Review of the Kodak SP360 4K

Kodak SP360 4K

Kodak SP360 4K
8.275

360 Video Quality

8/10

    Ease of use

    9/10

      Value

      9/10

        Features

        8/10

          Pros

          • - Good value for money
          • - Easy to use
          • - Higher quality than similar priced rivals
          • - Small and lightweight

          Cons

          • - Quality is still soft
          • - Limited stereoscopic 3D
          • - Kodak Software is limited
          • - Smartphone App has bugs

          Product website: http://kodakpixpro.com/Americas/cameras/actioncam/sp3604k/

          Available now at Jessups in the UK!

          • Release date: October 2015 (US) and February 2016 (UK/EU)
          • Price for single unit: $499 (US), £379.95 (UK)
          • Price for pair: $899 (US) (not currently available as a duo pack in the UK yet)

           

          Contents

           


          Background

          Kodak entered the 360 action cam market with the release of the SP360 in November 2014. It was bright yellow, a bit smaller than a GoPro, and sadly left many people underwhelmed and disappointed due to the low quality of the 360 footage.

          Thankfully, however, Kodak took the consumer feedback on board and released a new and improved version: the SP360 4K. At a first glance the only difference between the two models is the colour – the SP360 is bright yellow while the SP360 4K is black. However, the SP360 4K boasts a number of impressive features, most notably (and as the name suggests) it can shoot at 4k UHD resolution.

          In this review we’ll be examining the SP360 4K from three different perspectives – as a single action-cam, as a 360 cam (using two of them back-to-back) and looking at the software Kodak provide (the stitching software, the editing software and the smartphone app).

           


          Similarities and Differences between the SP360 and the SP360 4K

            SP360 SP360 4K
          Sensor size 1/2.33″ MOS 1/2.3″ BIS CMOS
          Total Pixels 17.52 Megapixels 12.76 Megapixels
          Focal Length 0.805mm 0.85mm
          Equivalent to 35mm film 8.25mm 8.2mm
          F number F2.8 F2.8
          Lens Construction 7 groups 9 elements 7 groups 9 elements
          Optical Zoom Fix Focus Fix Focus
          Field of View 214 Degree 235 Degree
          Stabilization Electronic Image Stabilization Electronic Image Stabilization
          Photo Size 10M : 3264×3264(1:1)

          5M : 2592×1944(4:3)

          2M : 1920×1080(16:9)

          8M : 2880×2880(1:1)

          4M : 2304×1728(4:3)

          2M : 1920×1080(16:9)

          Movie size 1920×1080(30fps)

          1440×1440(30fps)

          1072×1072(30fps)

          1072×1072(30fps)(EIS)

          1280×960(50fps)

          1280×960(30fps)

          1280×720(60fps)

          1280×720(30fps)

          848×480(60fps)

           

          High Speed Movie : 848×480(120fps)

          2880×2880 30fps (1:1)

          2048×2048 30fps (1:1)

          1440×1440 60fps/30fps (1:1)

          1072×1072 60fps/30fps (1:1)

          3840×2160 30fps (16:9)

          1920×1080 60fps/30fps (16:9)

          1280×720 60fps/30fps (16:9)

          848×480 60fps (16:9)

           

          High-speed Movie :

          720×720 120fps (1:1)

          1280×720 120fps (16:9)

          848×480 240fps (16:9)

          Modes Movie, Shooting, Loop recording, Time Lapse, Burst Movie, Snap Shot Photo, Loop Recording, Time-lapse movie, Burst, High-speed Movie
          Shockproof Up to 2m Up to 2m
          Splash proof Equivalent to JIS/IEC IPX5(Body) Equivalent to JIS/IEC IPX5(Body)
          Dustproof Equivalent to JIS/IEC (IP6X) Equivalent to JIS/IEC (IP6X)
          Freeze-proofing -10°C -10°C
          LCD 1.0 inch TN LCD 1.0 inch TN LCD
          Level Gauge 2-axis 3-axis
          ISO Sensitivity Auto (100~800) Auto (100~800)
          Shooting Capability (Battery

          Performance)

          Approx. 350Shots (Based on CIPA Standards).

          Approx. 160min for Video (@1080p/30fps)

          Approx. 160 shots (Based on CIPA Standards) (Wi-Fi on).

