- Excellent image quality for stills and video
- Good price point
What I Didn’t Like
- Down on resolution and some features from its predecessor
- Built-in JPEG processing is only so-so, with the need to use DNG to really get the best out of the camera
You can purchase the Kandao QooCam 3 here, in a "motorcycle" package that includes a Micro SD card, extra battery, invisible selfie stick and motorcycle mount here, or in a "travel" package that deletes the motorcycle mount.