Why record only what's happening in front of you? The best 360 cameras let you film everything around you, which makes for incredibly immersive experiences, especially if you're using a VR headset.
But the best 360 cameras have another trick: Super-smooth video. That's because they can identify the horizon and automatically level your video, no matter how bumpy. Try that with a regular action camera and see what happens.
From their earliest iterations just three or so years ago, 360 cameras have come a long way. Not only are they smaller, but companies have added more sophisticated technology so that you can track people and objects, no matter where they move around you.
What are the best 360 cameras?
After testing more than a dozen models and evaluating them on video quality, field of view, water resistance, ease of use and other factors, we think the best 360 camera for most people is the Insta360 One X ($399). It's small and portable, and its stick-like design means you can easily hold it in your hand, though it does have a standard tripod mount at the bottom.
The Insta360 One X app works with both Android and iOS smartphones, and lets you mot only view what the camera is seeing on your phone, but also livestream it to social media. The camera also has some great features, such as the ability to record Matrix-like "bullet-time" videos. Perhaps its best feature, though, is its ability to create motion-stabilized video to smooth out those rough rides.
Our favorite budget 360 cam is the Samsung Gear 360, which, having come out in 2017 is a bit old, but takes good pictures for its size and price. However, it only works with Samsung smartphones and some iPhone models. Make sure you check out all of our top picks for DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and more on our best cameras page.
Another camera we're in the middle of testing is the Insta360 One R. It has a modular design, so you can use it with one of three camera modules: A traditional 1/2.3 camera module, a 360 camera module, and a 1-inch camera module designed by Leica. Stay tuned for our review.
The best 360 cameras you can buy today
When it comes to 360 cameras, Insta360 has been a pioneer in the category, developing not just new hardware designs, but innovative software and features, too. The Insta360 One X is the best 360 camera, as it combines the best of both.
The Insta360 One X has a smooth rectangular shape that makes it easy to slide in and out of your pocket. While it has a tripod mount, it's just as simple to hold in your hand, too. Controls are simple: One button to record, and one button to cycle through menus.
The One X features an updated image-stabilization feature that will make even the bumpiest videos look smooth. It can capture 5.7k video (5760 x 2880) at 30 fps, and 4K video at up to 50 fps. Its FlowState image stabilization algorithm helps smooth shots, and a TimeShift feature lets you slow down or speed up specific segments of your videos. The One X can connect to Android or iOS devices via Wi-Fi or via USB, and lets you livestream videos, too.
Read our full Insta360 One X review.
Unlike most 360 cameras, the GoPro Hero Max has a small display on its back that lets you view what its cameras are looking at. While it's not as handy as it seems, the large display does make it easy to navigate and change the Max's settings without having to use your smartphone.
The GoPro Hero Max also has a HyperSmooth stabilization feature, so your bumpy video will look nice and smooth, and image quality from the camera — up to a max resolution of 5.6K/30 fps — lives up to GoPro's typical high standards. Plus, GoPro's app is loaded with features, including the ability to livestream video from the Max.
However, the GoPro Hero Max's design requires the use of a selfie stick, and lacks a tripod mount, so you have to use it with one of GoPro's accessories. At $499, it's about $100 more than the Insta360 One X, but the GoPro Max delivers.
Read our GoPro Max hands-on review.
The iPhone has one of the best smartphone cameras, but the one thing that it can't do is take 360 photos or video. The Insta360 One solves this problem; it plugs into your iPhone's Lightning port, and lets you capture everything around you at a resolution of up to 4K. (The company also makes a version of the Insta360 One for Android smartphones, too).
When plugged into your smartphone, the Insta360 One uses the phone's screen as your viewfinder, and lets you adjust camera settings, livestream to Facebook and YouTube, and more. But the Insta360 One can also be used without your smartphone, and has an awesome slo-mo "bullet-time" feature that lets you make Matrix-style movies, too. And, the camera also features Insta360's Flowstate stabilization, which keeps your video from looking bumpy and jumpy. And, Insta360's app has a number of clever editing tools to take full advantage of your 360 video.
Read our full Insta360 One review.
One of the issues with 360 cameras is that, because of their relatively small sensor size, they're not that great when it comes to low-light photography and videos. If you need a 360 camera for that purpose — and price is no object — then you should consider the Ricoh Theta Z1. This well-built device uses two 1-inch, backside-illuminated CMOS sensors, which helps deliver some of the best images we've seen from a 360 camera, especially under less than ideal conditions.