          Approx. 55 minutes for Video (@3840×2160/30fps) (Wi-Fi on)

          Weight Approx. 103g (Body Only) Approx. 102g (Only body)
          Dimensions (W×H×D) Approx.41.1×50.0×52.1mm (excluding glass lens cover) (Based on CIPA Standards) Approx.48.0×50.0×52.5 mm (Without lens cover) (Based on CIPA Standards)

          From a glance at the above table several differences are noticeable. The first of which is an improved sensor on the newer model. The SP360 4K has a 1/2.3″ BIS CMOS while the previous one has a plain old MOS sensor. The ‘BI’ stands for ‘back-illuminated sensor’ (or ‘backside illumination’). This is a type of digital image sensor that uses a special configuration of imaging elements to increase the amount of light captured and thus improve low-light performance. The second difference is that the SP360 4K has a slightly increased field of view (FoV) of 235 degrees compared to 214. The third, and arguably most important difference, however, is the video resolution. The SP360 4K, as the name suggests, can shoot at full 4K UHD (3840×2160 30fps, in 16:9), while the maximum resolution of the previous model was just plain old 1080p HD. It’s also important to note that for people interested in shooting 360 video they can’t actually use this setting: both cameras (positioned back to back) need to be shooting in circular mode (1:1, not 16:9). The highest resolution in that setting on the new SP360 4K is 2880x2880p (30fps) while the previous model’s maximum was 1440x1440p (30fps). This is a big difference and should hopefully help to yield higher quality 360 footage once the video streams from both cameras have been stitched together (we’ll talk about that later, along with Kodak’s free stitching software).

          Now that we’ve clarified the differences let’s take a look at the cameras themselves. We’ll start off examining the SP360 4K as a single action-cam unit before moving on to evaluating using two of them back to back for 360 shooting.

           


          Part 1: The SP360 4K as a single action-cam

           


          Size & weight

          What struck me most about these devices is how tiny and lightweight they are. Due to the huge spherical lens that sticks out rather prominently the unit dimensions are close to that of a GoPro: the GoPro Hero 4 Black edition is 41x59x30mm while the SP360 4K is 48×50×52.5mm. The SP360 4K is  marginally heavier, at 102g compared to the GoPro Hero 4 at 88g. However, this figure is somewhat misleading, as 88g is the weight of a GoPro without any housing, and anyone who’s used a GoPro will know that to use it for, well, just about anything, you need to put it inside a housing/mounting rig. And that puts the GoPro at 154g (with just basic housing, not even including any mounting). The SP360 4K doesn’t really need housing beyond a very basic (but sturdy) piece of plastic.

           


          Accessories & mounts

          It’s also important to note that the SP360 4K comes with a range of mounting accessories, while most GoPro users will end up having to buy them separately, which all adds up in terms of cost. You can of course buy the SP360 4K on its own, but for $49 more (at $499) you also get the following:

          • Standard Housing
          • Curved / Flat Adhesive Mount
          • Bar Mount
          • Suction Cup Mount
          • L-Type Bracket Mount
          • L-Type Bracket Adhesive Mount
          • Square Double-Sided Adhesive

           


          Menu & controls

          The controls on the device are minimal and simple with just four buttons on each device: a large circular record button to start and stop recording (or taking photos); a power button that’s also the mode button; an option button; and a Wi-Fi button. To turn the device on you simply hold down the mode/power button for several seconds. You can press the button again to go into the mode menu and then toggle between different modes (video, timelapse, photo, etc.) by pressing the mode button again for going up and the option button (located directly below it) by going down in the menu list. To change a setting you press the power button to select that feature, then toggle up and down the same as mentioned above, and once again press the power button to choose the setting you’ve selected. Then you just toggle up/down to find the ‘Exit’ option and select that to leave the menu. It’s a bit fiddly but everything’s very logically laid out and we had no problems using it.

          For those of you used to fancy touch-screens the SP360 4K will be a disappointment. However, anyone used to using previous versions of the GoPro should feel at home with its 1” LCD screen. While this is very basic it really is all you need, and given the size of the device it’s understandable. Kodak have also released a smartphone app (available for both Android and iOS) to use with the SP360 4K where you can playback videos and have a live view of what the camera’s recording, as well as turn your smartphone into a remote control. We’ll discuss the app as well as Kodak’s software in more depth later in the review.

           


          Video quality

          The recording quality is divided into two different formats: 1:1 (spherical) and 16:9. If you want to use two of these devices back-to-back then you have to shoot in a mode that’s 1:1. But it should be noted that even the 16:9 modes are extremely wide. This is fine for most people though given that its intended use is as an action-cam and the aim is to capture as much of what’s going on as possible.

