Earlier last year, I started playing around with 360° picture capabilities as more of a fun hobby while visiting the Disney Parks. There’s so much going on around you that I thought it would be fun to capture the entire scene, rather than a snippet.
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I started with my phone, a Google Pixel 5 that had photosphere capabilities built right into the camera app. I took a couple of pictures at Walt Disney World in January 2021 and really liked how they turned out, particularly this Main Street USA capture:
There’s some obvious defects, partial limbs without a body, weird stitching issues etc. That’s the problem with a phone app. You have to take 36 individual images to complete a sphere, so by the time you get back to some spots, the objects have moved. The fun glitches are when you have the same person in 3 different scenes.
When we went to Disneyland, I took an abundance of 360° images. For me, they’re fun to capture and look back on as you can look around and see things you may have initially missed. There’s also the challenge of staying in one spot, spinning around in circles to complete the sphere. I was on Route 66 in Cars Land standing in the middle of the road for a couple minutes when this lady wheels her double stroller straight at me and plainly said “can you move please!” Ok, I guess so, maybe don’t drive your stroller straight at someone taking pictures.
With our coming Christmas trip, I started looking at potential 360 cameras and found a camera called the Panono 360 Ball Camera that promised high quality images. I read several good reviews from when it first came out several years ago. However, I was not impressed with the price tag. So I went on eBay and found a unit at a fraction of the cost.
Prior to the Disney trip I only briefly played around with it at home. Then a couple nights before our trip, we went to the local zoo to see their Christmas Lights display, where I was able to take some fun and unique pictures.
The camera itself is really simplistic with an on/off switch and option to take a pic straight from the unit, along with a selfie stick that connects to the bottom of the ball. Unfortunately, the shutter button is placed on the top of the ball so you have to wrap your hand around the ball to take a picture. You then have a portion of the image filled with your hand. The selfie stick plugs directly into the unit and you can charge the unit by plugging the adapter into the selfie stick, so I’m not sure why no one thought to include a shutter button on the stick. That would have worked so much better than the methods they came up with.
The other option to take pictures is by connecting the phone app to the camera balls wireless network. It’s something that should be fairly seamless once set up the two are initially connected. Unfortunately, almost all (75%) of my complaints center around this functionality. I would get to a place where I wanted a picture and stand there either trying to get the phone app to recognize the camera or waiting for the 2 to connect. Sometimes the app would spin with no information on what was going on before failing after a couple minutes.
The stitching is done externally of the app and has to be uploaded to the company website. Apparently, in 2017 or 2018, the company began charging for this service, .80Euro per upload. One of the best parts about this camera though is the stitching. It seems no matter how the image quality turned out, the stitching looked fantastic. This next picture is probably the best picture I took with the camera:
The image quality is sharp, the stitching is fantastic and moving around the image is very smooth. Unfortunately, picture quality wasn’t always this good. A lot of the pictures were just sort of so so. This one in Pandora had a nasty sun spot or glare in it. I’m sure because the sky was overcast and the sun found a spot to peak through nearby:
Objects in motion appeared to create ghost images, making the image appear silly.
And then some images were just downright awful. I tried to take a night picture of the Tree of Life Awakenings as well as the front entrance to view the Christmas tree and main sign by standing between the two objects.
Once I overcame the challenges of connecting the unit to my phone so I could take a picture, then having some pictures I wanted to see, I was tasked with downloading the pictures from the device to the phone and then uploading them to the website, where I could then download a zip folder of all the images.
Despite how easy this all sounds, I once again was tasked with frustratingly fumbling around in the app trying to figure out if I had downloaded the pictures to the phone or uploaded them to the website to get stitched. And once uploaded, it wasn’t very obvious that you had to log into your account on their website to download the zipped folder.
Regardless of the issues I had with image quality and struggling with the app, I really, really liked the stitching quality, especially on the good pictures.
However, because of the difficulty I had getting the ball to connect to the phone when I wanted to use it, this camera device was deemed ineffective early on the second day of the trip. I was standing in front of Cinderella Castle in the hub and wanted a shot of all the people gathering around for the parade and it just would not connect. I packed it up and put it away and decided to use my phone the rest of the trip.
So now I’m back to where I started, a phone with a camera. I upgraded to the Google Pixel 6 when it came out in October. It’s convenient to access the camera, great image quality, but at times, questionable stitching quality with parts of the picture missing. I’ve begun researching my next 360° camera. I initially didn’t think I’d like a fisheye 2 camera unit, but that’s looking like one of the few options. From what I’ve seen, the results look really good, so now I just need to figure out which camera will suit my needs.
If you’ve had any experience with 360° cameras and using them both indoors and outdoors, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.