When I first heard about the Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere, I wrote it off as yet another Chinese clone that would probably not even work. How wrong I was. Xiaomi is a huge Chinese tech company with serious ambitions and they are taking on the likes of Apple, an sometimes winning. Once I discovered the company behind this camera was a serious one, I gave it another look, and I’m so glad I did. The Xiaomi Mi Sphere is one of the best 360 cameras I’ve ever used, in fact its probably the best value 360 camera available right now.
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A great value 360 camera that's particularly good at shooting photos. Probably the best all-round 360 camera out right now.
- High resolution 360 photos
- 360 video looks great
- Manual controls
- Works well in low light
- Stitching nearly invisible
- Short battery life
- Only compatible with more expensive MicroSD cards
Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere Review
|Number of Lenses||2 x f/2.0|
|Video Resolution||3840 x 1920 @ 30fps 2304 x 1152 @ 60fps|
|Photo Resolution||23.8 Megapixels - 6912 x 3456|
|Stabilization||6 Axis Image Stabilization|
|Waterproof||IP67 Water Resistant Up to 1m underwater|
|Memory||MicroSD up to 128GB|
|Where to Buy||Gearbest (ships to over 200 countries)|
Whats in the Box
The Mi Sphere is accompanied in its box by a mini tripod, a protective case and a USB cable. These are the three accessories commonly included with 360 cameras so there are no surprises there. I will say that the mini tripod is an excellent design for usage by hand. The slightly longer than normal legs mean your hand is further away from the camera and less likely to be in shot.
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Mi Sphere Design
The Mi Sphere camera itself is rather uniquely designed, as 360 cameras go that is. Usually 360 cameras are either ball shaped or candy bar shaped, whereas the Mi Sphere is neither. An almost perfect square, the Mi Sphere is a very thin device with two small lenses protruding out of each side.
There are three manual buttons on opt of the camera, which control power, Wifi and the shutter. There is no screen so all settings and image preview are handles using the official phone app.
On the left hand side of the Mi Sphere you’ll find the USB charging port and the Micro SD card slot.
When you turn on the camera two lights flash and one will stay lit depending on whether the camera is in photo mode or video mode. You can switch between these two modes manually by quickly pressing the power button (holding down will switch it off).
The camera is very light but doesn’t feel cheap. The materials are of reasonable high quality and could probably survive the lightest of falls and bumps. The lenses are smaller than on most 360 cameras so these is less change of them getting scratched, however they are still very fragile.back to menu ↑
Mi Sphere 360 Video Quality
When it was first released, the Mi Sphere was limited to 3.5K resolution, however in early 2018 the camera received a software update that upgraded this to 4K. I’ve tested the Mi Sphere in several locations and lighting conditions and have found hat it performs exceptionally well as a 360 video camera relative to its price.
Watch my video review of the Mi Sphere to see some of the latest footage shot with this camera:
Here’s some more example videos shot with the Mi Sphere:
Video shot with the Mi Sphere often features excellent dynamic range and accurate stitching. Movement is smooth and light balance is handled well. Yes, the image will look slightly blurred if viewed on a large screen or VR headset, but this can be said of anything below 6K resolution.
The Samsung Gear 360 can shoot at a resolution of 4K, yet the Mi Sphere beat it in every test I did. One reason for this could be that the Mi Sphere can shoot at 30fps, however I believe the main reason is that Xiaomi has fitted the Mi Sphere with superior lens technology. It just goes to show that resolution isn’t everything and that you should always check the final results before making judgements.
The stitching is the most accurate I’ve ever seen, which is probably due to the design of the camera. Because the Mi Sphere is so thin its two lenses are close together, making it easier for the stitching software to accurately create the 360 image.
The Xiaomi Mi Sphere also comes with stabilization software – an important feature if you want your 360 video to be watchable when you are moving. I’ve tested it and I don’t notice a huge amount of difference, but video does seem fairly stable compared to other 360 cameras.
