Most videos give us a pretty flat perspective on the world, but 360-degree videos are another animal entirely. These immersive experiences can take you inside the lives of a pride of lions, onto a tropical beach, or through a thrilling skydive fall. You can watch these spectacular videos online, on your phone, or with a virtual-reality headset, but you can also make 360 videos of your very own if you have the right equipment and don’t mind spending a little time with the specialized software it takes to create them.
Get a proper 360 camera
While some people use elaborate, custom multi-camera rigs to capture their videos, it’s easier to pick up a specialized camera system ready-made to film the world in 360. These cameras can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars on up into the multi-thousands. Here are several possible cameras to get you started:
Ricoh Theta SC
As with many 360 systems, the Ricoh Theta series uses two cameras with fisheye lenses pointing in different directions. It costs around $200, making it a very affordable way to get started. Ricoh offers a suite of apps for managing the camera, editing still images, and editing videos.
The $300 Insta360 One is a compact system with great image quality and the ability to capture 4K video. The Insta360 One originally only connected with iOS devices, but now supports some Android phones as well. This camera has won praise for its software package, which includes built-in stabilization and the ability to create a regular, “flat” video from a 360 video.
The Rylo 360 comes in at $500. It also sports two cameras, but really shines in the image-stabilization department, which helps a lot if you’re holding the camera, filming action shots, or using it to capture first-person sports videos. The software has a lot of nifty tricks when it comes to editing your video, which may make the higher price tag worthwhile for some buyers.
Get a tripod
Once you have a camera, you will also want an inconspicuous tripod that will stay out of the camera’s view. Some cameras come with a small tripod that fits the bill. If you have a steady hand, you could even try a selfie stick for capturing video from on high. Just remember you will likely see a distorted version of your own arm in the picture if you take a handheld video.
Using a tripod also keeps the camera steady, an important consideration if you’re expecting viewers to watch your video while wearing VR goggles. You don’t want everything jiggling up and down and all around while you’re immersed in a first-person video experience. The results can literally be nauseating.
Set the scene
You have your camera and you’re ready to capture your first 360-video. Your starting step is to find a good location to set the camera. You’ve got a whole 360-view to consider, so try to avoid putting the camera next to a wall or some other object that will block a good chunk of the view. Think about the open spaces around you and what you’re trying to capture.
Let’s say you’re taking a video of a birthday party. A table in the center of the room will be a better location than the arm of a chair pushed up against the wall. Also, check where the two lenses are pointing. If there’s something you want to capture cleanly, like a waterfall, a person, or a landmark, then aim one of the lenses at that subject.
Record your video
If you start recording while you’re standing right next to the camera, then you will become part of the shoot. That may be what you want. If it’s not, then you will need to find a hiding place. Most 360-cameras work with smartphone apps that let you start recording from a distance, so you will have an opportunity to make yourself scarce, or at least low-profile, before you film.
Stitch the video together
Your specialty camera will also come with specialty software that will do the hard work of combining the video from the two camera lenses into a 360 experience. The software will vary for each manufacturer, so spend some time experimenting and getting used to how it works. Once you have a video you’re satisfied with, you can share it with your friends or the world.
Sharing the love
Popular sharing sites like YouTube and Facebook can handle your 360-videos but aim to upload them in as high a quality as possible. They will simply look better when people are viewing them. Uploading a 360-video is sometimes a little different than uploading a regular video, so take a look at YouTube’s help page and Facebook’s instructions first to make sure your video is shared as intended.
Still need a set of VR goggles? You can get them cheap.
To enjoy your 360 videos, you will want to view them through virtual-reality goggles... but you don’t have to spend a fortune.