          The camera can shoot at the following resolutions, the highest being the 4K mode at 3840x2160p, and the lowest being the VGA 848×480 mode:

          • 2880×2880 30fps (1:1)
          • 2048×2048 30fps (1:1)
          • 1440×1440 60fps/30fps (1:1)
          • 1072×1072 60fps/30fps (1:1)
          • 3840×2160 30fps (16:9)
          • 1920×1080 60fps/30fps (16:9)
          • 1280×720 60fps/30fps (16:9)
          • 848×480 60fps (16:9)

           


          4K shooting

          We checked out the stats for each of the video clips shot in the 4K 16:9 mode (3840×2160) and the highest 1:1 mode (2880x2880p) and found the bitrate to be 61.1Mbps. We were impressed with the quality in terms of colour, exposure, sharpness and detail. On a bright sunny day we found that it didn’t overexpose, blues stayed blue and the overall exposure of the scene was pretty good.

          Here’s a short clip taken in Piccadilly Circus in the 4K 16:9 mode:

          This looks pretty much identical to how it appeared to the eye. The colours are bright and the exposure’s decent, and it’s pretty sharp. In short, we were pleased with the quality.

          And here’s a short clip of the same scene taken in 2880x2880p (1:1) mode:

          Aside from the obvious difference that it’s spherical and has captured vastly more of the scene than the 4k 16:9 clip, the video quality is still excellent.

           


          1080p shooting

          However, the quality dropped rather noticeably when we switched to FHD mode, which outputs footage at 1080p HD (16:9) at 59.94fps. This mode gives you the option of recording at ultra wide, middle or narrow.  Here’s a sample showing three short clips showing the footage in ‘ultra wide’, ‘middle’ and ‘narrow’ mode:

          As you can see the quality isn’t great. The bitrate on this clip is around 25Mbps, and it shows. It’s not sharp at all.

          But then again, why would anyone want to use this mode (or any of the lower ones, for that matter) when the camera can shoot at 4K? If you’re interested in the SP360 4K then presumably it’ll be the “4K” bit that’ll have you interested. In which case this isn’t something to be overly concerned about.

           


          High-speed modes

          As already mentioned, the SP360 4K also boasts several high-speed settings:

          • 720×720 120fps (1:1)
          • 1280×720 120fps (16:9)
          • 848×480 240fps (16:9)

          Here’s a sample clip taken in Piccadilly Circus using the 720p 120fps mode:

          As you can see, the quality isn’t great. Furthermore, while this mode is supposed to record at 120fps, we were unable to verify this because the video clip, even if it is recorded at 120fps, the SP360 4K saves it as a 30fps file. This baffled and annoyed us in equal measure. Why bother offering the ability to record at 120fps if those extra frames can’t be utilized by the videographer to play around with to slow things down as they see fit? It made no sense. But either way, given the poor quality of the footage taken in the high-speed modes we wouldn’t have used it anyway. Needless to say, we were disappointed.

           


          Video stabilization

          The SP360 4K has been marketed as an action-cam. That’s a bold move from Kodak given that the market’s been saturated and dominated by GoPros. But at an affordable price ($499, or £379.99), being splash-proof, shock-proof, with lots of mounting attachments available, plus the fact it shoots in ultra-wide 4K, it seems like GoPro have a strong contender. But how smooth is the video footage? The SP360 4K has EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization) and you have the option to turn it on/off in every mode (except the timelapse mode). We tested it by cycling around London with a single SP360 4K attached. Unfortunately Kodak didn’t send us a helmet mount so we had to improvise. I ended up attaching the camera to the selfie stick (which they did include) and had that sticking up above my head. Needless to say, I looked ridiculous and got a few odd looks from passers-by. The selfie stick wobbled quite a bit as well. However, we were impressed when we reviewed the footage afterwards: none of the selfie stick wobbling was noticeable in the video and it was surprisingly smooth, especially given that I was weaving through traffic. Here’s a sample clip shot in 2880p (1:1).

           


          We also found that the footage was still smooth to watch even after speeding it up to around 300%. Beyond that, however, you’d need to use some additional stabilization software (e.g. Adobe’s Warp Stabilizer) post-processing if you wanted to speed it up any further. Not bad at all. In short, we were impressed with the SP360 4K’s EIS feature.


          Timelapse mode

          The SP360 4K also has a timelapse video mode. This enables the camera to take photos every 1, 2, 5, 10, 30 or 60 seconds. The image sequence is then turned into a video file (at whatever resolution and format, 16:9 or 1:1, you specified). This is extremely useful if you want make a timelapse as the resulting video file will take up a lot less memory space than if you had to record a normal video and speed it up post-processing. Here’s a short test clip taken in 1 second intervals at 2880p. Our cameraman’s hand is in the way, but you get the gist of the quality, which is excellent.


          Part 2: the SP360 4K as a 360 camera rig

          The mounting system for two SP360 4K cameras on the Kodak selfie stick, which also has a tripod threaded base.

