The market for action 'selfies' has grown by leaps and bounds over the past five years thanks to a well known company called GoPro. For those that don't know, GoPro makes ultra compact HD video cameras that not only fit in the palm of your hand, but also on helmets, bike frames, surf boards, on top of cars or anywhere you can fit the camera - which is basically anywhere you want. Once GoPro had proved that capturing action selfies wasn't a fad, a slew of competing hopefuls jumped into the market - all trying to cash in on this popularity. Despite the efforts of Sony, Kodak, Toshiba, Polaroid, Contour, Panasonic, JVC, Drift, and Garmin - GoPro still remains the most popular sports action camera on the market.
So the question is, if the nine brands that I just mentioned haven't been able to shave away at GoPro's market share - what chance would a new, lesser known name, like VSN Mobil have? Well, the answer to that is still too early to tell, however VSN is taking a different approach to the action camera market, an approach that allows the athlete, regardless of which way the camera is aimed, to always be in the video. Sounds cool doesn't it?
Let me introduce you to the V.360 - a 360° compact camera that captures the action all around you (in front, in back and on the sides) - eliminating the guess work as to where you should be aiming the camera. With a GoPro you're always trying to figure out whether you should aim the camera outward for a first-person view or inward for a selfie view. With the V.360 everything will always be in frame.
With a GoPro, framing is very important since you want to make sure that the camera will be aimed where the action is taking place. With the V.360 everything around the camera will be captured so the only consideration when mounting the camera is its height.
The V.360 camera is priced at $449, putting it right up against the GoPro Hero4 Black. Let's see if the value is there.
Full 1080p HD Video in all directions
Thanks to the cameras 4k-wide, 16-megapixel sensor, the camera can record seamless 360° video in full 1080p resolution. This isn't a 1920 pixel wide sensor stretched to fill a 360° space. By incorporating a 6480 pixels wide 4k sensor, the V.360 maintains 1080p resolution in all directions without having to resort to fish-eye lenses that greatly distort the image.
In order to stay compatible with standard video formats, video on the V.360 is captured as a 4k, 24ps .MP4 file with a resolution of 3420x2160 (UHD). So instead of recording the video as a wide 6840x1080 file which would have required an incompatible format, the V.360 layers each 180-degree view on top of each other to create two stacked 3420x1080p views inside one 4k video frame. In your video editing software you can easily drop this into a 1080p timeline and then use the height and width controls to adjust the view.
The green LED power light on the unit represents the center of the 360. This is the location where the video will be split for viewing or editing on your computer. By placing this green LED 90-degrees to the left or right you can insure that the front and back of your video are split perfectly in the center.
One-Shot Panoramic Stills
Action cameras aren't just for video. Thanks to the panorama sensor the V.360 can capture still images with a 360° view in a single photo. These are ultra wide 6840 x 1080 resolution (7-megapixel) images ideal for capturing the breathtaking views from the highest peaks, catching air on the slopes or riding the waves.
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS Built-in
The V.360 includes a wireless remote control that quickly connects to the camera via Bluetooth wireless. Using the remote is as easy as holding down the top button to turn the camera on or off and pressing the video or stills button to capture content. The lightweight remote uses two AAA batteries (included) and has a receptacle for a neck strap. A neck strap is not included.
The V.360 can also connect to your smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi thanks to the V.360 iOS and Android App (free download)i. The V.360 has its own Wi-Fi access point built-in allowing you to connect to it from your phone anywhere you go.
Want more? How about a built-in barometer, accelerometer, and altimeter!
The V.360 is designed to capture all of the details of your adventure not just the visuals. The camera stores information about the environment (acceleration, elevation, and more) in the metadata of your images,although in Lightroom I was only able to view the GPS coordinates and the altimeter information. I'm not sure when and where the barometer and accelerometer come into play.
