Nikon Keymission 360
- - Lightweight and compact
- - Extremely easy to use
- - Automatic video stitching
- - Dust, freeze, shock and waterproof
- - Poor exposure compensation and slightly fuzzy in areas of footage
- - No lens caps or protective pouch included
- - Smartphone app is glitchy and desktop software is very limited
- - No selfie stick included
- Product website: https://www.nikonusa.com/en/nikon-products/product/action-camera/keymission-360.html
- Release date: October 2016
- First Impressions
- Video Quality
- Underwater Filming
- Image Quality
- Using the Smartphone App
- Using the Desktop App
- Concluding Remarks
With Facebook and YouTube promoting more and more 360 video content it’s no surprise that more big companies are trying to establish themselves in the growing 360 consumer camera market. Over the past year we’ve reviewed the Ricoh Theta-S, the Kodak SP360 4K and the Samsung Gear 360. Now Nikon have finally thrown their hat into the ring and offered a 360 camera that promises to avoid the shortcomings faced by other models whilst making it easier than ever before to create and share high quality 360 content.
Nikon have released three different cameras as part of their new ‘Keymission’ range: the Keymission 360, the Keymission 170 and the Keymission 80. The numerical affix refers to the field of vision (FoV) of the camera: the 170 is your standard wide angle action-cam, the 80 is a tiny wearable camera clearly aimed at the vlogger market, and the 360 is the one that captures a full 360 FoV. This review will only be focusing on the Keymission360.
What’s so special about the Keymission360?
Besides being lightweight, dustproof, shockproof and waterproof, the Keymission360 is also supposed to be the most compact and easiest to use 360 camera on the market. With just two buttons on the device (one for 360 video recording and the other for taking 360 panoramas) it’s about as simple to use as possible. However, the most impressive feature of the camera is the fact that it automatically stitches your footage together. This is the feature that intrigued us most and we’ll be discussing it more later on in this review.
The box contains the following:
- 1x Keymission 360 camera
- 1x battery
- 1x micro USB cable
- 1x quick start manual
- 1x swivel head mount with a GoPro adapter base
- 2x sticky mounting plates
- 1x Rubber protector skin
- 2x underwater lens protectors
- 1x Google Cardboard
- Dimensions: 2.6″ (61.1mm) x 5″ (65.7mm) x 2.4″ (60.1mm)
- Weight: 198g (including battery and micro SD card)
- Sensor size: 2x 20.1mp 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor
- Lens: 2x 1.6mm (8.20mm equivalent in 35mm) f/2
- Fixed focal length: 30cm
- Image quality: 23.9MP
- Vibration reduction: yes, but not when shooting in 4k
- Waterproof: yes, to 20m with standard lens protection (30m with underwater lens protection)
- Shock–proof: yes (to approx. 6.6ft)
- Freeze–proof: yes (to approx. 14 degrees)
- Video recording quality: 4K (3840 x 2160p UHD)
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- NFC and Bluetooth (controlled via smartphone using the Nikon Snapbridge 360 app)
- Video modes:
- ISO range: 100 – 1600
- Standard tripod thread: yes
- Battery charge time: approx. 2.5 hours to full
- Battery usage time: approximately 1hr 10 mins (but will be less if connected to smartphone as Wi-Fi/Bluetooth will be enabled)
Key features (summary)
- Compact and lightweight
- Easy to use (two buttons, one for video and the other for images)
- 3840x2160p (4k UHD) video recording
- 9MP panorama images
- Automatic video stitching
- Dustproof, shockproof and waterproof
The first thing that struck us after unboxing was how small and compact the device is. Its dimensions are 61.1mm x 65.7mm x 60.1mm (2.6”x 2.5”x 2.4”) and it weighs in at 198g, making it more compact than the Kodak SP360 4K which requires the use of two of them mounted back-to-back to record 360 content. The fact the Keymission360 consists of two lenses in a single unit also has two other big advantages over the SP360 4K. Not only is it more compact, but there’s zero setup time. You don’t need to get two micro SD cards and mount two cameras back-to-back like the SP360 4K. With the Keymission360 you simply press a button to turn the device on and then press the button again to start recording. And the fact you’re controlling two lenses in a single unit guarantees that your two video streams will be perfectly synced up. Anyone using a multi-cam rig will know that synchronization is an issue. If all the cameras don’t start recording at exactly the same time then you’re going to have stitching problems later on. At best you’ll be able to fix this in post by using Kolor Video Pro, and at worst you’ll end up with unwatchable footage. The Keymission removes this problem by putting both lenses in a single unit.