           

          As I’m sure you all know, one of the biggest selling points of the SP360 4K (and the SP360 before it) is that you can use two of these devices back to back as a 360 camera rig. Kodak sell pairs of these along with a housing/mounting rig and a remote control for precisely this purpose.

          To create 360 videos both cameras need to be positioned back-to-back using Kodak’s mounting rig that’s included when you buy the duo pack. It’s a sturdy but small piece of plastic. Each camera is attached using their tripod thread, and an arm goes over the top and screws into whatever mounting system you’re using. We attached is to the selfie stick which has a tripod threaded base.

          Both cameras must be shooting in 1:1 (spherical) format instead of 16:9 otherwise the footage can’t be stitched together. Another obvious point is that both cameras must have identical settings, not just the same resolution but the same colour modes too. The footage will still stitch together, but it’ll look awful. I learned this the hard way when I accidentally left one camera on a different colour mode that resulted in all the footage from one camera being blue and the other being normal (more on this later).

           


          The Remote

          If you get the duo pack then you should also receive a remote control.

          The SP360 4K remote. The left slide button switches between the ‘dome’ 1:1 format (necessary if you’re shooting 360 video) and video/photo mode on the right-hand side.

          This is a tiny little thing that looks more like wrist watch from the ‘80s. In fact, it’s actually designed to be worn on your wrist. You can use it to turn on/off both cameras simultaneously and it’s very straightforward to setup. There’s a menu option on the cameras to  pair with a remote – you just need to ensure that when you pair the remote with each camera you select the same channel number. It’s also useful to note that the remote has its own settings: in the centre of the remote is a  red button to start/stop recording; on the left is a slide button to switch from 16:9 to 1:1 (spherical) mode, and on the right is another slide button to switch from shooting videos to photos.

          It’s also important to note that those slide button settings on the remote will override the camera settings. For example, if you’ve set the camera up to shoot 2880x2880p (1:1) video but you’ve accidentally left the remote slider on 16:9 instead of the dome (1:1) setting then it’ll shoot in 16:9 instead of 2880x2880p. This isn’t a criticism of the remote – it’s just something to bear in mind as it’s easy for the remote’s slider button to get jogged in your bag or pocket and result in you accidentally taking photos instead of shooting videos, or shooting videos in 16:9 instead of 2880p 1:1, which means that you’re left with video footage you can’t stitch together later on.

           

           


          360 video quality

          Firstly, if you want to record 360 video then you’ll need to use the highest resolution available on both cameras. And for the SP360 4K the highest 1:1 format resolution is 2880x2880p (at 30fps). While that’s not actually 4k, it’s certainly a step up from Kodak’s previous model, the SP360, which shot at a maximum resolution (in 1:1 format) of 1440x1440p (30fps).

          So, what’s the video quality like? Well, given that the 360 footage will be made up of two 2880x2880p video streams stitched together, and given that we’ve already shown you a sample of 2880p footage from the SP360 4K earlier and it looked pretty damn sharp, you’d expect the resulting stitched footage to be on par with that wouldn’t you?

          Well, not entirely. There are several reasons for this. The first is that you need to bear in mind that when viewing 360 footage you’re zoomed in somewhat while you pan around, so there’ll be a bit of quality loss through that. The second is due to the fact that you’re not literally just adding 2880p to 2880p to get a 360 degree video with a resolution of 5660p because there’s a bit of overlap between the two video streams (if there weren’t then they couldn’t be stitched together). The third reason is due to the stitching process itself: take into account the fact that you’ve got two separate video streams, both of which are spherical. And while those spherical lenses enable the cameras to capture a staggering FoV (field of vision), at around 235mm (35mm equivalence of an 8.2mm lens), it also results in a very significant amount of geometrical warping and distortion. And that’s where the problems arise, because to unwrap a spherical image you have to move around a lot of pixels. Anyone who’s ever used any kind of plugin to stabilize and smooth out motion in a video (e.g. using Adobe Premier Pro or After Effect’s Warp Stabilizer, or Virtual Dub’s Deshaker plugin) will know that the quality of the footage diminishes each time you use it. Well, we appear to have a similar problem here with pixels being shuffled around in the de-warping process of unwrapping the spherical footage from each video stream to stitch together.

          It’s also important to note that this reduction in quality isn’t due to Kodak’s software itself. Kodak has released free software you can download from their website (scroll down this page) to stitch two video streams together and the maximum output resolution for the stitched 360 footage is 3840×1920. Using Kolor Autopano Video Pro you can output 360 footage at 4096×2048. We stitched sample footage using both Kodak’s software and Kolor’s and found the difference in resolution to be negligible (we’ll talk more about Kodak’s software and smartphone app later in this review).