First Impressions and Usability
When I first opened the box my first impressions were that the V.360 was a lot smaller than I was expecting by looking at the images on their website. The dimensions are 2.5" wide by 4" tall, which while larger than the GoPro Hero4 (1.6" x 2.75" x 1.25") isn't so large as to prevent using it in most situations. Given the fact that it captures the action in 360°s the extra size is a small price to pay.
On top of the housing sits a bubble level on the top cover,which sits on top of the sensor and camera that are enclosed within the glass that surrounds the mirror housing.
The camera is controlled using the included wireless remote control or using their free V.360 app (iOS and Android) on a smartphone or tablet. The camera itself has no controls on it at at all.
Top: Bubble Level
Bottom: 2610 mAh Battery & Port Cover
At the base of the V.360 is a disc-sized baseplate that when twisted off allows access to the cameras USB3.0 port, micro HDMI port, and Li-Ion battery compartment. The baseplate helps to waterproof the ports and battery compartment for use in wet environment or on the water (surfing, boating, underwater shots).
Bottom: USB 3.0, micro HDMI, Battery
Bottom: Battery Removed
The battery compartment and ports are on the base of the unit, making it tough to mount an external USB battery (for extending battery life) or HDMI video out cable while the camera is mounted or sitting on its base. Also, the baseplate needs to be in place to protect the unit from water and the battery from sliding out, but it also covers the other ports making it impossible to access them while in use. I imagine that if you had a clamp that could grab the camera around the lower half of the unit, you could then tape over the battery to prevent it from sliding out while leaving the micro HDMI and USB 3.0 ports available for us. So, while it's not impossible to use these during use, the design forces you to find your own workaround.
Connecting your Smartphone
The V.360 creates its own Wi-Fi network, which when powered on will show up in your list of networks on your smartphone (Image 1). Select V360camera as your network and you're all set to launch the app.
The V.360 app is a free download from the iOS or Android app store. Click on the V.360 icon (Image 2) to launch the app. The app will start searching for a connected V360 camera (Image 3 and 4).
Main Screen in V.360 App
The main screen will appear as soon as the app discovers the camera. If the 360° view on the top half of the screen is a 360° black strip just give it 5-10 seconds and the live feed from the camera should appear (lower middle screenshot). If the 360° strip is blank (lower left screenshot) then you might want to double check that your smartphones Wi-Fi is still connection to the V360camera network.
With the 360° carousel on screen you're able to swipe left or right to rotate the view. Since the camera views everything in 360° you're not actually rotating the camera - just the portion of it you want to bring around to the front of the display for viewing.
If you swipe your finger up over the 360° ring the image will flatten out, allowing the live camera
feed to fill the view (lower right screenshot). You can still swipe left or right to rotate the view around in all 360°s.
The above screenshots assume that you're holding the phone in portrait mode, but if you rotate your phone into landscape mode (horizontal) the live camera feed will now fill the entire display as seen in the screenshot to the left.
Photo, Video, Timelapse, and Surveillance
The V.360 has five camera modes: Photo, Video, Timelapse, Burst, and Surveillance.
Surveillance mode was a surprise feature, yet it makes perfect sense. In surveillance mode the live feed is separated into four quadrants. With a normal surveillance system you would of course need four cameras to achieve this, but with the V.360 you can just mount the camera and see everything going on around it. The surveillance mode also captures photos or video automatically when it hears a sound or senses motion.
You can change the surveillance options using the control panel, which is accessible while in portrait mode. Options include audio or motion detection, photo or video mode, how long you want it to record for, a timer for how quickly you want it to wait before triggering (reduces false alarms), and the sensitivity mode.
The V.360 camera captures panorama still photographs with 7-megapixel resolution (6480 x 1080). Panorama images are captured in a single shot - no panning or multi-capture required - and more importantly no stitching.
The smartphone app allows you to change resolution (6480x1080, 4320x720, 3840x640, 2880x480, and 1920x320), switch to mono or sepia, set white balance (Auto, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Sunny, and Cloudy), control exposure (-2 to +2 exposure compensation), and make use of the built-in self-timer (2s, 5s, 10s, and 20s).
