Thursday, September 15, 2016

REVIEW - LG 360 Cam R105: affordable and compact 360 camera with a unique feature


This is a review of the LG 360 Cam (R105), an affordable and compact fully spherical 360-degree camera with a unique remote activation feature.  I'm evaluating it in comparison to other fully spherical 360-degree cameras for consumers: the Ricoh Theta SSamsung Gear 360, and Insta360 Nano.


BACKGROUND
At the time LG announced the 360 Cam, the most well-known 360-degree camera was the Ricoh Theta S (reviewed here), which featured 14mp photos, 1080p videos, and cost $350.  In February 2016, LG and Samsung both announced 360-degree cameras to compete with the Theta but they adopted diverging strategies.  Samsung offered the Samsung Gear 360 (reviewed here), which had much higher specs than the Theta: 30mp photos, 4k video, and would eventually cost $350.  LG on the other hand announced the 360 Cam, which had specs that were not as high as those of the Gear 360, but were still better than those of the Theta, at almost half the price of the Theta: 16mp photos, 2k video, at just $199, a then unheard-of price for a fully spherical 360 camera.
Since then, however, the 360 Cam has had new aggressively-priced competitors such as the Elecam 360 ($160)Insta360 Nano ($220; reviewed here), and Insta360 Air.  To make things tougher for the 360 Cam, it has gotten somewhat mixed reviews.  Moreover, many cell phone companies gave away the 360 Cam as a promotional item to consumers who didn't necessarily want a 360-degree camera (or who preferred to effectively get a discount on their smartphone purchase instead), so the market was flooded with used 360 Cams that drove the price down.
I had been curious about the LG 360 Cam since it was announced, and I finally decided to get one to evaluate it against my other 360 cameras, to see if it still offers good value for consumers.

KEY SPECIFICATIONS
Here are the key specifications of the 360 Cam, officially called the LG R105:
  • equipped with two 13mp sensors and two 206-degree fisheye lenses
  • f/1.8 aperture
  • photo resolution: 5660 x 2830 (16 megapixels)
  • video resolution: 2560 x 1280 @ 30fps.  MP4 / H.264
  • 3 microphones, with 5.1 channel audio (AAC 5.1)
  • 9-axis sensor
  • Micro SD card slot (up to 2 TB)
  • Dimensions: 1.57" x 3.82" x 0.98"
  • Weight: 75 grams (2.65 oz)
  • internal 1200mAh battery; 2 hours charging time
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1
  • MSRP: $199
WHAT'S IN THE BOX

The 360 Cam comes in a simple box.   Other than the camera, it includes a protective cap / cover and a USB cable.   The 360 Cam needs a Micro SD card, which you need to buy separately.
1.  Camera
The 360 Cam is very compact, around 25% shorter than the Ricoh Theta, although significantly thicker than the Theta.  It is very easy to hold.  It also helps that the edges have a non-slip finish, similar to that of the Theta.

The 360 Cam is mostly plastic, and feels much lighter than the Theta (75 grams vs. 125 grams).  Because of its very light weight and compact size, it may be a good camera for use on a drone.

The bottom of the 360 Cam has a metal 1/4-20 universal tripod insert (sturdier than the Theta's plastic tripod insert).  The bottom has the same non-slip texture as the sides of the camera, which helps improve stability when it's being used on a selfie-stick or tripod.

The tripod insert is offset to make room for a spring-loaded door that covers the USB port (Type C) and the Micro SD slot.  The spring-loaded door is much easier to open and close compared to the Samsung Gear 360's rubber-hinged cover for its USB port and Micro SD slot.  It's a small touch that makes a difference in everyday use.
2.  Protective Cover
The 360 Cam includes a multipurpose protective sleeve / cover.  First, when the camera isn't being used, the cover protects the lens and the camera, without taking up any more space than the 360 Cam itself.    When the sleeve is on the camera, it can't be removed without pressing two small buttons on both sides of the cover.
The 360 Cam's body has a little button that locks the protective cap into place.
The bottom of the 360 Cam remains exposed with the cover attached, which makes it possible to keep the 360 Cam attached to a selfie stick or tripod while also being covered.  You can also charge the 360 Cam with the cover on (although you won't see the LED lights showing whether it's fully charged).