There is a time-lapse and slow motion function. The slow motion feature isn’t that useful as the image quality is significantly reduced, but the time-lapse feature is great. You can shoot time lapse’s anywhere between 1 second intervals and 60 second, although realistically 5 second intervals is going to be the most commonly used.
Here is an example time lapse in the form of a “tiny planet” from my Instagram:
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Other updates Since Release
I’ve been using the Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere for over 6 months now and having wrote this review quite a while ago, I thought it would be a good idea for a small update. The Mi Sphere has received a large number of firmware updates that have improved almost every aspect of the camera. Let me take you through some of these upgrades and what improvements they bring.
1. Raw Photo Mode
On of the most significant updates to the Mi Sphere is the inclusion of a RAW mode for photos. This allows the user to shoot DNG files, which are readable in Adobe Photoshop as well as most other photo editing programs. Shooting RAW photos will allow the user to have much greater control over color editing in post production and will also produce the maximum image quality possible.
When shooting in RAW format the camera will produce a double circular fish eye file which are around 45mb in size, very large compared to any other 360 camera.
The ability to shoot in RAW solidifies the Mi Spheres position as the best 360 camera for photography under $1000
A bracketing option has been included in the photo options. When this option is selected the camera will shoot 3 images, one at normal exposure, one over exposed and one under exposed. These 3 files can then be combined to create a HDR image or to even out light imbalances.
You’ll need to create the HDR manually with a program like Adobe Lightroom, but it’s fairly easy to achieve and th resulting images look excellent.
3. Slow motion, 2048 x 512 @ 120fps
The Mi Sphere could already shoot at a slow motion frame rate of 60fps, but now you can go even slower. 120fps is what I’d call true slow motion and the difference is vast, however you’ll have to contend with the strange resolution.
4 High bit rate
Want to increase the quality of the Mi Sphere video? Simply select the high bit rate mode on the video option screen and your video will be shot at the highest bit rate possible. You won’t be able to see the difference in the live preview, and you’ll need to stitch the video using the Mi Sphere PC software (link), but the final result should be of noticeably higher quality.
5. GPS Tagging
The Mi Sphere is now capable of adding location information to your photos and videos. This is done automatically in camera and means that you can use the camera in apps like Google Street View.
One limitation I’ve encountered is that the Mi Sphere won’t deal with darkness particularly well. To be fair this is true of every 360 camera I’ve used, but I’d make sure the camera has at least a bit of light when shooting video. Actually the Mi Sphere is a better low light 360 camera than any other in its price range, but it’s still limited.
Not recording sound
I’ve come across a strange issue where the Mi Sphere will stop recording sound around 3/4 of the way through the video. I only notice this when I put the videos into an editing program and it seems to be random (doesn’t happen all the time). This is pretty annoying though as it can render a carefully thought out video clip useless. Update: A new firmware version has fixed this issue.
To summarise – if you want a 360 camera that can shoot excellent 360 video without breaking the bank, the Mi Sphere is one of just a few that I would recommend.back to menu ↑
Mi Sphere 360 Photo Quality
360 photography is where the Mi Sphere really shines; the camera can shoot 23 megapixel photos at a total resolution of 6921 x 3456. In fact the Mi Sphere can shoot larger 360 photos than other similar cameras that are twice as expensive. Size does matter when it comes to 360 photography, because when you need to wrap an image around the full 360°, the more pixels the better.
The Mi Sphere is an excellent camera for 360 photography, not only able to shoot large image, but beautiful looking ones too. Tested in various lighting conditions, the Mi Sphere performs excellently in nearly all of them. The camera captures details excellently and deals with direct sunlight well. Colors in particular look great and are true to reality.
