On this page:
Samsung Gear 360, my review
My expectations
Nice but impractical design
Picture quality
Stitching with Action Director
Stitching Autopano
Video quality
Time Lapse
Battery
Use Samsung Gear 360 without a smartphone
Daily use
Strengths
Conclusion
Questions & answers
Questions answers

Samsung Gear 360 review after two months

Samsung Gear 360

Category: Tests / Reviews


Samsung Gear 360, my review



It's been 2 to 3 years since we started to see all kinds of 360 cameras (mainly chinese and/or crowdfunded) on the market but so far, no major brand had taken the plunge. It is in 2016 that the giant Samsung stepped into the game with the Samsung Gear 360, a consumer camera with attractive specs for a competitive price. I've been using it for more than two months now, is it worth buying ? Answer below !





My expectations


I am not the typical action camera customer, I'm not into extreme sports and I do not feel the need to share my daily life with a camera. Before buying the Gear 360, I was already shooting 360 pictures with my Canon DSLR and a Nodal Ninja panoramic mount but even if the final output is really nice, it's a very time consuming process. I wanted to see if that shiny little camera could spare me some time to take panoramic pictures with less quality but by how much was my most important question.


I'm not going to enter in all the technical details about this camera as there are already many sites covering that already and whatever the specs, I'm only interested in what happens when you push the little red button on top of the camera.





Nice but impractical design


There are many different types of cameras on the market today and some of them don't even look like a camera, it makes you wonder if people actually got paid to design such objects. Samsung went for spherical design and even if design is a subjective thing, I would say that it' probably one of the nicest 360 camera on the market today. It's neat, nice and shiny. When I was walking around with it during my holiday, many people felt attracted and came to me to ask for more information about it. First mission of such a object is to make people want to have it, Samsung did a good job at this.

samsung gear 360 design

Ok, design is nice but is it practical ? The answer is a clear no. Forget about putting the camera in your pocket, it feels like having an additional testicle, you probably don't need that. Its nice round shape doesn't give you any clue of where you are putting your fingers when manipulating the camera. You end up with putting fingerprints all over the lens cover and affecting the quality of your pictures. The smallest spot on the lens cover usually results in a big flare on the picture, especially in bright light.

The camera has a side opening for USB ports, memory card and battery. Again, it's nicely designed, you don't even see it if you don't pay attention. If you don't have very good eyes, you'll always struggle a little bit to insert the USB cable as it doesn't have a lot of space to fit into. Struggle to insert the cable will also result in adding some fingerprints on the lens cover.

The Gear 360 is packed with a smal tripod, easy to add or remove, all neat but the little tripod is very visible on the pictures. The alternative is to buy a high standing monopod (see my pictures below).


La Gear 360 est donc jolie mais vraiment pas pratique.




Picture quality


Does the Samsung Gear 360 produce nice pictures ? That was my most important question and the answer is not so straighforward unfortunately. Before buying the camera I looked for pictures and videos taken with it and most of the time, I was a bit disappointed. As I mainly use my Canon Eos 7D Mark II to take pictures, my perception was a bit biaised but nevertheless I decided to give it a try just for the fun. Well, the camera really surprised me, it's really not bad at all. Of course, it's not in the same league as my DSLR but it's way cheaper, it's easier to transport and it takes only a few seconds to produce 360 pictures. Let's have a look at some samples.


The Gear 360 produces a single file in which you will find two fisheye pictures that you will need to merge to get a panoramic picture. If you look at the individual pictures here below, you can see that the quality is nice. There are some flaws like visible borders, flares caused by the sun or fingerprints, some chromatic aberation but again for that price, it's really good.

Here is an example of what the camera can produce before stitching. It's a picture a took near Constance Lake in South Germany. I chose this picture on purpose because there is a lot of contrast between light and shadows, it really shows what the camera is capable of. Again it cannot compete with a much more expensive DSLR but still, it's really nice. Those camera are not made for print so you don't really care if some areas are over exposed or if you have some grain in low light conditions. Those cameras are made to capture experiences and this one does a good job at it.


photo panoramique samsung fisheye


Zoom on one of the images. The camera produces nicely saturated colors and sharpness is nice in the center but fades slowly away around the borders. The circle around the lens cover is unfortunately visible but you can easily get rid of it. There is some chromatic aberation in the sky or around leaves, nothing unusual for a cheap camera.




