Action cameras are prized for their ability to capture seat-of-your-pants, point-of-view thrills. While the conventional action camera market has been dominated by GoPro, there’s a fresh scramble underway to lead what looks like the next POV thrill ride: 360-degree action photography and filmmaking.
360fly was an early entrant into this scrum. The eponymous 360fly 4K is actually its second generation product (the first was capped at HD resolution). It’s recording 360 x 240 degree video through a single, super-wide-angle lens and a solitary 16-megapixel image sensor. That’s not a fully spherical image—you’re losing 120 degrees—but it’s still a more immersive image than you get from your average action cam. But does that make it better than your average action cam? Read on.
The 360fly 4K records its spherical image at 2880 x 2880 resolution at either 24 or 30 fps or at 1728 x 1728 at 60 fps. If you want, you can put the camera into Point of View (POV) mode to get a 16:9 aspect ratio. However, once you’re in POV mode, you lose the ability to set frame rates.
The camera’s f/2.5 lens can focus on objects as close as 30 cm away.
The 360fly 4K is controlled via Wi-Fi and a free app for Android and iOS devices. The app enables a live preview plus the ability to adjust exposure settings. Using the app, you can also record timelapse videos, switch between still and video recording and make exposure adjustments. During playback, you can move your phone’s display to change your viewing angle or set the app to Google Cardboard mode and view your video in a VR headset. (This experience isn’t true virtual reality, since the 360fly’s single lens video is flat and not dimensional, but it’s still fun for short clips.)
A free desktop program (360fly Director) is also available for viewing spherical images on your desktop. The desktop software is rather bare bones but you’ll be able to merge clips, trim clips and crop out a portion of your 360 video to fit a more conventional frame. You’ll also have the ability to add audio tracks, filters and export videos and stills to social networks.
The bulbous 360fly looks like a space-age hand grenade. It’s waterproof to 10 meters without a housing as well as dust- and shock-resistant (up to 1.5 meters). Space is understandably at a premium on this camera, so you won’t be using a microSD card for storage. Instead, you’re relegated to using the camera’s 64GB of internal memory. It’s good for up to about 3 hours of 4K video, but for long shoots, you’ll miss the convenience of removable memory. The battery is also internal and recharges via a USB base station. It takes about 2.5 hours to fully recharge.
The camera has a colored LED ring around the base that will glow red when recording and blue when on standby. It also provides haptic feedback, vibrating upon startup and when you start and stop recording. The only external control on the camera is a large, triangular button that powers it on/off and starts/stops recording. Pretty basic.
At 6 ounces, it’s about twice the weight of a GoPro Hero 4 Black. But unlike the Hero, the 360fly 4K has an industry-standard ¼-20 mount on its base so you’re not working with proprietary mounts. The lens loves your greasy fingerprints, so you’ll want a micro fiber cloth on you at all times.
Next to the Hero 4 Black, the HD video quality of the 360fly HD at its highest resolution setting is noticeably less detailed and crisp—even accounting for the distortion you’d expect from such an ultra-wide angle lens. The camera’s 50Mbps bit rate is relatively low for a 4K camera—by contrast, Sony’s 4K action cams top out at 100Mbps—and it shows. While the camera does offer a 60 fps mode for capturing fast-moving action, you’ll have to drop the resolution to 1728 x 1728 to achieve it.
On the plus side, color reproduction was accurate and we were pleasantly surprised with how well the camera handled bright highlights, which often tend to be overexposed in small sensor action cameras. Like most of its small sensor competitors, the 360fly 4K will struggle in low light.
Most action cameras record lousy audio and while the 360fly isn’t the exception, it’s not the worst offender. It uses a pair of omnidirectional microphones to capture audio. While we did hear some hiss in some of our audio, the sound quality was, on balance, decent.
You’ll enjoy about an hour and a half of recording on the 360fly 4K, putting it slightly ahead of GoPro’s Hero 4 Black. Unfortunately, since there’s no battery-extending accessory, your camera is out of commission once the battery taps out. The camera does run hot though, and while we didn’t experience any over-heating issues it was very warm to the touch after about 10 minutes of indoor use.
The Wi-Fi connection is fairly speedy and while there can be an occasional live view lag, it’s generally very smooth. However, when it’s time to transfer footage from the camera to your computer, you’re saddled with a slower USB 2.0 connection to move your 4K files around.
As we noted above, the Director desktop software is simple to use, even if it’s not a very sophisticated editor. It does, however, make the process of uploading 360-degree content to YouTube much easier than simply importing said content to YouTube via your browser. The Director app supports direct uploads to Facebook and 360fly’s own video portal as well.
The 360fly 4K lacks the exposure control, frame rate options and video quality of a GoPro. If you’re primarily interested in an action camera for traditional video, there are better options out there. What it offers instead is a very easy on-ramp to shooting 360-degree video in a design that’s optimized for outdoor/action use.
PROS: Durable design, easy to use; industry standard mount; streamlined uploading to social networks.
CONS: Image not fully spherical; no removable memory; image quality trails comparably priced action cameras.