Second, when you are shooting with the camera, the cover can be used as a tabletop stand or as a grip.  Because the cover has the same nonslip finish as the sides of the camera, it makes the camera easier to hold.

With the cover attached as a stand/grip, the 360 Cam is about 20% taller than the Theta.
 
Besides being useful as a tabletop stand, the extra height/length afforded by the case allows you to hold the camera with the lens farther from your fingers, making them less prominent in the shot.  Here is a comparison.  The shot is identical, except in the top photo, I held the 360 Cam normally, and in the second photo, I held the 360 Cam at the bottom of the grip (using a self-timer).

The protective cover can be used as a grip, which lets you hold the camera further away, so that your fingers can be less prominent in the shot.

One disadvantage of the cap is that removing it takes two hands.  Also, after using the camera, when I remove the cap from the bottom, I sometimes accidentally press the power button.  However, I got used to it eventually.

Besides having to use both hands to remove the cap, the other thing is that I wish there was a wrist strap on the protective cap.

3. USB Cable


This is my first LG mobile product, and I found it interesting that the USB cable is proprietary.  It's USB-A on one end, and the other end is similar to Micro USB but with rounded edges.  One advantage of the LG cable is that it's reversible.  The cable is a USB Type A to the new USB Type C.   [Thanks to Sven N. for the correction!]

SHOOTING WITH THE 360 CAM

The 360 Cam is one of the "LG Friends" accessories for the LG G5 phone.  However, it does not require a G5 and can even be used independently.

Without a smartphone
Turning on the 360 Cam can be done with the power button, or if it is on standby mode (see below), pressing the shutter will also turn it on.

The 360 Cam has only one button for operation.  To take a photo, you press the shutter.  There's a loud shutter sound effect, but it can be turned off in the app.  To take a video, you hold down the shutter for about 1 second.  There's a different sound effect that tells you you're recording.  You then press the shutter again to stop recording.
The 360 Cam can be set with a self-timer using the app (3 seconds or 10 seconds).  After the self-timer setting is selected in the app, the 360 Cam will retain that setting, even after the app or 360 Cam are turned off.  When the self-timer is counting down, you'll hear a beeping sound.  The sound changes when it's on a 10-second countdown and when it's on a 3-second countdown.

There are several ways to turn off the 360 Cam:
- To put the 360 Cam on standby, hold down the power button for 1 second.  There will be a sound confirming it is on standby.  The LED light below the power button will also glow intermittently to let you know it's on standby.
- To shut down the 360 Cam, hold down the power button for about 4 seconds.  There will be a different sound effect.
- To reset the Wi-Fi password, hold down the power button and shutter button for about 4 seconds (there will be a beep).
- To do a hard reset of the 360 Cam, hold down the power button and shutter button for about 12 seconds (there will be a beep, keep holding down, then there will be a beeping sound).  When you hear the beeping sound, press the shutter to confirm.

If the 360 Cam is on standby mode, pressing the shutter or power button wakes it up again right away.  It can also be turned on remotely via the app (see below).  If the 360 Cam has been shutdown, the startup cycle takes about 11 seconds.



With a smartphone
As mentioned above, the 360 Cam doesn't require an LG phone, and works with both Android and iOS.  I tested it on a Samsung Galaxy S6 and an iPhone 6.  Note: this is based on the stock firmware.  Note also that some users report not being able to connect their 360 Cam with their Android phone.  I'm not sure if that is a user error or an actual incompatibility with some phones.