Additionally, the Theta Z1 has dual microphones, which delivered great audio, and the camera's motion stabilization was pretty effective too. The Z1 uses an Android-based operating system, and Ricoh is letting third-party developers create plug-ins for the camera, increasing its functionality. However, this camera lacks expandable storage, it has a relatively short battery life, and you need to use two different apps if you want to edit photos or video. But if you prize image quality above all else, this is the camera to get.
Read our full Ricoh Theta Z1 review.
Samsung was one of the first companies to make a truly useful 360 camera, and though it's been several years since it released anything new, its Gear 360 camera from 2017 still remains a fairly useful and functional device. The Gear 360 has a fun, lollipop-like shape that makes it easy to hold in one hand, and can even withstand a few splashes. It also has a tripod mount, if you want to attach it to your bike or something else.
The Gear 360 takes good photos and videos (up to 4K in size), and livestreams to Facebook and YouTube, too. However, there are a few big caveats: It only works fully with Samsung smartphones (from the Galaxy S6 and up), and while it works with the iPhone 7 and later, not all of the camera's features are supported. If you have a Samsung smartphone, though, the Gear 360 is a fun accessory.
Read our full Samsung Gear 360 review.
Small and compact, the Rylo 360's small GoPro-like profile makes it a great 360 camera for action sports, as its low profile is ideal for attaching to a helmet, bike, or any other action-y activity. However, if you're going to get it wet, you'll want to get the Adventure Case (sold separately), as this camera lacks any sort of waterproofing. The case, which is increasingly hard to find, costs around $70, and only provides water-proofing for up to 10 feet.
We liked the footage we shot with the Rylo 360, and what makes it even better is its motion stabilization, which keeps the horizon level no matter how bumpy the ride.
Before purchasing this camera, readers should note that Rylo has been acquired by VSCO. While Rylo will no longer make 360 cameras, the company will honor the warranty on existing cameras.
Read our full Rylo 360 review.
Now this is an interesting 360 camera. Not only does the Vuze XR take 360-degree photos and video, but its two cameras can pop out, parallel to each other, so you can take 180-degree stereoscopic images and video, too. If you've ever used a VR headset, these types of images add a real depth.
We liked the simplicity of the Vuze XR's mechanism — a press of a button causes the two camera to open — as well as the sturdy build of the camera itself. We also liked the lollipop-like design of the camera; its built-in handle made it a cinch to use and carry around. In general, the Vuze XR also delivered quality images and movies, but it had trouble in low-light conditions, and we wish its desktop app were more fully-featured.
Read our full Vuze XR review.
What to look for when buying a 360 camera
When shopping for a 360 camera, you'll find that they tend to fall into two camps: small, pocketable stick-style devices, and larger squarish (or circular) cameras. The former, such as the Insta360 One X, tend to be less expensive, and are designed for more casual and impromptu shooting. In the second category are cameras such as the Garmin Virb360, which are larger and more expensive, but tend to produce higher-quality video. Generally, the design of latter type of 360 camera also means you'll have to attach it to a tripod or some other mount if you want to capture good footage.
Be sure to think about how you plan to use a 360 camera before you purchase it; if you want to get some fun selfies with friends, then the stick-style cameras will fit your needs well. If you want to capture hair-raising exploits when you go skydiving or skiing, then a larger camera may be the better option.
How we test 360 cameras
You get a lot of weird stares and comments when you test 360 cameras. By now, people are used to seeing action cams like the GoPro, but both the shape and way you mount 360 cameras immediately draws attention.
As they need to capture a full 360 degrees of action, most 360 cams are designed with more than one bulbous lens. And, if you don't want half of the image to be the side of your head, you have to mount the camera pretty far from your body.
You'll also want a selfie stick. With few exceptions, the shape of most of these cameras made them hard to securely hold in my hand.
All of the cameras work with a smartphone in a similar manner; when you turn these cameras on, they all create a Wi-Fi hotspot, which you then connect to with your phone. From there, you open the companion app, and use your phone's display as a viewfinder. For the most part, connecting the cameras to my smartphone was an easy process, and the video feed from the cameras was relatively smooth and stutter-free.