The second thing that really struck us was the fact that the Keymission360 does not have an LCD screen, or any other kind of screen. However, this should come as no surprise when you realise how simple the device is to use. It consists of only two buttons – one for video and the other for photo. To turn the device on simply hold down one of the buttons for two seconds and a little green light will come on. Press the video button and a solid red light comes on to show it’s recording. Then just press that button again to stop recording. When you do this the red light will flash to show it’s stitching the two video streams together, and the red light will turn off once that’s finished. To take 360 photos simply press the photo button on the side. And to turn off the camera? Just hold the video button for 2 seconds. Simple.
However, another reason why the device has no LCD screen is because you can operate it via Nikon’s smartphone app, the SnapBridge 360. We’ll discuss this later in the review.
Shooting without using the smartphone app (i.e. by just pressing buttons on the device) will by default record at the maximum resolution of 4k UHD (3840x2160p). Interestingly, the two back-to-back lenses on the Keymission360 have identical specs to Kodak’s SP360 4K: same sensor size and focal length (35mm equivalent to 8.20mm) and they record at a similar bitrate (about 64MB/s for the SP360 4K and around 74MB/s for the Keymission360). But we also had to factor in stitching. As already remarked, the Keymission360 automatically stitches the two video streams together and saves a single 360 4k video clip in the camera’s micro SD card. But with the SP360 4K you have to use Kodak’s free stitching software (downloadable for free from their PixPro microsite) to stitch and render a single 360 video file (which can take rather a long time!) More often than not you’ll also have to manually tweak the settings to improve the stitching. But even then, when the camera’s moving the Kodak software fails and you’ll have a wobbly video where the two video streams intermittently become visibly disjointed.
For a comparison test we went to Piccadilly Circus and recorded a short stationary clip with the Keymission360 and then with the SP360 4K from the same position, both attached to a tripod. We chose Piccadilly Circus because it always has a lot of foot traffic and is therefore a good place to test out stitching quality. The Keymission footage was automatically stitched while the SP360 4K footage was stitched using their free software. No manual tweaks were applied to the results.
Notice any differences? We did. The first is that the Keymission360 footage is better stitched than the SP360 4K as there aren’t any noticeable join lines between the two back-to-back video streams. But there’s a subtle yet noticeable ghosting effect in the SP360 4K footage where the two video streams have been joined together. The footage is still watchable of course, but it is noticeable.
However, the second difference is that the exposure in the Keymission360 is less good than the SP360 4K. The Keymission footage is far darker and parts of the scene are a tad fuzzy in places. The SP360 4K footage is brighter all round and slightly sharper. It seems that the Keymission struggles to compensate for exposure gradients, as you’ll notice that the yellow’ish brick buildings in the SP360 4K footage have lost some highlight detail, and while those highlights have been preserved by the Keymission, this has been to the detriment of the rest of the scene, resulting in it being too dark.
The Piccadilly footage tested how well the Keymission fared while it was stationary but surrounded by a lot of movement. Our next test was to see how well it coped with stitching when the camera itself was moving. We used the base adapter that was included in the box to attach the Keymission360 to our bicycle helmet GoPro mount and cycled around wearing it. We already had sample footage with two SP360 4K cams (back-to-back) that we took earlier in the year and compared that to the Keymission360 footage.