Pairing the 360 Cam:
Pairing the 360 Cam to an Android phone is pretty easy.  You just download the 360 Cam Manager app, then turn on the 360 Cam.  When you launch the app, it automatically finds and connects to the 360 Cam.

On an iPhone, it will take a few more steps to pair the 360 Cam.
1.  First, download the 360 Cam Manager and turn on the 360 Cam.
2. Launch the app, and look for the search icon on the upper right corner to search for nearby 360 Cams.  Select your 360 Cam.
3. When prompted, go to the iPhone's Wi-Fi setting and choose the 360 Cam's Wi-Fi signal.  Enter the password 00xxxxxx where "xxxxxx" is the last 6 digits of the serial number.  If for whatever reason you lose the serial number sticker on the phone, the serial number is also displayed in the app when you searched for and selected the 360Cam.  If the password doesn't work or you changed it and forgot it, you can reset the password to the default password by turning on the 360 Cam, then holding down the power and shutter buttons for about 1 second.
The next time you want to connect the 360 Cam to your Phone, you need to do step 2 and sometimes that's sufficient, but more often than not, I also need to do step 3 except that I don't have to reenter the password.

Remote activation:
One of the cool features of the 360 Cam is that you can turn it on remotely if it's on standby mode. There have been a few times when I'm recording an event such as a school play where the camera is on a tripod away from me, and I don't necessarily want to record everything.  With my other cameras, I have to walk up to the camera to turn it on (or else leave them on and risk overheating).  With the 360 Cam, I can allow the camera to go on standby and turn it on remotely only when I'm ready to start recording.

Remote activation is pretty easy.  On an iPhone, assuming your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are activated, you can launch the 360 Cam Manager app and search for your 360 Cam (even while the 360 Cam is on standby).  After the app finds the camera, you can connect to the camera's Wi-Fi signal, which will activate it.  On an Android phone, it's even easier.  Whenever you launch the 360 Cam Manager, it will automatically turn on the 360 Cam (assuming it is within range and your phone's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are active) and connect to it.

For me, this is a very useful and thus far unique feature that distinguishes the 360 Cam from my other 360 cameras.

Using the app:
The app is simple to use, with an interface similar to most camera apps.

The app is useful for providing a live preview and for adjusting the shooting settings.  The live preview only shows a view of the front lens or rear lens, as opposed to a stitched fully spherical view.  The framerate of the live preview is acceptable, but there is a lag of around 2 seconds.

The app features several shooting controls, among the most comprehensive I've seen for a 360 camera:
- switch between auto exposure (exposure compensation +/- 2EV), or full manual mode.
- activate exposure lock
- switch between fully spherical 360 and rectilinear fisheye (180 diagonally)
- change the white balance (specify the color tempetarature in Kelvin)
- change the exposure preset mode from auto, night, indoor, landscape, sports
- activate the intervalometer (needs firmware update) and select the interval (2, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds)
- change the resolution of the photo or video
- change self-timer from off, 3 seconds, or 10 seconds.
- toggle audio from 5.1 to stereo
- toggle location tag
- toggle the sound effects (can't adjust the volume)

You can also use the app to view the available storage, check the battery level, change the auto-sleep setting, or change the password.

Some notes:
- As with other 360 cameras, the aperture cannot be changed.  The 360 Cam's aperture is fixed at f/1.8.
- Shutter speed is from 1/2 to 1/6000, in full stop increments.  I really wish the slowest shutter speed could have been slower.
- ISO is from 50 to 2700, in half-stop increments.
- Whenever you shoot with the app, the self-timer resets to 0.  If you prefer to use a self-timer (as I do), you'll need to remember to turn it on again before you exit the app.
- The 360 Cam's auto exposure is quite aggressive and does not appear to make any effort to underexpose to preserve highlights.

In general, it is a pleasure to shoot with the 360 Cam.  The controls don't get in the way, and there are no inordinately long delays.  There is almost no shot-to-shot lag, which is impressive considering that the 360 Cam stitches photos in-camera.

