Best 360-Degree Cameras
You don't see the world around you in a rectangle or a square, so why should limit yourself to that view in photos and videos? The first wave of 360-degree cameras has arrived, and they let you record everything going on around you at once. If you have a VR headset, such as the Gear VR or Google Cardboard, you can enjoy that trip to the Grand Canyon, family birthday party or rockin' concert in virtual reality and really feel as if you were there. Or you can just watch 360 clips on your phone or laptop after uploading them to YouTube or Facebook.
After testing several 360 cameras and evaluating them on video quality, field of view, water resistance, ease of use and other factors, our top pick is the 360fly 4K ($499). Although it doesn't take a full 360-degree image in every direction, its image quality was among the best, it was easy to use, and its app was the most full-featured. Our favorite budget model is the Samsung Gear 360 (2017), which costs $179 and takes great pictures for its size. However, it only works with Samsung smartphones and some iPhone models. Another low-priced option is the LG 360cam ($135), which doesn't take as good a picture, but is even smaller, and works with many more phones.
There are a few new 360 cameras on the market, including the $799 Garmin Virb 360, an expensive, but full-featured device you can take anywhere. Stay tuned for our full review.
How We Tested
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.
I attached a long selfie stick to the front of my mountain bike, and, after connecting various cameras to it, went for a number of rides along the George Washington Bridge, and other locations in northern New Jersey. Along the way, I was stopped many times by people wanting to know just what I was doing. A few cognoscenti who recognized what I was doing would exclaim, "Cool! Is that a 360 camera?"
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 360-degree camera app, and use your phone's display as a viewfinder. For the most part, connecting the cameras to my iPhone 6s (or Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge) was an easy process, and the video feed from the cameras was relatively smooth and stutter-free.
Not all the apps made it easy to share videos, though. Some, such as Kodak's and LG's, required me to download my videos to a computer and convert them there into a format that could be interpreted by YouTube and Facebook as a 360-degree video or photo.
Other 360 Cameras Tested
New and Notable 360 Cameras