Virtual reality isn't going away. But it's nothing without content.
That's where cameras like the Nokia Ozo come into play.
Looking like something that stepped straight out of a sci-fi movie, this is a 360-degree stereoscopic camera ready for the VR revolution. We had hands-on time with the camera over several weeks, learning the ins-and-outs of creating 360-degree video with a professional setup worth US$45,000. (The camera was originally priced at US$60,000 when it was first announced back in December.)
Note that this isn't a full rated review, but hands-on impressions of using the camera and what it's like to navigate the Ozo workflow.
Let's check the specs
Each of the camera's eight lenses has a 195-degree field of view with a fixed aperture of f/2.4. Behind every lens is a 2K x 2K sensor. There is significant overlap from one lens to another which gives the user much more control at the stitching stage. The Ozo shoots at 30 frames per second, which is the "live video" standard rather than 24 frames you usually see with film.
The camera uses a global shutter as opposed to a rolling shutter, generally considered more accurate in representing motion. There are eight microphones dotted around the exterior to capture spatial audio synced to the video capture.
Apart from the camera unit itself, the Ozo needs additional components to complete the package. The first is a digital cartridge that contains both the battery and 500GB of storage. It holds around 45 minutes of footage and the entire cartridge slots neatly into the protrusion at the back of the camera. The second is a docking station that acts as a charging hub for the cartridge and as a transfer device to get footage to a computer.
All these components fit in a hard-shell rolling case that comes with the camera, which you'll need because the unit weighs 9.3 pounds (4.2kg). The Ozo also has a removable cover that protects the lenses from the elements.
But wait, there's more. On top of the camera and digital cartridge, you also need an SDI and Thunderbolt cable, a computer, plus a BlackMagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder to get things going. These components are not included with the Ozo.
The SDI cable sits in the back of the Ozo, feeding into the BlackMagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder. This BlackMagic box allows for real-time monitoring through the Ozo Remote app that can only run on a Mac Pro or a 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro with discrete GPU. The best part about this configuration is that you can actually live monitor the shot before you hit record.
Once everything is plugged in and ready to go, load up the Ozo Remote app to set the exposure, check framing and start and stop recording. Adjustments can also be made to the shutter speed and color temperature, though the camera's ISO is set at 400.
Using the Ozo Remote software is straightforward. Once you set exposure for lighting conditions, you don't need to keep the computer tethered. That being said, it would be incredibly useful for Nokia to release a mobile app that could do away with the computer when shooting in the field.
All this equipment and the setup process might seem like a lot of hassle, but other professional-grade 360 cameras on the market like the Freedom 360 spherical camera rig have their own quirks. With six GoPro cameras, that means six microSD cards, six record buttons to press and six resulting video files that need to be stitched together in post-processing. (GoPro's own 6-camera rig, the GoPro Omni, looked promising in an early demo, but we haven't yet tried it ourselves.)
Processing and crunching
The Ozo can produce both monoscopic and stereoscopic video, with the user being able to select shooting with either the four cameras around the center ring or all eight simultaneously.
Monoscopic video is created from a 360-degree image where both eyes are seeing the same file. Stereoscopic video is when two separate files are viewed with each eye. This creates the appearance of depth, otherwise known as 3D.
Once you have the video file from the Ozo, it gets imported into the Ozo Creator software. Like Ozo Remote, this requires specific hardware to run. A late-2013 Apple Mac Pro 6-Core CPU, and either Dual AMD D500 or Dual D700 FirePro GPUs running OS X 10.10 Yosemite.
Stitching also happens at this stage. The software creates a default stitch although you can adjust the lines and the overlap as necessary by moving around the seams across the image. When you're happy with the stitch, you have a number of export options such as creating an MP4 image or a DPX file for a cinema experience.
Once the software crunches the footage into a 360-degree image -- this will take several hours or overnight depending on how much you've shot -- it can be imported into an editing suite like Adobe Premiere. Alternatively, you can complete the cut within Ozo Creator.
For our workflow, we imported the footage from Ozo Creator into Premiere, which allowed us to add titles, and effects and also sync audio taken with an external recorder. The latest update to Premiere lets you view 360-degree footage, although it's not as fluid as using a third-party plug-in like Kolor Eyes that reflects edits in real time.
We took the Ozo on three very different shoots. The first, which you can see below, involved attaching the camera to the interior of a car for CNET's sister site Roadshow. The exposure was set for the exterior rather than the interior of the car to avoid blowing out highlights. For this shoot we also mounted the Freedom 360 rig with GoPro cameras to the exterior for an alternate viewpoint.
The second was at the manufacturing plant for Green Toys in San Leandro, California. With overhead fluorescent lighting and little natural light, it was a good test to see how the camera coped with interior shots.
Lastly, you can explore a vista of San Francisco from Crissy Field in the sample below.
Bear in mind that YouTube compresses video so these samples are at a different quality to the file that comes straight out of the camera.
So by now you probably want to know if this camera worth the $45,000 asking price?
As VR continues to evolve, you can use it to do much more than just create 360-degree footage -- which is how we primarily used the Ozo. This camera will let the producer, filmmaker or studio grow into it. Even in our time testing the camera, Nokia continued to push out new software and updates to add functionality.
Admittedly, the Ozo is not a camera that's designed for the hobbyist consumer. It's for professional video makers and Hollywood studios who want to experiment with an all-in-one VR capture experience.
It's easy enough to use once you understand the quirks of the workflow, but it's not as straightforward as plugging it in and going on a shoot.
On the less expensive end of the spectrum sits a multi-cam solution like the aforementioned GoPro Omni. It consists of six GoPro cameras in a rig that automatically syncs recordings. While we haven't yet fully reviewed the Omni, on paper the editing and post-production process appears to be much simpler than the Ozo, with the software quickly creating a stitch and render within a few minutes for a short 1 minute 4K video.
The Ozo is an incredibly innovative camera system. Given Nokia's track record of rolling out new functionality and improvements (as well as a significant price drop) it's definitely going to make waves in the VR production field, but whether it becomes industry standard or not remains to be seen.
The Ozo is available in the US for US$45,000 and Europe for €40,000. It will be released in September in China with equivalent pricing announced soon.