Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Kodak SP360 4k Dual Pro first impressions: is the quality worth the complexity?

One of the most common comments about 360 cameras is that users want higher quality video.  I decided to take a look at the Kodak SP360 4k Dual Pro, which heretofore offered the highest quality 360 video for consumer cameras, but at a higher cost ($499 individually, $899 for a pair) and with more effort required to use it.  I wanted to see how it compares against the new Nikon Keymission 360 and Samsung Gear 360.  I haven't tested it yet but here are my first impressions.

UPDATE: Check out the 4k 360 video shootout between the SP360 4k Dual Pro with the Keymission 360, Gear 360, and Insta360 Nano.

BACKGROUND
The Kodak SP360 4k was the first camera combination to offer fully spherical 4k 360 video to consumers.  It is the second generation camera of the Kodak SP360, a hemispherical 360 camera that was inexpensive but had lower quality than the Theta.  The SP360 bears the Kodak name but is actually manufactured under license by JK Imaging.
JK Imaging followed up the SP360 with the SP360 4k, which is also a hemispherical camera like its predecessor, but JK Imaging developed a dual camera bracket and stitching software so that the SP360 4k could be used as a pair to create fully spherical 360 videos.  Later, the software was updated to add fully spherical 360 photo capability.
KEY FEATURES
The SP360 has several features:
- Like other 360-degree consumer cameras such as the Theta, Keymission 360, each SP360 4k camera uses a 1/2.3 inch sensor.  However, the SP360 4k's sensor is backside-illuminated (BSI).  BSI sensors moved the wiring from the front of the sensor to the back, allowing the sensor to collect more light.
- The video resolution of each camera is up to 2880 x 2880 @ 30fps.  That is equivalent to 3840 x 2160 (4k) resolution (both are 8,294,400 pixels).  Combining the video from two cameras into a single video suggests that the resulting video could have higher quality (in theory similar to 6k resolution downsampled to 4k).
- The SP360 has a wide array of GoPro-style accessories.  It is also the only 360 camera that has a dual camera mount so that it can be used on a 3DR Solo quadcopter drone to capture 360 videos without the drone in the shot.
- Like the Samsung Gear 360, the SP360 is splashproof and dustproof.  Like the Keymission 360, it is shockproof (up to a drop of 2 meters).  It is not waterproof per se (unlike the Keymission 360) but there is a waterproof housing available as an accessory.
WHAT'S IN THE BOX

The SP360 4k Dual Pro pack comes in a sizable box that consists of the Action Cam Box and an accessory kit.  The Action Cam Box includes:
- two SP360 4k cameras
- two rechargeable batteries
- battery charger (uses Micro USB)
- USB cable and USB adapter
- three lens covers
- two lens caps
- two soft cases for the lens covers
- a dual camera carrying case
- microfiber cloth
- instruction manuals, etc.
The Accessory Box includes:
- standard housing-B (a housing for one SP360)
- suction cup mount
- dual camera bracket
- selfie stick
- dedicated remote control
- remote control clip
- remote control wrist strap
- tool/wrench for GoPro-style knobs.
All the accessories use GoPro-style attachments.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The SP360 4k feels light and is made mostly of plastic.  The removable lens cover and front element both seem to be made of plastic.  To be honest, the impression I get is 'cheap'.  It's not clear to me why the SP360 costs as much as it does, nor do I understand the pricing for its accessories.


Each SP360 4k by itself is compact, although a pair of SP360 4k cameras is significantly wider than a Samsung Gear 360 or Nikon Keymission 360.


The SP360 4k has a small non-backlit dot-matrix LCD like the ones found on some toys or watches.  The menu is operated with a few buttons: up, down, and ok (with the shutter). The menu is only a couple of levels deep but has many options.  It is simple enough to navigate, although pressing the small buttons requires some efforts and some of the options are a bit cryptic (for example, I found out that a double arrow meant loop recording).



The bottom of the camera has a spring loaded door for the battery. There is a little plastic strip to make it easier to remove the battery.

There is a rubber cover for the Micro USB port, mini-HDMI and Micro SD slot.


The SP360 4k has a 1/4-20 socket (made of plastic) but all its accessories use GoPro-style mounts. [Update: here is a tripod adapter that allows the Dual Pro to be used with standard 1/4-20 tripods.]


To use the cameras as a pair, you need to mount them on the included dual camera bracket.

I like that the bracket will hold both cameras securely.  There's a hole beside the 1/4-20 socket that goes into a corresponding protrusion on the bracket that prevents the camera from rotating. However, I don't like the fact that when the cameras are mounted, you can't access the memory card, or the battery, nor can you charge the camera.  I also don't like that the 1/4-20 screw on the bracket requires a coin or screwdriver to tighten.

[Update: the issues with the dual bracket have been addressed in the new dual bracket for the SP360 4k Dual Pro reviewed here]

The kit includes a dedicated remote that can simultaneously trigger up to five cameras.  It can also switch between photo and video, and between rectilinear (rectangular) capture or hemispherical / spherical capture.  It can also turn a camera on and off remotely, as long as the cameras have not been turned off for more than 6 hours.


The remote can be worn on the wrist with the included wrist strap, or it can be mounted on the selfie stick with the included clip.


Pairing the remote with each camera was straightforward and I didn't encounter any problems.  I also found that the triggering appears reliable.  However, I haven't tested the maximum distance, or the synchronization between the cameras.

I plan to test out the SP360 4k and eventually compare it head-to-head against the Samsung Gear 360 and Nikon Keymission 360. UPDATE: Here is the 4k 360 video shootout between the SP360 4k Dual Pro with the Keymission 360, Gear 360, and Insta360 Nano.