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Early Impressions of Nikon's KeyMission 360 Video Camera

 

Until very recently, shooting 360 video was a hassle. Think complicated GoPro rigs with expensive stitching software and a time-consuming editing process.

But with point-and-shoot 360 cameras like the Ricoh Theta and the new Nikon KeyMission 360, the entire process is much simpler (and more enjoyable).

In the past, the problem with point-and-shoot 360 has been low resolution video recording. With the KeyMission, however, you can shoot 360 video footage at 4K. Needless to say, we were pretty excited to experiment with this new piece of gear and write up our own review.

Ease of use

With the KeyMission 360, you can press one button to record 4K equirectangular 360 video. Stop recording, and the camera writes the file to a microSD card. Put the card in your computer, and it's ready to upload to Wistia. This seamless process is a gift sent from 360 video heaven.

"With the KeyMission 360, you can press one button to record 4K equirectangular 360 video."

To put this in perspective, with our old system—a GoPro rig—it took over 8 minutes to take footage off of the camera and create a stitched video. We were willing to do it for the sake of experimentation, but it was by no means fun. Using the KeyMission, it took about 23 seconds to execute this same process.

Hurdles and workarounds

Unfortunately, the software and connectivity on this camera leave a lot to be desired. It took us almost an hour to connect an iPhone to the KeyMission, and once we did, the app crashed and lost connection constantly.

For some reason, Nikon won't let you click record on the camera while it's searching to connect to a device. Why this is the case is beyond us.

Luckily, we figured out that you can get around all of this by putting the camera in Airplane mode. You can't monitor your shot, but it functions like a normal point-and-shoot camera in Airplane mode.

KeyMission 360 image quality

We've had point-and-shoot capabilities for a while with the Ricoh Theta, but the video resolution was limited to 1080p, which resulted in somewhat blurry 360 videos. The KeyMission produces 4K 360 footage at 3840 x 2160. So how does our new little friend stack up against our GoPro rig? See for yourself!

The following is footage from all three cameras, side by side. To see an accurate quality comparison, make sure you hit the settings button on the player and view the video in 4K.

 

Resolution

The GoPro rig still produces the sharpest footage, but the Nikon KeyMission 360 holds up pretty well. The extra resolution makes the KeyMission leaps and bounds better than the Ricoh Theta S. We did notice that the KeyMission's image gets blurry towards the top and bottom of the equirectangular stitch, but it's not glaring. I think this has to do with the lens distortion of the 2 180-degree lenses.

Shooting tip: The Nikon image looks the best when the subject is directly in front of either of its 2 lenses.

Exposure

Because the GoPro rig has 7 individual cameras, each camera exposes for each part of the scene. This results in a more evenly exposed 360 shot. The KeyMission only has two cameras with tiny sensors, so the dynamic range is limited.

Stitching

Fewer lenses means fewer stitch points.

Having only two stitch points makes the KeyMission a much better option for recording 360 in motion. You don't have to worry about camera syncing, global shutter, or any of that other nonsense you had to think about when shooting with the GoPro rig.

"Having only two stitch points makes the KeyMission a much better option for recording 360 in motion."

You can see the stitching in certain situations, but overall, it's barely noticeable. More specifically, the KeyMission does a much better job hiding the light stand it was mounted on than the GoPro rig.

Frame rates

One major downfall of the KeyMission's image quality is the fact that you're limited to 24 frames per second shooting 4K 360 video.

We've found that higher frame rates for 360 video will yield a more realistic shot, so the stutter on the KeyMission isn't ideal.

Form factor

The KeyMission 360 is heavier than it looks, but it's still incredibly compact for a 360 camera. It's got a removable battery, and it's easy to screw into any traditional camera tripod mount, thanks to its standard 1/4-20 (1/4" diameter, 20 threads per inch) socket. We were a bit disappointed to learn that you can't shoot footage while the camera's plugged into power, but other than that, its features fit our needs.

The KeyMission is also rated to be waterproof up to 30 meters as is, without a case, although we didn't get a chance to test that out just yet.

The real world test

To put the camera to the test, we shot a quick tour of Dr. Courtney Lavigne's dental office. The camera was screwed onto a small Impact light stand. We used only the camera audio (which come to find out sounds pretty terrible), and did not apply any color correction. It's not our most polished video, but it did the trick. Take a look around!

 

From start to finished edit, this video took less than 45 minutes to pull off. Thanks to the KeyMission's efficiency, we were able to shoot in between her patients' appointments. Since we didn't have to stitch any camera angles together, we were able to edit the video in less than 15 minutes.

"From start to finished edit, this video took less than 45 minutes to pull off."

Despite some of its drawbacks, this little camera is pretty incredible for $500. If you're thinking about getting started with making 360 video, go pick one up immediately. Just put it in airplane mode and pretend that there's no software included.


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