There are two rather obvious differences here. The first is that the SP360 4K footage is not stitched well, at all. In fact it’s barely watchable as the two video streams wobble in and out of sync, while the Keymission360 footage has stitched rather seamlessly. Needless to say, we were rather impressed by this. But we weren’t surprised when we thought more about it. Most stitching software applies control points and other clever things to stitch together multiple video streams. But there’s no way the Keymission360 can do that internally on-the-fly given that it simply doesn’t have the processing power to do so. So how is it achieving such good stitching so quickly? The simple answer is that it’s stitching based on geometry, not motion. And as it only ever has to stitch the same geometrical dimensions it means the algorithm that’s part of the camera’s firmware just does this automatically, efficiently, and judging from the results, rather effectively too.
However, the second obvious difference between the two video clips is that the Keymission360 exposure is rather off. Once again, just like in the Piccadilly Circus clip we showed earlier, the exposure has failed to compensate between the sky and the foreground, and it’s resulted in a foreground that’s too dark.
Nikon kindly sent us on a day out flying a microlight (thanks Nikon!) We flew several times using different rigs. During one flight I attached the Keymission to my helmet using the mounting base that came with the Keymission to a GoPro sticky mount stuck to the helmet. This time the exposure in the Keymission footage was vastly better than the other test samples we’ve included in the review so far, presumably because being up in the sky meant the exposure was uniform without shadows from buildings. You’ll also notice that the stitching was pretty good. There are a few noticeable errors on the vertical bar I’m holding but apart from that it’s pretty good.
The camera comes with two underwater lens protectors and is waterproof up to 30m. However, it should be noted that the two lens protectors result in a black line being visible across the video. We don’t have any footage of this as we didn’t test the cameras underwater. But it’s something any potential buyer should be aware of if they plan on using the Keymission360 for 360 underwater filming.
Anyone interested in buying the Keymission360 will do so for the 360 video quality, not for 360 images. Though having said that, if you’re thinking of getting the Keymission360 then it’d be nice to know how it fares when it comes to 360 images. Well, the quality is excellent, capturing 23.9MP images, with stitching quality on par with the video stitching quality (as you’d expect). However, we haven’t bothered including any samples in our review because we couldn’t get the smartphone app to work properly to remotely control the camera to take any! Without the app it meant we had to just press the photo button while holding the camera. And that resulted in high quality panoramas with our faces and upper bodies looking ridiculously distorted. And we thought we’d spare you having to see the results of that!
Using the smartphone app
The Keymission is designed to be used with their SnapBridge 180 smartphone app, available for both Android and iOS. The app is supposed to be able to allow you to do the following:
- remotely control the camera to record video and take photos
- adjust the camera’s settings
- preview images and 360 videos taken with the Keymission360
However, we encountered serious difficulties using the smartphone app. We tried it with several Android devices (a Note 5 and a Google Pixel) and an iPhone 6S and encountered similar problems. We managed to connect our phones to the Keymission360, but a lot of video recording options weren’t displayed when they were supposed to be. And for some baffling reason the recording cut out even when the app said the phone was connected. And then even after we manually turned off the camera it then suddenly turned itself on several times. In the end we gave up trying to use the app and settled for operating the camera manually (i.e. by just pressing the buttons).
In defence of Nikon we should point out that we received the Keymission360 well in advance of the launch date so Nikon didn’t have time to iron out any glitches in the smartphone app beforehand. And we’re confident that by the time the Keymission360 is released those glitches will have been resolved.
Using the desktop app
Nikon have also released a desktop app, available for both Windows and Mac (downloadable here: http://downloadcenter.nikonimglib.com/en/download/sw/79.html).
It was very basic and allows users to apply colour effects such as monochrome, trim the footage and apply music before uploading to YouTube. Nothing else much to say really.
We’ve already touched on several problems earlier, but we’ll list them here along with a few others.
- Poor exposure compensation: the Keymission360 can’t calibrate the exposure to strike a balance between the sky and the lower/foreground. So unless you’re shooting on a bright sunny day then you’re likely to end up with footage that’s far too dark.
