VR & 360 Degree


Camera Review: Hands-On With the Vuze Virtual Reality Camera

September 19, 2017

3D is something of the cockroach of the imaging world—it’s extremely resistant to extinction. Several years ago, when the electronics industry rallied around 3D TV, several camera makers built devices capable of capturing stereoscopic images. Like the aforementioned TVs, these cameras sold poorly and were quickly forgotten about.

But 3D is getting a new lease on life thanks to the budding interest in virtual reality and to cameras such as the Vuze from Humaneyes. Where most 360-degree cameras on the market capture a flat image, the Vuze is able to create spherical photos and videos with a greater sense of dimensionality. When viewed in a headset—where realism is paramount—3D provides a greater sense of immersion.

Features

The Vuze is essentially eight cameras in one that are capable of recording a 3D image that’s 360 x 180-degrees. It’s not fully spherical, but it is three dimensional. It uses eight full HD image sensors with an auto ISO range of 100-1600. It can deliver 4K/30p resolution per eye in a VR headset or Google Cardboard.

On the audio side, there are four microphones that capture four individual (AAC-encoded) tracks.

The Vuze is controlled through a smartphone via a very bare bones app that essentially allows you to alternate between shooting stills or video. There’s no ability to preview your spherical scene or review footage after you’ve recorded it (which isn’t surprising; it’s too much data for a smartphone to cope with).

The other integral component of the camera is the stitching software. At the time of our test, the Vuze software was only supported on Windows PCs. The software can automatically stitch together footage from the eight individual cameras in the Vuze, as well as perform some edits and corrections.

Design

The Vuze is a sturdy block of a camera that’s sealed against dust and moisture. It has very simple external controls—a single power button and a shutter button on the top are the extent of it. We wish there was some kind of LED level indicator on either the body or app to help ensure your footage is level.

This isn’t a camera that’s ideal for handheld use (unless you want your face and body in the footage) but it does come with a tiny hand grip that screws into the tripod socket on the base of the camera. It’s not super-steady but works in a pinch.

Flattening the footage doesn’t quite do it justice but the inexpensive Vuze has some of the best image quality we’ve seen from cameras in this class.

Image Quality & Post Production

The Vuze produces significantly better results than single- or dual-lens models we’ve tested. Colors, particularly blue skies, retained their natural vibrancy. The camera is also less prone to over-exposing highlights. We viewed our final footage on a Google Cardboard, which doesn’t have terrific resolution. You’ll enjoy the best visual experience with the Vuze footage on a virtual reality headset.

While the Vuze doesn’t have blind spots, you do need to take care to avoid having objects closer than six feet if they’re on any of the camera’s four corners. These corners are at the edges of the adjacent lenses and close subjects can fall into stitch lines during post production.

For all its sophistication, the Vuze is really a point-and-shoot camera. There’s no ability to set any exposure parameters (white balance, shutter speed, aperture) either globally across all eight cameras or individually.  This offloads the work of exposure balancing to the desktop software.

The software is fairly straightforward. Your two 360-degree videos (one for each eye) can be trimmed and you can select a central image to give viewers wearing headsets a starting orientation. You can also alter the field of view–trimming a 360-degree view down to 180 degrees. While you can’t adjust the Vuze’s exposure during the shoot, you can use exposure blending in the software to help produce a better match between the video from the Vuze’s many cameras. But in keeping with the theme, exposure blending is done automatically with a choice of three levels (low, medium, high).

When you’re happy with the video, it will render the final product as an H.264 file which can then be imported into a non-linear editor for more advanced edits. Rendering occurs in—at best—real time. While Humaneyes’ software is only available on Windows PCs for now, the company tells us a Mac version is in the works. However, they caution that rendering performance could be as much as 7-8 times longer on older Macs thanks to slower GPUs.

Performance

The Vuze doesn’t have a removable battery, so if you’re on location and the battery taps out on you, you’re out of luck. You can expect about two hours worth of operation from the battery, and recharging takes about three hours. You can also connect the camera to an AC outlet and run it longer, which is a nice option. We enjoyed a reliable pairing and Wi-Fi experience when using our iPhone 6 to control the Vuze.

Bottom Line

The Vuze makes capturing immersive virtual reality much easier and more cost-effective than the ultra-expensive cinematic cameras like Nokia’s Ozo or GoPro’s Jump. For just a few hundred more than the 2D 360-degree action cameras, the Vuze delivers similar point-and-shoot simplicity (even if it is made possible by a slightly more onerous post-process workflow on the backend) and significantly higher image quality.  If you’re serious about making VR videos, it’s a great place to start.

UPDATE: Since this review was published, Vuze has announced a beta version of its software for Macs will be available this September. The software is also being updated with stitch refinement tools, color matching adjustments and more. A new Android and iOS app are also due soon that will offer the ability to preview images and videos prior to capturing; new exposure settings to give users more options in how they capture stills and video; and media playback on the camera.


PROS: Ease-of-use; excellent image quality; intuitive software; solid industrial design; inexpensive.
CONS: Lacks Mac support; rendering will be very slow on older Macs; no control over exposure; no image preview on app.
PRICE: $799

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