To capture video just put the app into video mode and press the record button. Video is recorded at resolution up to 6480x1080 at 24fps with a 60° vertical field of view.
Video is captured with 1080x6840 pixels, which is 4x the horizontal resolution of a normal 1080p video frame. This extra resolution gives the V.360 camera its ability to capture 360° without compromising resolution. This is achieved by using a custom, high-resolution 16-megapixel, 4k image sensor.
When playing back video using the smartphone app or desktop player you'll get to view the video as a single 360° video which you can pan around while it's playing.
To maintain compatibility with the standard H.264 video format, the video is saved as two 180° clips stacked on top of each other to create a 3240x2160 (4k) resolution file (see screen grab below). The top half represents the front 180° view (1080x3240) and the bottom half represents the back 180° view (1080x3240). In post production you can use cropping and masking to recreate a seamless 1080p video file with full control over which portion of the video to showcase.
The flexibility when editing your action-packed clips has never been better. At any point in time you can choose to show the action behind, on the sides or in front of the camera. It is just like editing a multi-camera shoot, except you have it all in one 4k file.
Video saved as an H.264 (3820x2160) Video Frame
Timelapse Capture in 360°
Another great feature is the ability to capture 360° timelapses. Set up the camera in a busy city environment and you'll have an action-filled timelapse in every direction. Again, it's like setting up 4 cameras aimed in different directions. Since we do not know what will happen and where it will happen the 360° view guarantees that you'll capture it.
In the timelapse settings menu you'll have the option to choose an interval from a photo every 2, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds. I do wish the camera had a 1-second interval option as 2-seconds is a bit limiting when capturing faster action like moving cars or fast moving clouds. The settings panel for Timelapse also allows you to capture in sepia tone or monochrome and make adjustments to the cameras white balance,
Timelapse Settings Panel
Burst mode captures 5 sequential panoramic photos with the press of a button.
Sample Video Content
In this video I've taken some of the 360° videos that I've captured and imported them into Premiere Pro and put them on a standard 1080p timeline. The original video file is 4k, which stacks two 1080p videos (back 180 and front 180) on top of each other. The video was created to show you how you can pick and choose which part of the 360° view to show at any given time. In the upper right corner of the video is the format the video gets saved as.
The VSN Mobil V.360 is a GoPro on steroids, both in its ability to capture in all 360-degrees at the same time and because of its larger size. While I wasn't brave
enough to test how rugged it is by doing something stupid, the V.360 is designed to withstand the rigors of surfing, skiing, biking, and more. During my review period
we had close to 110" of snow here in New England in a 3.5 week period so I was very limited in the amount of time I spent shooting with the V.360. Instead I was busy shoveling, shoveling, shoveling, and then more shoveling. However, I did take it out a few times, mostly around my neighborhood, as well as when I went to try out for the Amazing Race. During the car ride down I mounted it upside down from the sunroof and captured both video and time lapse. I also used it to capture some footage around the base of the ski area where the Amazing Race tryouts were being held (No, I wasn't chosen). All in all I was impressed with the ease of use of the V.360 and I loved the fact that no one knew I was holding a camera, since it looks nothing like a camera.
Video captured with the V.360 has good contrast and color, but since dynamic range is lacking shadows seem overly dark and highlights quickly blow out. It sort of reminds me of the early model GoPro's in this regard. The camera's video compression also starts to show its limitations with some fast action scenes, although it wasn't noticeable all the time. VSN Mobil did a good job of NOT trying to over compensate for a sensor that isn't super sensitive in low-light, and this helped to keep the image cleaner than I had expected, so capturing city lights shouldn't be a problem for this camera. Other cameras tend to turn up the gain of the sensor in low-light, which usually leads to a grainy and unusable image.
