How can 360 cameras be useful?
After my experience working with 360 cameras I believe that they can be really useful in the process of documenting scenes. Here are three ways that law enforcement and investigators can benefit from the advances in this camera technology.
Faster data collection
Instead of doing a long pan around a room with a video camera, or taking dozens of photos pointing in different directions, you can take a single shot and know that you have captured everything.
No missed details
Having security that nothing gets overlooked is really important in the early stages of a case when you don't always know what you are looking for or what is most important.
We have all fallen victim to the shaky hand or the quick pan, which often leads to just blur and loss of useful information, 360 cameras are internally and digitally stabilized and even when turned upside down will always keep the horizon line straightened.
How does a 360 camera work?
Put simply a 360 camera has two 180 degree lenses and the footage is digitally stitched together inside of the camera. After recording your footage you can use software to then choose the direction that you would like to capture. You can pan at any time and even choose different focal lengths for any portion of the video or image you would like to export.
What's the catch?
There are many things to love and like about 360 cameras but there are a few cons.
Most consumer 360 cameras record at a horizontal pixel resolution of 4.7-5k, which may sound like a lot, but it is spread along the whole 360 degrees. The field of view for a typical photo is between 45-60 degrees, so when looking at just this portion of the 360 image, you're only going to be seeing between 600 to 900 pixels of horizontal resolution. That's pretty low compared to the 4k resolution of a modern smartphone.
Here is a comparison between a true 4k camera image zoomed in and a 360 image
Comsumer 360 cameras are small devices and necessarily use a small image sensor, which limits usefulness in low-light situations. A tripod may help, but ultimately a digital SLR camera is better suited to capturing details in the shadows.
360 cameras produce a spherical image and save it in a rectangular file format which is nearly impossible to understand without using a special viewer program (that comes with the camera). These viewers are very easy and straightforward to use for the lay person (it's just like using Street View on Google Maps) but it's still an extra step.
Large files sizes
Capturing 360 degrees at 4.7k can get pretty hefty as far as files sizes go, so I make sure to use a larger SD card (125gb). After you have chosen the views you want to export the exports can always be compressed for sharing and storing.
360 cameras are a really good tool to add to the arsenal of things to help collect data and facts to tell better stories. Its not a direct replacement for a point and shoot camera or a phone camera, but there are times when it can very valuable.