          Here’s a sample clip of 360 footage taken in the same location as all the other footage we’ve shown you so far. That’s right, Piccadilly Circus:

           


          And for the sake of thoroughness we took the SP360 4K camera rig out with us and recorded sample footage around London landmarks. We compiled it all together to create this rather long 360 video reel to give you a better idea of the 360 video quality of the SP360 4K during daytime light. Select 2160p (4k) for playback.

           


          We thought the footage looked pretty good on our smartphones, including my Note 5 with its 5.7” screen. However, on my 24” desktop monitor in full-screen mode it was a bit disappointing when compared to a GoPro rig. While the exposure and colours were fine, it lacked detail and sharpness.

          Another important point to note, and one that’s often neglected, is the fact that using spherical lenses reduces the depth of field in the 360 videos made with them. It’s all about stereoscopic projection. We’ve talked about this before (see here and here). In a nutshell, the narrower the FoV from each camera in your 360 rig then the greater the depth of field will be, which translates into less geometrical distortion, which in turn results in a more 3D-like VR experience. If you want to watch a 360 video that’s truly immersive when viewed through a VR headset then you should avoid any rig that consists of spherical lenses. To see why compare any footage taken with spherical lenses (the SP360/4K, the Ricoh Theta-S, etc.) with the Google Jump rig which consists of 16 GoPros.

          Admittedly, this criticism is a slightly unfair one. This is not intended as a professional 360 rig, for a start. And not many people can afford to buy 16 GoPro Hero 4 Black edition cameras and the rig to go with it. However, we thought we should mention it anyway for the sake of thoroughness.

           


          Low light performance

          But what about its low light performance? Well, we covered that too. We took it to Piccadilly Circus (yes, again) at night, and then to Trafalgar Square. Piccadilly Circus was a good test area as it’s reasonably bright. We put both cameras in low light mode for this which slows the shutter down slightly to capture more light. You’ll notice a slight blurring of movement as a result. Nonetheless, despite the blurring we were reasonably impressed with the quality of the 360 video footage here.

          However, in Trafalgar Square it was a different story altogether. It’s a bit darker there, and despite having both cameras on low-light mode we found the resulting footage to be grainy and, well, quite awful. You can see for yourself in the video below. The Trafalgar Square footage comes on at 0:41.

           


          We’ll come back to discussing the de/merits of the camera later after we’ve talked about the software and smartphone app.

           


          Part 3: Kodak’s stitching software & smartphone app

          Kodak have released two pieces of software to be used with the SP360 4K, both of which are free and available for both Windows and Mac users. You can download them from the Kodak page here. The first program is ‘Stitch Pixpro’.  As the name suggests, it stitches together two video streams. The second program is ‘360 4k Pixpro’. It doesn’t stitch anything – it’s simply a piece of software to edit videos taken with your SP360 4K action-cams. Stitch Pixpro has a red icon while the editing software has a blue icon (confusing, right?) We’ll address both of these applications in turn, starting with the stitching software.

           


          Kodak’s stitching software

          This is about as basic and simple as it gets. You run the program, select two video clips and then the program automatically tries to stitch them together. You’re shown how well it’s achieved this in a preview window where you can pan around. And if you’re not happy then you can adjust it, focusing on tweaking one camera at a time. Under most circumstances the software will get it right, but occasionally we found we had to make slight adjustments. Overall it did a pretty good job, so long as your camera rig was stationary.

           

          stitch software1
          A screenshot of Kodak’s stitching software. Footage from two cams are displayed on the LHS with the stitched video displayed in the centre. You can adjust the sharpness and saturation by clicking the ‘effects’ button which opens a pop-up window. And you can tweak the stitching settings by clicking the ‘calibration’ button.

           

          One thing we did notice that annoyed us a lot was a ghosting effect: at a stitching joint in most of our 360 videos there was a spot where people (vehicles, birds, and anything else that moves through it) suddenly disappeared and then reappeared. If you watch the 360 video sample clips we posted earlier in this review you should have noticed this too.

          However, in all fairness we were shooting in busy streets in central London with a lot of movement going on close by. Plus the software is free, after all. At the time of writing this review Kolor’s Autopano Video Pro package (you have to buy Kolor’s Autopano Giga to use in conjunction with Video Pro) will set you back 699.84 euros, excluding tax. And the tax is an additional 139.96 euros, putting the cost up to a whopping 839.80 euros which is $924.75 (£650.39). Ouch. However, we should also point out that we tried to stitch the same video footage using Kolor Autopano Video Pro and experienced the same ghosting problem. So forking out all that money on Kolor was a complete waste of money. And the extra resolution (4096×2048 compared to 3840×1920) wasn’t significant enough to justify the cost either. The only real benefit to using Kolor’s Video Pro was the rendering time, which we have to admit was significantly faster than Kodak’s own software. This is partly due to the fact that Kolor’s software can utilize your graphics card, and you can select how many of your CPUs cores to use. However, unless you’re in a serious hurry to render your 360 video footage (and most people aren’t) then you’re actually fine with Kodak’s own free software. So save yourself over $900 dollars and download the Kodak free stitching software. Yes, Kolor’s software allows you to edit the colours. But you can just as easily stitch the footage for free with Kodak’s software and then open the resulting video to edit in your regular editing program (e.g. Adobe Premier Pro, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, etc.)