I have mixed opinions about the design of the V.360. The design places the camera module inside, aiming down at the circular mirror that is tilted out and upward inside the glass housing (See photo). This gives the single lens its ability to see all around you, but the design also limits its vertical field of view somewhat - where anything positioned lower than the base of the mirror will be cut off. When mounted to the front handlebars of a bike I alsofound that this put my head above the top of the camera's field of view. Of course every camera has limitations and if you want to capture your hikes, bike rides, ski runs, and more in 360 - you'll quickly learn how to mount the camera to get the results you want. One workaround is to mount the camera upside down in situations where you need to get a higher field-of-view. this way the angled mirror will be pointing up and out, instead of outward and down.
When filming inside my car I mounted the V.360 upside down on my sunroof, by using a suction cup mount that I use with my DSLR. I also captured my walk around the block with my dog by attaching the V.360 to a "selfie" stick. When I wanted to capture me I held the V.360 upright, but when I wanted to capture a lower perspective showing my dog walking up the street I just inverted the camera and kept going. In video editing software you just apply a 180-degree rotation to your upside down clips and you're set to go.
Included in the V.360 package is a soft microfiber pouch. Make sure to use this in order to protect the glass housing from scratches and dust. After all, this is the lens that your camera sees the world through - and wiping it down before each use will help to reduce dust particles from showing up somewhere in your video or photo. The package also includes a silicone sleeve that slides onto the lower half of the housing, helping to provide additional protection for the unit and the battery compartment, and to make it a lot easier to grip.
This brings me to my last thought on the camera. While the cameras design allows it to capture seamless 360° videos and photos that require no stitching. You can currently only view the 360° video on your phone, tablet or through the included desktop player for your PC. VSN Mobil is working on a web component where you'll be able to upload your videos and then embed your 360° video on your website or blog (much like you see above in this review), but currently there is not a way to do this. There also isn't yet support for 360 video from major websites like YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter - so being able to share your video in 360 will be somewhat limited at least for now, and possibly into the future.
If you enjoy and have the ability to do your own video editing, you'll find that the 360° video image gives you the equivalent of 4 camera views to work with, so you can easily put together a multi-camera production using just this one camera. The camera saves your 360° is a normal aspect ratio in order to stay compatible with the MP4 video format. To do this, the camera stacks two 180° views on top of each other and saves it as a 4k video file. This preserves the 1080p vertical resolution and when dragged onto a 1080p timeline will give you the flexibility to move to the best part of the scene at any given time.
The VSN Mobil currently sells for $449, which puts it right up against the 4k GoPro. So the choice is yours. A 4k GoPro that offers superior image quality but a single view out of the lens or a V.360 camera that offers you the ability to capture yourself AND all of the action around you - simultaneously. For me, the V.360 is more fun as an everyday camera because of its 360° view and the fact that it doesn't look like a camera - whereas a GoPro I would only use for specialty and action shots.
V.360° HD Camera, V.360° Bluetooth Remote Control, Microfiber Pouch, 2610 mAh Li-Ion Battery, USB 3.0 Cable, Charger, Waterproof Battery Door, Silicone Sleeve, Adhesive Dash Mount, GoPro Mount Adapter.
V.360 Demo Video (Manufacturer Produced)
Other Notable Specifications
Micro USB 3.0 with Super Speed Support
HDMI v1.4a port
Wi-Fi supports 802.11 b/g/n (2.4 GHz & 5 GHz)
Battery: 2610 mAH (2 hours of continuous recording)
Smartphone App supports Android 4.3 and iOS 4.0 and up
Camera uses Android 4.4 as its O/S
Micro SD slot supports up to 128GB (Class 10, UHS1 or higher)
Memory Card Usage: 10GB / Hour at Maximum Resolution
Still Image Resolution: 7 Megapixel (6480x1080)
Video Resolution: 6480x1080 HD split into 3240x1080 MP4 file
Waterproof / Durability: Meets IP67 standard for underwater submersion (1 Meter depth for 30 minutes)
Camera Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (2.3GHz Quad-core)
Dimensions: 2.20" x 4.0" (56mmx101.8mm)
Weight: 8.11 ounces (230 grams)
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