- Glitchy smartphone app:given that the Keymission360 doesn’t have an LCD screen the smartphone app’s rather important, especially for taking 360 images because if you just press the photo button on the camera then you’ll ruin the image by being in the middle of it and looking rather ridiculous. This was a massive let down and given the app’s importance Nikon really should have ensured it was free of glitches prior to launching their Keymission range of cameras. Hopefully they’ll release an update soon that’ll resolve these issues.
- No lens protectors or protective pouch/case: given how huge the two spherical lenses are it means they can easily get scratched. Therefore you’d have expected Nikon to have the foresight to include lens protectors like Kodak did with the SP360 4K (or any other camera, for that matter). But not Nikon. As a result we were constantly worried about scratching, bumping or smudging the lenses. Given that they’re positioned on both sides of the device this means that making sure they avoid touching something is no easy feat. In the end we had to keep the camera in the small plastic bag and we actually used the Kodak SP360 4K protective padded case to transport the Keymission360 around. This was a really sloppy oversight by Nikon. The underwater lens protectors aren’t the same as full lens protectors of course, and Nikon should have included both.
- No selfie stick or other mounting systems: the camera came with a mount base adapter that’s compatible with the GoPro mounting ecosystem. But it would’ve been nice if it also came with a few things too. Most important is a selfie-stick, because if you physically hold the device then your hand will be in the way and look rather odd in the resulting footage (and it’ll ruin any images you take, as already mentioned), and its dimensions don’t make it particularly ergonomic to hold and carry around in a way that feels secure and safe. The SP360 4K came with a selfie stick that also had a tripod threaded base. Nikon should have done the same. We had to go out and buy a selfie-stick before we could conduct any tests. This was another poor oversight by Nikon.
- Underwater lens protectors create a black line across the footage: we mentioned this earlier, and while we had no intention of doing any underwater filming with it so it didn’t bother us, it is something potential buyers should be aware of if they’re planning on using the Keymission360 for underwater 360 filming.
- No option to save the two separate video streams to manually edit:while the automatic stitching feature is extremely impressive and usually does a great job, there are occasions when it doesn’t quite get it right. And that’s when it would’ve been nice to be able to manually stitch the two video streams together in, say, Kolor Video Pro. However, the Keymission360 doesn’t offer that as an option as it only saves the stitched video clip and there appears to be no way to also save the two individual video streams. This was slightly annoying, but admittedly it’s not a feature most people would care about.
- Limited software offered by Nikon to edit the 360 footage: While Nikon have included free desktop software (as briefly mentioned earlier) its features are rather limited. You can apply a few colour tweaks, trim the footage and adjust it to display in 4:3 or 16:9 along with a few other novelties (none of which I expect anyone will actually use), but it doesn’t actually allow you to apply any useful edits to the footage, such as adjusting the horizon position.This is rather important because if you’re moving around with the camera then the horizon can end up going in odd directions and positions, so being able to change that would have been nice. If you watched the 360 cycling sample clips earlier in this review then you’ll notice that the central position goes in odd directions. Being able to adjust that would have made it more watchable. Anyone with Adobe Premiere Pro will still be able to adjust the horizon position (and a few other variables) using the GoPro VR plugin, which is free if you download the GoPro VR viewer. However, anyone without Premiere Pro will just have to accept viewing the stitched 360 footage in the angles, orientations and positions that the Keymission360’s auto stitching has decided to give you.