Zoom on the other side. This part of the camera was directly hitting sunlight and a big part of the picture ended up in over exposure. Knowing this, you should definitely try to avoid direct hit from the sun.





Stitching with Action Director


The Gear 360 packages comes with a serial number for Action Director. You just need to download it and register your serial number, it's free ! Action Director is a very basic photo and video stitching program but it's very easy to use. You just drag and drop the content of your camera and it will start stitching right away.

No matter which software you use, stitching damages the quality and there is no way to avoid this with this type of camera. The big advantage compared to single lens solutions is that you capture everything at the same time, you are litterally in the action while with a DSRL people or objects are moving while you are taking your shots. So yes, quality is degraded but very easy and it captures everything at once.


Important remark:

The camera has dead angles on each side of the body, it's very visible when you are taking shots with very close objects (+/- 30cm). Knowing this, try to put all nearby objects further away. To avoid this, I use a long standing monopod, it gives a complete different perspective and you almost don't see the monopod. It's probably the best option and you can get such a monopod on Amazon for under 20$.

Final picture size is around 9Mb, it may take some time before the picture here below appears in your browser.


[vr image="https://images.laurentwillen.be/sites/21/2017/07/photo-panoramique-360-lac-constance.jpg"]




Stitching Autopano


Autopano is a professional software where you can build panoramic pictures of a higher quality (in theory). I don't own the software, it's really expensive, someone has been kind enough to stitch my picture to show the end result.

Stitching with Autopano takes more time because you first need to isolate the two fisheye pictures to make two files and import them separately. You then need to tell Autopano those pictures are 9mm fisheye pictures, if you don't you'll end up with a poorly stitched picture. You have much more possibilities to tweak your picture with Autopano compared to Action Director but is it really worth it ? With a Gear 360, clearly no. Look at the picture below. There may be some little difference but Autopano doesnt bring a lot of value for the Gear 360, it's more suitable for DSLR where you can really make a difference there.


[vr image="https://images.laurentwillen.be/sites/21/2017/07/lac-constance-panoramique-360-autopano.jpg" id="lac"]




Video quality


For videos I more or less came to the same conclusion as for pictures. Most of the videos you see on YouTube are not that great in terms of quality but stitching and compression applied by YouTube is definitely not helping. The camera produces a single file with two fisheye views just like the pictures above. If you look at individual videos, quality is really nice and so nice that I stopped using my classic digital camera.

Unfortunately when you stitch videos together, it will reduce the overal quality, you'll mainly feel the difference en sharpness which gives you the impression the video has been taken with a low resolution camera. That problem is not only happening with the Gear 360, it's the same issue with all cameras currently on sale. Stitching damages the quality no matter what you do but the Gear 360 is probably one of the few that can still produce an acceptable quality after stitching.


Example before stitching

Same as for pictures, you see the border and you have one file containing both shots.

Here is a sample of a video I stitched with Action Director and then uploaded on YouTube. Loss of quality is very visible. If you play the video locally on your computer, you'll see that the quality is already much better so if you know another video upload site where compression is less aggressive, you could reduce the damage. In the example below, you should play the video twice or more to make sure that the content is sufficiently buffered, otherwise you won't see the increase in quality before the end of the video.


Stitching is not too bad, the split between the two lenses is visible but not in a very disturbing way. It becomes more visible when one side of the camera is looking in the shadow and the other is looking at the sun. If you have time and skills, you can probably reduce this problem with photo/video editing software.




Time Lapse


I'm sure you have already seen one of those very beautiful nature timelapses on YouTube, well now you can produce time lapses without all the equipments pros are using. Again, quality won't be the same but setting up a professional timelapse requires a lot of time (capture + post-production), skills and expensive gear. With the Gear 360 you can produce really nice time lapses in only a few seconds without all the hassle pros have with their gear. You can create 360 time lapses or time lapses with only one lens, I would prefer the first option as it doesn't damage the picture quality.