When I look at the photos I take with the Mi Sphere I get a sense of sharpness and quality that is lacking in many other 360 cameras I own, in fact the Mi Sphere is one of only a few all in one 360 cameras that takes photography seriously.Available from Gearbest.com
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Mi Sphere App
The Mi Sphere App is available on the Google Play store and Apple App store. It should be the first result when you search for “Mi Sphere”, but the name will be in Chinese. Just for clarity, here is the link to the app:
The Mi Sphere app connects to your camera via Wifi, so you’ll have to set it up the first time you use it. In order to connect to the camera you need to press the Wifi button on the camera before trying to connect. I find it a bit annoying that i need to do this every time and I wish the Wifi was on automatically.
The app allows you to preview the image, adjust settings and tweak manual controls. The preview image is fairly low quality to maintain a good connection; the final image you take will look a lot better.
I’m impressed the number of camera settings the app allows you to manually control. Exposure, shutter speed, ISO and white balance are all directly controllable, allowing you to change the camera settings to match different conditions. These options aren’t available on many 360 cameras that only have an automatic shooting mode.
After shooting your photos and videos the images are saved onto the SD card of your camera in an unstitched format. You can either stitch your 360 images/video using the phone app or a desktop application supplied by Xiaomi. I personally prefer to use my phone for simplicity, however I’ve heard that using less powerful phones to stitch your content will result in lower quality. I’d test both the phone stitching and desktop to determine which is best for you.
After you’ve stitched your images you’ll be able to view them in 360 on the Mi Sphere App. You’ll also be able to undertake minor edits and add filters. If you want to download the image or video to your phone you need to manually select “import to phone” – there is no way of doing this in a batch, so if you have 30 photos you want to download from your Mi Sphere to your phone you need to manually import each of them. I’m hoping that an update will allow us to batch export files as this can take some time.
Over all the App is stable and easy to use and I’ve experienced no crashes or instability. There is some work to be done to make the whole process or taking, editing and exporting content easier, but Xiaomi are communicative and indicate that the app will be receiving updates in the future.
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Livestream: The Mi Sphere is one of only a few new 360 cameras that cannot livestream. This may be a deal breaker for some people, but I have never live-streamed in 360 (apart from when testing for a review), so this missing feature was of little concern.
Low Light: I’ve heard a lot of noise about how the Mi Sphere was the best consumer 360 camera for low light usage. After trialing the camera in low light situations, I can agree that the Mi Sphere does perform better than most 360 camera in low light situations. I’d still caution those who are expecting crystal clear 360 video in low light, because this camera certainly isn’t capable of that.
Battery: Xiaomi says that the Mi Sphere will last for about an hour of continuous shooting, so in real life probably around 3 or 4 hours of periodically usage. I’ve found this not to be entirely accurate and at best the camera will last 2 hours even if you turn it off when not using it. It seems that connecting to the app is a severe drain on battery, so I sugest connecting only to adjust settings, then disconnecting and using it manually to extend battery life.
One rather concerning problem with the Mi Sphere is how hot it gets when used continuously for anything over 10 minutes or so. By hot I don’t just mean “oh that’s a bit warm”, more like “ow that burns why is my finger of fire”. I’ve had to turn my Mi Sphere off on more than one occasion for fear that it would fry its own components. This issues is more apparent when transferring files for a long period of time, but it does make me wonder about the damage being done. I’ll have to see if this causes any serious issues in the future.
Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere Review: Summary
I’m very impressed with the Mi Sphere as a mid-rage, inexpensive 360 camera. This camera can produce excellent 360 video despite the limited resolution, and its 360 photos are among the best I’ve seen of any 360 camera under $500. I’m certain that this is one of the best value 360 cameras available right now, albeit with some caveats.
Livestream feature is non existent and the official app can sometimes be a pain to navigate. Overheating is my biggest concern and I’m unsure if this will have an effect on the long term durability of the camera. I should also point out that you need a very fast Micro SD card for it to be compatible with this camera. Anything under 80mb/sec is probably not going to work.
If you can deal with these issues then I can’t think of a reason why you shouldn’t buy the Mi Sphere, particularly if you are looking for something a bit better than the basic 360 camera out there, but without a huge price tag.
The Mi Sphere is available from Gearbest.com, which ships to over 200 countries including the US, UK and Europe.