          N.B. If you do decide to further edit your 360 video footage using another piece of video editing software then you’ll need to add meta-data to the video before uploading it to Youtube, otherwise Youtube won’t recognize it’s a 360 video and therefore won’t display it properly. To do this go here and download the 360 Youtube meta-data program. It’s free and simple to use: double-click to run, select the video you want to add 360 meta-data to, tick the “spherical” box on the pop-up screen, and then save the output file. You can upload that new file to Youtube without any problems.

           


          Additional stitching issues

          While we were reasonably satisfied with the stitching results from stationary footage, we did have a few problems with motion. As a test I attached both cameras to myself (positioned above my head with the selfie stick) whilst cycling around London. The results weren’t as good. Here’s a rather long video clip of me cycling around London with the cam rig to demonstrate:

          Don’t get me wrong, the results are still very interesting, and watching this with a VR headset felt rather realistic (despite the lack of sharpness in the footage), and rather nauseous as I weaved through the London traffic. But the stitching problems are noticeable, especially the buildings in places.

          However, in all fairness to Kodak, we found similar problems using Kolor Autopano Video Pro. Despite the faster rendering times, the stitching wasn’t immensely better. Well, certainly not improved enough to justify spending over $900 on their software. In which case, if you are planning on using two SP360 4K’s to shoot fast moving action then you should ensure the background isn’t shifting as dramatically as it was in this test clip.

           


          Kodak’s editing software

          Our team were a bit divided over the utility of this software. There’s no documentation for it so we had to play around with it for a while before understanding exactly what the point of it was. The most useful feature is that you can cut a video clip and save that, and the rendering time was very faster (certainly a lot faster than the video stitching software). We found this useful when compiling clips for the review. It allows you to resave a video file in different geometrical orientations. For example, you can output a spherical video as a 4:3 or 16:9 normal looking one. But beyond that the other features were rather gimmicky and pointless. For example, you can output a video as a split screen or a quad screen (four little screens showing different parts of the same video), as well as a ‘ring’ mode which just makes the video look odd.

           

          kodak editing software
          A screenshot of Kodak’s editing software. You can load footage from the camera itself if it’s connected (by selecting ‘DV’ in the path section on the bottom LHS) or open a folder on your computer (by selecting ‘disk’).

          The software can also serve as a remote viewfinder if your camera’s attached or connected via Wi-Fi, and you can record what the camera’s seeing. While this is interesting, for most users these additional features won’t be required. Still, if you’ve got an SP360 4K then this software’s useful to split up files or turn ultra-wide footage into more normal footage.

           


          Kodak’s smartphone app

          This app is available for free on both Android (here) and iOS (here). With it you can use your smartphone as a remote for your SP360 4K and live view what your camera sees, which is a plus given that the cams themselves have no viewfinder. Connecting is relatively easy: you need to turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot and press the Wi-Fi button on the SP360 4K. And to connect them together you can either enter a code (each camera has a unique code located in the battery compartment) or more simply by using the NFC feature (you wave the phone near the NFC label on the cam).

          Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. We loved the idea of being able to use our smartphones as viewfinders, but we found the app to be rather buggy. It froze multiple times for us, and the live view feature didn’t work – we just saw a black screen. More infuriating still is the fact that when the app froze and we were pressing buttons trying to get it to work the colour mode of the camera changed. So, when we went out the following day trekking around London in the cold to take sample 360 footage we returned home to find that one of the cams had recorded beautiful footage… and the other cam had recorded everything in blue. I’m not exaggerating when I say that everything was blue. That’s right, blue.

          Another slightly annoying thing about the smartphone app is that you can only control a single camera at a time with it. So, if you’ve got two of them in a 360 rig then this app is pretty unhelpful.

           

           


          Problems

          I’ve already touched on a few of them earlier in this review, so I’ll just recap them briefly below.