Unstiched timelapse


Stitched timelapse with Action Director + YouTube compression






Battery


I haven't tested the battery specifically, there are many sites out there doing that kind of test anyway if you need the scientific answer. I have used my camera on a daily base during my last holidays and I ran out of battery 3 times in 3 weeks. I made something like 30 videos (5-10 min max) and more than 200 panoramic pictures. Battery is the strongest point but you can safely use the camera for a couple of days before running out of juice.






Use Samsung Gear 360 without a smartphone


Samsung's strategy with this camera was to enter the market of course but also to reinforce adoption and sales of their high-end smartphones. Ok, why not but those smartphone devices aren't the cheapest things you can find and if you don't like those devices, you won't buy them just to be able to play with the camera.

If you don't own a high end Samsung smartphone and you don't want to buy one, you have two possibilities:
- use the camera without any smartphone :
The camera has a small screen where you can easily browse the most basic features without too much hassle. Of course you won't get all the settings you have in the app but still, it's more than enough for day to day usage. The only drawback is that the small screen is poorly lit, when using under sunlight you won't be able to read anything.
use a modified version of the app :
Developpers from XDA forums have managed to lift the device restriction from the Samsung app and you can now use the Gear 360 with the official app from Samsung on non Samsung android devices. There are people with devices from Sony, LG or Xiaomi that have managed to control their camera with this modded app.

Link: https://forum.xda-developers.com/android/software/mod-samsung-gear-360-manager-device-t3400383





Daily use


As already mentionned earlier, the camera form factor is not really the most practical but you get used to it. After two months using it, simplicity has overcomed all small flaws I have encountered. Taking 360 shots has never been easy, especially if you started your journey with a DSLR. Picture and video quality is good, probably among the best in class for that type of device. This camera was originally made for action shots and probably for a public that likes showing off what they are doing in their life, I'm definitely not in that segment of the population but for me, the Gear 360 is a formidable memory making machine allowing you to revive moments in 360°C. Of course, all 360 cameras can do this but this one is cheap, it delivers good quality and is incredibly easy to use.

Using this camera to record instants of your life is really the best purpose you can find. I often use the camera when playing with my 4 year old son and because it's so immersive, I'm sure I'll be happy to have recorded those moments in a couple of years. My son tends to get used to all the tech stuff in the house but when he viewed the first 360 videos I took with him, he really enjoyed it much more than watching a normal video. There is nobody with a camera on one side and someone else on the other side, it's one scene with everybody acting.

Since I have the Gear 360, I don't use my DSLR for panoramic pictures anymore and I have also put my normal full HD camera aside.




Strengths



Points forts


[+] Ease of use
[+] Price/Quality ratio (under 200$)
[+] Quality of individual lenses
[+] Free stitching software
[+] No need for an expensive smartphone


Points faibles


[-] Form factor not practical
[-] Screen readability in sunlight
[-] Access to USB port





Conclusion


I had been on the edge for buying a 360 camera for some time, mostly out of curiosity. The only thing that prevented me to buy was the price which was in my opinion too high for that kind of geeky toy. When I found my Gear 360 for 124€ new on eBay, it immediately lifted the price barrier.

I started my journey with the Gear 360 on a negative note, I even thought of selling it back after one week. I was still too much comparing it to my DSLR but then I went on holiday for 3 weeks and it changed everything. I rapidly got fed up of carrying my heavy DSLR stuff with me (body, lenses, tripod, pano mount,...) and taking a panoramic picture or video or timelapses in only a few seconds made the difference. Yes, quality is lower than my Canon but who cares after all? I'm not a professional, just someone who like capturing moments.


Now that my curiosity has been satisfied I'm probably going to buy a second camera to compare it with the one I have. Maybe the Xiaomi 360, we'll see.





Questions & answers


If you have any questions, drop a line in the comment zone, I'll integrate answers in the article as soon as I can

Is the Samsung Gear 360 waterproof ?
No, it can stand rain drops or small splashes of water but don't plunge it into water, it's not built to be fully waterproof. There are however bodies you can buy to make it waterproof.

Should you buy the 2016 or 2017 model?
They're both ok but if the form factor on this camera is an issue, the 2017 should give you a better experience. If you're interested in a bigger resolution (which is my case), the 2016 model is better.

Can you control the camera with a non Samsung branded phones?
Yes, you should check the XDA forum, there are many testomonials of people using the app with Sony, LG or Xiaomi devices.

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