Samsung Gear 360 Hands On Review
The Gear 360 is probably the best 360° camera at its price point, but considering the huge resolution required for 360 video, don't expect crystal clear results. The software provided with the camera could do with a (large) improvement.
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4K 360 Camera compatible with Samsung Smartphones. Dust-proof and splash-proof.
In this review of the Samsung Gear 360 camera I’ll be taking you through the positives and negatives of the camera, showing some example videos and images as well as taking a look at the included software. Let’s get started!
I’ve had my Samsung Gear 360 for about a few weeks now and I feel I’ve had enough experience with this 360° camera to write a comprehensive review. In case you haven’t read my first impressions post, I purchased the Gear 360 from a South Korean ebay seller because it wasn’t yet available in my country (UK). As far as I am aware there is still no definite release date for the rest of the world, but it looks likely to be sometime in the next month.
Samsung Gear 360 Review
Photo and Video Quality
I’m going to get right to the part that everyone cares about; how good are 360° photo’s and videos taken with the Samsung Gear 360? The answer is they can range from pretty good to terrible, depending on the situation.
Let’s take a look at video first. Here is an example of a 360° video filmed inside the British Museum. Change the YouTube video quality settings to 4K in order to see the footage at it’s best:
This video was taken at the highest resolution setting using a selfie stick to reduce shakiness as much as possible. This was one of the first video’s I took with the gear 360 and is unedited footage. This is the highest resolution that the camera is capable of and as you can see, it’s not up the standards we come to expect from HD cameras, this is because the number of pixels is spread over 360° rather than a much smaller field of view in normal videos. The harsh lighting in the video isn’t handled well by the camera and you can see a lot of glare.
The relatively low quality will be most felt when viewing 360 videos on VR headsets as your eyes will be physically closer to the pixels, so those wanting a truly immersive experience may also be disappointed.
Despite this, the quality is a step above the likes of the Ricoh Theta S and other similarly priced 360 cameras available and I personally think it’s just about acceptable. It’s worth noting that the way YouTube processes 360 degree footage reduced the quality somewhat, I’ve found that the same 360 video on Facebook looks slightly better.
It’s also worth noting that video quality can be improved in post editing using programs like Adobe Premiere Pro to alter the color balance, saturation, sharpness etc.
Video quality on the Gear 360 also depends on the way you film. Some kind of tripod, selfie sick or stabilizer is essential, and filming in a slow and steady fashion will make the end result look much better. Take a look at this 360 video I look with only a small tripod fixed to the camera, I intentionally moved around a lot and changed the angel of the camera to see what happened:
As you can see it makes the video quite hard to watch; the stitching (where the images taken by the two separate lens’s meet) is very obvious and distorts the image.
Some people may be disappointed that this 4K camera doesn’t produce super high quality video, but for a 360° camera to create that kind of quality you would need to spend thousands. At around $300, this does a fine job, albeit with a lot of room for improvement.
The quality of 360 degree photos taken on the Samsung Gear 360 far surpasses the video quality. The Gear 360 shoots photos at a huge 7776 X 3888 resolution, making them clear and sharp. While the images won’t stand up to even a low end DSLR, the 360 element makes up for a lack of other features found in most cameras.
One thing that lets the camera down a bit is, once again, the stitching. The Gear 360 doesn’t seem to compensate very well for the differences between the images taken with each lens, meaning there is often a very obvious ‘line’ where you can see the two images stitched together. Take a look at the roof of the British Museum in this picture and you can see where the stitching doesn’t quite get it right.
This doesn’t always happen, and is most likely to occur when there is uneven lighting, but Samsung could do more with the software inside the camera to make the images stitch together seamlessly.
One cool feature of the Gear 360 is the time lapse function. Select the mode from the menu screen, press the shutter button, leave it for a few minutes and the camera will create a 360 degree time lapse film. You should ensure the camera remains still while creating the time lapse for best effect. Here is an example of a 360 degree time lapse taken outside the British museum.
I spoke about the design of the Gear 360 in my un-boxing post, so I won’t go into too much detail here. All I can say is that I’ve grown to really love the spherical form factor of the Gear 360 and I think this will become the standard for 360 cameras in the future. The built quality is high end and the interface is minimalist but intuitive. I do find it troublesome to open the compartment where the battery and USB port are located, but this is a minor inconvenience in an otherwise great looking and user friendly device.
Software- Gear 360 Action Manager and Gear 360 App
Here is where the Gear 360 disappointing slightly. Included with every Gear 360 camera is a product key so you can download its accompanying software, the Gear 360 Action Director. While you do need this program to stitch your photos and videos into the 360 degree format, it’s exceedingly poor in all other areas.
Billed as an editing suite for your 360 media, it barely stacks up to other editing software like Sony Vegas and Premiere Pro. Simple tasks like cutting footage is cumbersome and slow and there are few options for image editing and improvement. Once you have used the Action Manager to stitch your footage, you will most likely need to use another program for serious post production editing.
Another issue is the stitching itself; it can take a very long time. A 7 minute video look over an hour to finish stitching on my average spec laptop. If you have a powerful PC then this time will no doubt be reduced, but it does still seem excessive. Unfortunately using this program is the only way to save your stitched videos in the highest quality format, because if you use the Gear 360 phone app it will reduce the quality (for reasons unknown).
While we are at it, let’s talk about the app, which is thankfully an improvement on the Action Editor. The Gear 360 app allows you to control all camera settings, see a live view and record footage/take pictures. Settings that can be changed include ISO for low light environments, HDR, sharpness, white balance and brightness.
The app can store and stitch your 360 images, although in the case of video it can’t stitch at the highest resolution. The app is very user friendly and connects to the camera quickly using bluetooth. You can also share your 360 degree footage on social media straight from the app.
- 4K 360 video at affordable price
- Robust build quality and excellent design
- Takes clear 360 photo’s
- Easy to use app
- Time lapse feature is great
- Video quality can be lacking in low light
- Stitching can be poor
- Supplied PC software is poor
- Reports of overheating
The Gear 360 is a serious piece of kit meant for more than just home movie making. It looks great, has an array of features and can take excellent 360° photos. Video is still on the low quality side but much better than any other 360 camera available right now that doesn’t cost thousands. So is the Gear 360 worth it’s $350 price tag? In comparison to other consumer grade 360 cameras on the market right now, it’s certainly the front runner. Software is it’s weakness but this can be tweaked in the future, we will have to see if Samsung is really committed to 360 degree cameras.
4K 360 Camera compatible with Samsung Smartphones. Dust-proof and splash-proof.
What other say
Jeff Bryan on Amazon says: IMHO, buying a 360 camera now that Facebook supports 360 photos and videos, and you can use a Samsung Gear VR headset to relive your memories, makes perfect sense.
JTSeng on Amazon says: This product has been out for about a week now in Singapore and I’ve been using it quite a bit now and I have to declare that it is the best consumer 360 recording device, IMO, to date now.
18/06/2016 EDIT: A recent firmware update for the Gear 360 has improved overall image quality as well at stitching accuracy, meaning the issue where stitching was very noticeable has been partly rectified.
Related: 360 degree camera buying guide