           

          Can only shoot high quality in wide angle

          Yes, the SP360 4K has a spherical lens and therefore shoots ultra-wide angle footage. But the ability to shoot 4K in a narrower mode would have been nice. The 4K 16:9 mode shoots at 3840x2160p, but that’s still extremely wide, making this unsuitable for recording anything other than action shots where you want to capture everything. If you intend to use it for something more social then your friends might be disappointed at the colossal (and as to be expected) geometrical distortions. Yes, there is a “narrow” shooting mode when filming in FHD at 1080p. But we’ve already tested that mode and were very disappointed in the video quality.

          This isn’t a serious criticism of the SP360 4K per se, as it’s explicitly marketed as an action-cam. However, it is something to bear in mind if you’re considering buying it.

           

          The individual cams aren’t actually 360

          While the individual SP360 4K is marketed as an action-cam, one of its biggest selling points is being able to shoot 360 footage. But a single unit cannot do this as its maximum FoV is 235mm. You can reportedly use a single cam positioned low down facing upwards to get a 360’ish video, but the result is that you’ll have a massive black hole covering the lower half of the video, which isn’t great.

          However, once again, this isn’t a decisive criticism of the SP360 4K either, as you can use two of these together to shoot proper 360 footage. In a way this could actually be viewed as a strength: you can use a single unit as an ultra-wide angle high quality 4K action-cam, or two of them for 360. This is a rather unique feature that no other manufacturer has tapped into. Other 360 cams on the market such as the Ricoh Theta-S, not to mention other 360 cams soon to be released, such as the Samsung Gear 360 or the Nikon Keymission 360, all have two spherical lenses back-to-back in a single unit. While this is great and more convenient for 360 shooting, it also makes them one-trick ponies. You can’t realistically use them as single-facing action cams, and I’d be worried about breaking one of the lenses if I mounted it close to my helmet or body with only one lens facing outwards. And two of these together are simple and easy to use thanks to Kodak’s simple housing unit and stitching software. And at $899 for a pair (including free software and mounting equipment) you’re getting a reasonably decent 360 rig for a fraction of the cost of a GoPro one. And the footage quality is better than the competition (excluding a GoPro rig of course).

           

          The Smartphone app is glitchy

          We’ve already mentioned the problems we had with the app earlier. This annoyed us considerably. Hopefully Kodak will fix this later in the year so it doesn’t freeze up and so the live view function actually works consistently. And the ability to control two cams at once when shooting 360 videos would be a nice additional feature too.

           

          The stitching software is slow

          While the stitching software is easy to use and works most of the time, the rendering time isn’t good, at all. Kolor’s Video Pro software is significantly faster thanks to its ability to utilize your computer’s GPU as well as select how many of your CPUs cores to use. It would be nice if Kodak did something similar to speed up rendering time. I assume the reason the software doesn’t utilize more of your CPU or GPU is because it’s intended to function on a wide range of computers with different specs, and older and slower computers might struggling rendering 360 footage. While we understand and appreciate their reasoning here (if indeed that is their reasoning), it would’ve been nice to allow users the option to speed up rendering times.

           

          No colour setting icon on the LCD menu

          This is a minor quibble, but it’s something that caused us problems on one occasion: due to a glitch using the smartphone app the colour settings on one of the cameras was changed, but we hadn’t realised because the main screen on the action-cams doesn’t include an icon or any other information regarding what colour setting the camera is in. A consequence of this, as mentioned earlier, is that we spent over an hour shooting 360 video footage around London in the cold only to get home and find that none of the footage was usable because one cam had recorded everything with a blue tinge to it due to the odd colour setting. Yes, I know many of you reading this will lack sympathy for us and view it as our fault. But it would’ve been nice if the main LCD camera screen included info on the colour mode. It already includes info on the format (spherical or 16:9), the frame rate and resolution, etc. so adding an extra icon for colour would’ve been helpful, because at the moment you have to go into the menu system to double check, which is quite tedious.

           

          Stitching at a higher resolution

          As mentioned earlier, the highest output resolution offered by Kodak’s stitching software is 3840×1920. And to achieve that both cameras need to shoot at 2880x2880p (1:1). Kolor’s software can output the same footage at 4096x2048p. It would’ve been nice if Kodak’s software could output a bit higher too. Admittedly the difference in resolutions here isn’t especially significant, but every little helps.

           

          Cannot stitch together photos to make panoramas

          One very odd oversight by Kodak is the fact that while you can take photos (and even bursts of photos), both using individual cams and both of them simultaneously using the remote control, the Kodak software doesn’t enable you to stitch these together to create panoramas or photospheres. This is very puzzling to us. The stitching software is only for video footage, and their editing software doesn’t handle images either. In fact, we had serious problems stitching together images taken with these cameras. Microsoft ICE (or favourite image stitching software) couldn’t handle the spherical images, and PTGui struggled too. In fact so did Kolor’s Autopano Giga. So, if you planned on also taking cool 360 images using two of these devices then think again. The only way to do it seems to be to simply take screenshots of 360 video footage you’ve already stitched together.

