Affordable 360-degree cameras making virtual reality a reality

360-degree cameras - (from left) the LG 360 Cam, the Samsung Gear 360, the Ricoh Theta S and VSN Mobil V.360 - are standing tall now.
360-degree cameras - (from left) the LG 360 Cam, the Samsung Gear 360, the Ricoh Theta S and VSN Mobil V.360 - are standing tall now. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Such cameras are the rage, helped by Facebook and the gadgets' lower prices

Lifestyle blogger Dennis Seow, 37, was delighted when Facebook recently allowed users to upload 360-degree images and videos.

Mr Seow, who works at travel and lifestyle portal superadrianme.com, has been busy uploading his 360-degree images and videos taken with the Ricoh Theta m15 during his travels in Japan and Egypt last year, and with the Samsung Gear 360 in Bhutan more recently.

"The 360-degree photos allow my readers to see everything around me during my travels," he said. "It is also great for taking a wefie, as its 360-degree lens can capture everyone in the frame."

360-degree, or virtual reality, photography used to be an expensive venturelimited to professional companies with expensive customised rigs. For example, GoPro's 360- degree camera rig Odyssey costs around US$15,000 (S$20,240), while Nokia's Ozo has a whopping price tag of US$60,000.

But the new wave of affordable 360-degree cameras like the Samsung Gear 360 and LG 360 Cam - priced around $500 - is allowing everyone to shoot 360-degree pictures and videos easily.


And they are complemented by affordable virtual reality (VR) headsets, such as the Google CardBoard and Samsung Gear VR, that allow consumers to watch these 360-degree content.

360-degree cameras are the next hot camera innovation, said Mr Stan Kim, chief executive officer of consumer electronics retailer Courts Singapore. "Consumers are seeking immersive visual experiences that are easily translatable into social media and 360-degree cameras are the perfect technology for that," he said.

According to Mr Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games research at research firm IHS Technology, there are three reasons why the adoption of these 360-degree cameras will grow.

One is the support of YouTube and Facebook for 360-degree videos. Second is the adoption of smartphone-based VR adapter headsets. And the third, he said, is the affordability of highly capable 360-degree cameras and their integration with smartphones which makes them easy to use.

The new wave of consumer 360-degree cameras usually does not have a display and requires pairing with a smartphone's app. The app acts as a virtual viewfinder and remote shutter release.

"It is very easy to use. Just pair with my smartphone and I can shoot immediately," said human resource consultant David Zheng, 31.

Mr Zheng, who uses an LG 360 Cam, said that a 360-degree camera is great for travelling, and when taking pictures on top of a building or surrounded by nature. "The 360-degree effect is very cool," he said.

Professional photographer Bryan Lee, 26, uses a Samsung Gear 360. He said that these affordable 360-degree cameras have opened up new possibilities and perspectives in his shooting.

"Imagine watching a concert, it is not only great for viewers to see the artist, but also the audience at the same time with a 360-degree view," he said.

As the consumer 360-degree camera is still in its infancy, research firms do not have any global figures or future estimates.

But, in Singapore, sales have been promising. For example, the Ricoh Theta 360-degree cameras saw a 163 per cent growth in sales in January this year, compared with the same month last year, according to its distributor, Audio & Photo Distributor (APD).

"We expect a 542 per cent growth from January to December this year," said Mr Lawson Lee, management associate of APD.

Courts Singapore, which currently sells only one 360-degree camera model, revealed that the first round of stocks was sold out within weeks. It is now looking at bringing in more models.

Local tech retailer Challenger started selling 360-degree cameras only this April, but has seen steady growth in sales.

"Sales have been encouraging, and Challenger sees the potential in this product category because of the proliferation of apps that allow users to showcase their 360-degree photos and videos," said Ms Loo Pei Fen, Challenger's chief marketing officer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2016, with the headline 'Affordable 360-degree cameras making virtual reality a reality'. Print Edition | Subscribe