My only complaint is that the sound effects can be too loud even if they are useful.  I would have liked a volume setting for the sound instead of just turning it on or off.

StreetView:
In addition to the 360 Cam Manager, the 360 Cam is also compatible with Google's StreetView app, which can not only trigger the phone remotely but can also be used as an intervalometer.



VIEWING, EDITING and SHARING
Photos and videos can be viewed, edited and shared on the phone or on the desktop app.

Phone app
From the 360 Cam Manager app, you can view photos and videos stored on the 360 Cam.  When you view a video, the app will also stitch the video from two circular fisheyes to a standard equirectangular panoramic video.  You can choose to save photos and videos to your phone's memory, where they will be stored in the Camera Roll / Gallery.  They can then be edited or shared on your preferred app.

The 360 Cam Manager has the same sharing options as your phone's Camera Roll / Gallery app.  If you share the photo or video to Facebook, YouTube, or Google+ they will be recognized as 360.  In iOS 10, there is also a sharing option to directly import the photo to compatible 360 sharing apps such as Spinnable.

Desktop app
On the desktop, there are two programs for the 360 Cam.  There's the LG 360 Cam Viewer, and the LG Bridge.  The 360 Cam Viewer is used for stitching videos and viewing photos.  From the LG 360 Cam Viewer, photos can be shared on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.  Videos can be shared to Facebook or YouTube.  On Google+, Facebook and YouTube, the file will be recognized as 360.

The other desktop program is LG Bridge, which is for copying files, backing up the 360 Cam, or updating the firmware.  Unfortunately, I kept running into problems with it.  On my PC, everything is in Korean.  Moreover, when I tried to update the firmware, it appeared to connect with my phone, but would ultimately tell me that the connection failed.  Despite several attempts, I could not update the firmware.


IMAGE QUALITY
Sharpness:  The 360 Cam's sharpness is pretty good, with lots of detail, except near the stitch line, where the sharpness drops rapidly.


Color:
The 360 Cam has excellent white balance and colors.  The colors are vibrant yet natural, with accurate hues, except that reds are a little oversaturated.  The auto white balance is not perfect but is more accurate under a wider range of conditions than other 360 cameras.



Chromatic aberration: the 360 Cam has minimal chromatic aberration, with very little fringing except at the stitch line.


Flare: the 360 Cam is quite prone to flare.

Stitching:  stitching is usually unobtrusive, although occasionally, some images at the stitch line might look doubled.  There is a distinctive crescent line at the nadir, which some people might find objectionable.

Dynamic range:  the 360 Cam's dynamic range appears to be average for a camera with a small sensor.  It tends to lose bright highlights.


Noise:
The 360 Cam's luminance noise is about what I expect from a consumer 360 camera.  However, it does have quite noticeable chroma noise (blotches of color).  The chroma noise is easily cleaned up in apps such as Lightroom:
Low light torture test: f/1,8, 1/10, ISO 1600.
chroma noise before (top) and after (bottom) chroma noise reduction in Lightroom
Video quality:
The video quality is not bad, and is more than adequate for casual use.  However, on a headset, the video will look soft.  Here are a couple of samples:

Outdoors:

Indoors:


Here is a screenshot from the Samsung Gear VR:


EVALUATION
In summary, the LG 360 Cam is a competent 360 camera that offers good performance in comparison to its low cost.  My favorite feature is the remote activation, a feature not yet found in other 360 cameras.  I will be working on a direct comparison between the LG 360 Cam, Ricoh Theta S (reviewed here)Samsung Gear 360 (reviewed here), and Insta360 Nano (reviewed here).


If you would like to buy an LG 360 Cam, please consider purchasing through our Amazon affiliate link, to support 360 Rumors at no additional cost to you, so that we can do more independent tests and reviews.  Thank you very much!


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Other posts re the LG 360 Cam