           


          Summary

          Pros as a single action cam:

          • Small, compact and lightweight
          • Simple to use with a logical menu interface
          • Shock-proof
          • Splash-proof
          • Shoots in 4k (3840x2160p) at 30fps in 16:9
          • Excellent video stabilization
          • Extremely high quality sharp video footage at both 4k and 2880p
          • Decent battery life at approximately 55 minutes recording 4k and 2880p
          • Very wide angle to capture all the action
          • A wide range of mounts and accessories are cheaply available
          • Good value for money given all the features

           

          Cons as a single action-cam:

          • Some users might find the FoV to be too wide, with no high quality option for a narrower FoV. The 1080p (FHD) ‘narrow’ mode results in very bad quality footage
          • The 720p 120fps high-speed mode results in very poor quality footage and saves the video file at 30fps instead of 120fps
          • Low light capabilities, while fairly acceptable, could be better

           

          Pros as a 360 cam rig (using a pair of SP360 4Ks):

          • Extremely good value for money compared to a GoPro rig
          • Easy to use
          • Decent quality, vastly better than the competition (at the time of writing), with the exception of a GoPro rig
          • Comes with a wide range of mounts
          • Free stitching software available

           

          Cons as a 360 cam rig (using a pair of SP360 4Ks):

          • Quality could be better: still a bit soft
          • Due to the use of spherical lenses the resulting 360 videos lack the stereoscopic (i.e. 3D) effect when viewed through VR headsets and Google Cardboard. It’s still there, but only for objects very close to the camera

           


          Concluding remarks

          We’re in two minds about the SP360 4K. As an action-cam it has a lot going for it: it’s small, lightweight, has a lot of features and mounting accessories available, as well as being shockproof and splashproof independently from any housing accessories (unlike the GoPro). The video quality at both 4k (16:9) and 2880p (1:1) impressed us a great deal, with excellent exposure, sharpness and colours. And as a 360 camera rig it’s even more impressive: two of these tiny cams back to back are simple to use and give fairly decent 360 footage. We’re also impressed with the price tag. A single unit currently retails for $499.95 (£379.99) and a duo pack is currently available for $899 (£632). To put those prices in perspective compare that to a GoPro Hero 4 Black edition, which currently retails at around $400 (and around £400 in the UK). The SP360 4K performs marginally better in low light and is splash and shockproof without any cases or special mounts. You can end up spending a lot of money buying all those extras for the GoPro, while the SP360 4K comes with them. Furthermore, if you want to make a 360 camera rig using GoPros then you’ll need at least six of them, and buy a Freedom 360 camera rig, not to mention buying software. All that will cost you 6 x $400 for the cameras ($2,400) plus around $500 for the Freedom 360 camera rig mount, plus a pole. So you’re looking at around $3,824 for the whole setup. Ouch. Compare that to the $899 it costs to buy two SP360 4K cameras that come complete with the housing and mounting rig and the free stitching software. I bet the SP360 4K’s looking pretty attractive now, right?

          Of course, a GoPro rig (using Hero 4 Black editions) is a lot better than an SP360 4K rig. If you go on YouTube and look at GoPro 360 footage you’ll be impressed with the sharpness of the imagery when you compare it to the SP360 4K’s footage. However, for those of you who don’t have close to $4,000 spare and just want to make cool 360 videos that are decent quality and will look nice when viewed on a smartphone or a VR headset then this really is a no-brainer: get the SP360 4K. It’s simple to use, does the job, yields decent footage, each unit makes a great action cam as well, and it won’t break your bank account.

          You could of course wait and see what the Samsung Gear 360 or the Nikon Keymission 360 are like before taking the plunge and getting two SP360 4Ks. But from what we know so far you’re just as well off with the SP360 4K: unlike the Gear 360 we know you won’t be limited to only using it with a select range of Samsung smartphones (at this stage just the S7), and unlike Nikon’s Keymission 360 you’ll be able to use it as a single action-cam as well as a 360 rig.

          Overall, in spite of the numerous grumbles and quibbles we’ve raised, both about the device itself, the less than sharp 360 footage and Kodak’s stitching software, we were pleasantly pleased with the SP360 4K. Once we got used to the menu system and played around with it we had fun making a couple of videos. Here’s a 360 timelapse montage around London:

          It starts off slow but then builds up pace later on.

          And we turned the same footage into a ‘little planet’ video:


          We’ll be posting a separate how-to article later in the week explaining how we made both of these videos.

           

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          About Anatoleya 9 Articles
          Anatoleya is a London based photographer and videographer. www.anatoleya.co.uk