- Additional remarks: There is one additional issue we haven’t addressed yet: the fact the Keymission360’s effectively a one-trick pony. With Kodak’s SP360 4K duo pack you had a versatile rig: you could use two back-to-back for 360 filming and you could use them individually as action cams using a variety of different settings (2880x2880p spherical mode or 3840x2160p 4K UHD as well as 1080p and 720p 120fps slowmo). But with the Keymission360 it’s a one-trick pony – you can film in 360 or take images in 360. And nothing else. However, this isn’t a criticism of the Keymission360 at all. If anything we view it as a strength. To see why we need to compare the price of the Keymission360 with the price of the Kodak SP360 4K duo pack. The Keymission360 currently retails for £419 while the SP360 4K duo pack retails for £750 and a single SP360 4K retails for around £340. A single SP360 4K isn’t comparable to the Keymission360 while the duo pack is – and the Keymission360 is just under £300 cheaper. And if you want a single action camera then you can get the Keymission170 for £329. So, £419 + £329 = £748, which is £2 cheaper than the SP360 4K duo pack. In short, if you think the Keymission360 is a one-trick pony compared to the competition (e.g. the SP360 4K) then you’ve misunderstood what Nikon are trying to achieve with their new Keymission range of action cameras. By releasing three different cameras for different functions (the 360 we’re reviewing, the 170 and the 80) at affordable prices you can get a camera that meets your specific And as each camera is designed for a specific function (in this case, 360 filming) the device ends up being as intuitively simple to use as possible. So you don’t need a menu system or LCD screen because the Keymission360 doesn’t need one. And you don’t need multi-functionality (e.g. 360 filming as well as standard single lens recording) because if you need a normal action cam then you can get the Keymission170 and the Keymission360 for just below the cost of an SP360 4K duo pack. In short, the simplicity and single purpose of the device is a glowingly positive feature rather than a deficiency.
- Compact and lightweight
- Extremely easy to use (one button press for video/photo)
- 4k 360 FoV capture
- Automatic stitching
- Dust, freeze and shock-proof
- Excellent value for money
- Nikon software to edit 360 footage is extremely limited
- No option to manually stitch both video streams separately
- Smartphone app extremely glitch
- No lens caps/protectors included
- No camera pouch/protector included
- No selfie-stick included
- Poor exposure compensation and slight fuzziness in areas
While we’ve raised quite a few criticisms of the Keymission360 that doesn’t mean we weren’t impressed by it. The lack of any lens protectors, camera pouch or selfie-stick are unfortunate but you can buy them separately. And while the exposure can be a bit off at times the automatic stitching is for the most part rather spot on. And that’s why the Keymission360 is such an attractive camera. It’s the simplest 4k 360 camera we’ve come across – small, lightweight and compact, but incredibly easy to use. We’ve used rigs where we have to set everything up with multiple cameras (often on 3D printed mounting rigs we’ve designed ourselves that usually have a few flaws) and triggering multiple cameras simultaneously is also tedious (as well as rotating the rig and making a noise to ensure audio and motion synchronization works when we’re stitching in Kolor Video Pro later on). The SP360 4K duo rig works pretty well with the supplied remote, but you still have to use two cameras (checking both cameras and micro SD cards, then attaching them to the dual mount, and then making sure the remote is working with both of them, and then stitching afterwards of course). But with the Keymission360 all of that’s taken care of due to both lenses being housed in a single unit – just press the big record button and the synchronization and stitching are taken care of. So the old chores of a tedious pre-shoot setup and post-shoot stitching are no more. And those things alone are enough to make us praise Nikon’s offering to the 360 consumer camera market.
Is the footage quality good enough for professional commercial use? No, it isn’t. If you’re interested in professional 360/VR production then you should get the GoPro Omni rig. But the Keymission360 isn’t aimed at that market, and nor has it pretended to be anything other than what it claims to be – a simple and fun consumer level 360 camera that’s ultra-simple to use. We had a lot of fun playing with this camera and while the footage didn’t look amazing on our large desktop monitors, it looked pretty good on our smartphones after uploading to Facebook and YouTube. The real let-down is the smartphone app (as already mentioned), but I’m sure Nikon will release an update for that which rectifies the problems in the near future. We were using the first version after getting hold of an advance release of the camera so while we were sorely disappointed at the app, we weren’t immensely surprised by its glitches.
So, do we recommend the Keymission360? Well, that depends. Do you want a super compact device that’s effortless to use and fool- proof (one touch button to start/stop recording), that’s shockproof, waterproof and dustproof? Do you want a device that eliminates the hassle of stitching different video streams together to create a 360 video? If the answer’s yes to any of these questions then our answer to you is YES. GO AND BUY A KEYMISSION360. But just make sure you buy a selfie-stick and a protective pouch/case beforehand.