Thursday, 07 July 2016 09:31

LG 360 CAM – capture the whole world (review)

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LG’s 360 CAM is a beautifully designed, very functional, usable 360° camera – the only issue is that you need to think about what is around, above, behind, and in front of you. Let’s call the totality of 360° photography the “photosphere”.

In the old days, you looked through a viewfinder or on a small LCD screen on the back of an SLR, video, or compact camera. You needed to compose the shot – frame it – and wait for that special moment to press the shutter. I don’t know how many photos I have had to edit or discard because they did not show the subject in the best light! Thank goodness for digital photography, cheap memory cards, and Photoshop.

The photosphere is taking off, and you can view it on Facebook, YouTube 360, Google Maps and more sites. In fact, earlier this year I spoke to Getty Images that had equipped its professional photographers with 360° cameras and I quote, “It is light, small and easy to give one to our photographers who also have to carry around their professional still and video kit. The hard part is to stop thinking like a still photographer who carefully frames every shot – here you get it all, so you need to think about the ‘big picture’,” said Stuart Hannagan, Getty Image’s Vice President Asia Editorial Imagery.

So what’s good, great, or just grrr about LG’s new 360 CAM. The good news is there is a lot to like. The bad news is you have to become a photosphere aware photographer. Recommended retail is A$399.

Specifications

The Cam uses two x 180°, 13MP lenses packed into a very pocketable (it comes with a hard slip on cover that doubles as a handle) that combine to offer 180 or 360° images. It is 98.5 x 43.4 x 29.8mm and weighs 97g. A very pleasing and practical design.

The technology allows 2K, 2560 x 1280@30fps (or lower) video recording (maximum 4GB file size or about 20 minutes shooting) or still photos to 5660 x 2830 – 16MP. Even though it has f/1.8 lenses, it has average low-light performance.

It has three microphones and two or 5.1 channel audio recording to a Micro SD card (not supplied). Some international reviews mention 4GB internal storage as well – there is none in the LG-R105 model sold here.

Part of the magic is a 9-axis sensor that helps orient everything, but it won’t stop camera shake. I strongly recommend you use the built-in 1/4” screw mount (for a tripod, selfie stick, helmet, or bike handlebars) or place it on a table - handheld shots are apt to be shaky, and you physically get in the way.

It has a 1200mAh battery recharged by USB-C 2.0 – preferably 2A+. The USB-A to UCB-C cable is provided but not a charger. It gives about one hours recording but the maximum single file recording time is 20 minutes. A full charge takes about 2+ hours.

Perhaps there is an assumption that as an “LG Friend” device you will buy the excellent LG G5 smartphone (reviewed here) and use the USB-C charger it comes with. It will run on any modern Android or iOS phone via the LG CAM app.

It also connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth 4.1 LE or via Wi-Fi network for file transfer. I found this a little tricky to switch between the two and ended up just taking the microSD card out and placing it in the PC for file transfers – it was a hell of a lot faster.

The website has apps and drivers for Windows and macOS – Bridge (to use USB), CAM USB driver, and Cam Viewer.

There is also a LG 360 VR headset sold separately (not tested)

Using it

  • Charge the battery – typically one hour's recording use
  • Load the LG Cam manager app on your smartphone – the app is for changing settings and previewing images
  • Insert a microSD card – up to 2TB UHS-1, U3 class 10 or higher
  • Select 180 or 360° – one or two lenses
  • Press the shutter button once for a still and for 1 second for video

The camera has a range of default settings – image quality, mode (day, night, landscape, action) and a range of manual settings if you want them. Auto works perfectly well thank you.

The twin 180° lenses are in fact 206° each to allow for overlap and stitching together which is done on the fly in camera – not on a smartphone or computer.

360° can be challenging

I have already said you need to think seriously to get the best out of this. Here are some hints and warnings.

  • Use it as photosphere camera – your smartphone will take better single lens shots especially in low light and flash conditions
  • Everything revolves around the camera – it is the centre of the universe. Placement is critical. For example, don’t place it closer to a wall (or you will see the wall) or near an outside window (even light balance on both lenses is critical – too much in one spoils the shot)
  • Use the single 180° lens only if you must hold it and stay out of the shot
  • Don’t move the camera, or walk around, or swing the camera around – it is already taking in the whole photosphere
  • Use a tripod (1/4” mount) or place it on a stable object like a desk
  • Think about where to put it – up higher is better than down lower where it can grossly accentuate double chins, big bums, etc.
  • The camera produces ‘monoscopic’ - flat renderings of a 360° shot which can be viewed on any screen or in a headset. When viewing with the right software you can move around the space, but you have no real depth perception – no dizziness. The opposite is stereoscopic which is true VR.
  • Check and compose the field of view in the smartphone viewer before you take the shot - until you become a photosphere expert
  • Focus – depth of field – is critical. It is not able to focus from close up to distant mountains. It will focus over an average square shaped, living room space.
  • You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince – you will be terrible for a while until you learn photosphere photography. My advice is not to rely on it for unmissable hero shots so take a backup smartphone camera shot as well.
  • Compatibility with Google Street View and YouTube 360 requires download of their upload apps. Shared videos on YouTube etc., never look as good as on the phone or desktop. Make sure you share in at 2K if you can – but beware of the huge 4GB file size for a 20-minute video. Better still shoot in one to two-minute brackets and share a much more meaningful smaller file.

Having said all of that the LG 360 CAM is amazingly easy to use and if you persevere you will get it right.

Rather than look at my meagre efforts, have a look at YouTube 360 here. 

Software

The apps and desktop software are more about viewing – there are no substantial editing options so what you shoot is what you get.

You can use things like Adobe Premier if you want to edit. Editing (and saving) tends to bring out imperfections – like the stitch lines where the lens images join may become visible or colour halos appear around high contrast items. Noise is an issue in anything other than good light – it does not have a flash, and low light performance is average.

Conclusion

Despite me taking terrible shots and getting frustrated at times — it sees everything — it is fun to use and the results after two weeks of testing are encouraging. I won’t blame the tool – it’s the workmanship that needs improvement so it is try, try, try again to get it right.

Or am I being too hard on myself? Perhaps there is no such thing as the perfect shot in the photosphere. And I need to remember that it’s a $399 camera – entry-level for the photosphere.

The best video I took was of friends over dinner at a round table with the camera placed in the centre. Once we realised that we needed to remove all glassware and obstructions from its field of view  this was solved by placing it on top of an ice bucket about chest height  the results were great. The glass table also unexpectedly showed our legs under and that was a real laugh as people moved, crossed them, stood up or sat down, etc. Remember: up, down, and all around.

The other particularly good use was at a BBQ where it was placed on a tripod at chest height in the middle of the courtyard and guests mingled around. Not only did it record all the conversations but as you rotated the image, it focused on what they were saying.

It is relatively low-cost, will produce acceptable daylight and well-lit indoor 360° shots. it is easy to use, but you must persevere, or it will end up in the sock drawer along with other gadgets and smartwatches.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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