Kodak Pixpro SP360 4K review: Versatile 360-degree camera in need of better software
The SP360 4K's single-lens design gives you more shooting flexibility than other 360 cameras, but you may find the included editing software frustrating.
Several of the companies rolling out consumer 360-degree cameras this year are new to the category, but not JK Imaging. The global licensee of the Kodak brand released the Pixpro SP360 in 2014, a tiny camera with a single big fisheye lens that can capture a 360-degree view on the horizontal axis and 214-degree angle of view to cover the vertical axis.
For 2016, the Pixpro SP360 4K widens the field of view to 235 degrees and ups the resolution for better detail than its predecessor. Plus, with just one lens, you get immersive content without needing to stitch together two or more images. And if you want full spherical imaging, Kodak makes that possible, too -- for a price.
At $900 (£750 and about AU$1,200 converted) for the SP360 4K Dual Pro Pack, it's not for someone who wants to casually shoot a few seconds of 360-degree video to post to Facebook or YouTube. Not that you couldn't do that, just that there are less expensive and easier-to-use options like the Ricoh Theta S. What the SP360 4K Dual Pro Pack buys you is shooting flexibility in one box.
With two cameras, you can mount them back to back and then stitch the video together with software to create 3,840x1,920-pixel resolution spherical video. Or you can use them separately to capture two different 360x235-degree videos. Or, because each camera can shoot flat 16:9-aspect video at resolutions up to 4K UHD (2160p), you can use them like you would regular cameras and mount them at different angles to create more compelling videos.
This flexibility is what you don't get with single-body cameras such as the point-and-shoot Ricoh Theta S or mountable models like Samsung's Gear 360. The other nice part of the SP360, you can always start with the $500 single-camera Premier Pack, which comes with a bunch of mounting accessories, and then add another SP360 4K for $450 if you decide you want to make spherical videos. Again, if you want a simpler -- and possibly cheaper -- camera for spherical video you'll want to look elsewhere, but if you want the potential to do more, consider the SP360 4K.
The Premier Pack's accessories are geared more for action cam-type uses including suction cup, handle bar/pole and helmet mounts. The Dual Pro Pack, on the other hand, will set you up for more stationary use with its selfie stick that can be mounted on a tripod as well as the suction cup mount and a mount to hold the kit's two cameras back to back.
This dual-camera mount is, unfortunately, a pain to use. It firmly holds the cameras, but to attach or remove them from the mount you'll need a screwdriver or a coin because I guess thumbscrews would've been too easy. The main issue is you need to remove the cameras to charge them or swap their batteries, connect them to a computer, or access their microSD card slots.
You can modify the included mount or pick up this 3D printed one to make the ports and card slots accessible. Also, since the cameras have standard 1/4-20 tripod mounts, you can create your own for your particular application. The cameras can actually be spaced pretty far apart because of how wide its lens is. So wide, in fact, Kodak was able to create a mount for 3DR's Solo drone that puts a camera on the top and bottom. (You can check out a video playlist using the mount on YouTube.)
If you're shooting 360-degree video, the highest resolution available is 2,880×2,880 pixels at 30 frames per second. There are, however, 15 resolutions to pick from as well as other shooting modes including time lapse and high-speed video for slow-motion clips. (Check out the user manual to see all that it can do.) Using the camera's buttons and tiny monochrome screen are terrible for changing a lot of settings. I recommend you download the SP360 4K app for iOS or Android to your smartphone and go that route instead.
Trial and error
When shooting with two cameras, you'll have to shut off their electronic image stabilization (EIS) and not use the auto white balance setting and have them both set to the same 1:1 resolution. There were times I thought I had done these things, but hadn't, which makes it much more difficult to get a good stitch. It also helps if you clap so that when you go to edit, the software has an audio cue to sync the clips.
Kodak includes a small remote that can be paired with up to 10 cameras at once so you can start them recording at the same time. It can control several things, but can't turn on and off EIS, which would be helpful considering how important having it off is for getting a good stitch.
The video above was created with a combination of Kodak's stitching software and Adobe Premiere Pro, though the latter was just used to combine the shorter clips into one video, and add music and the CNET graphic -- things you can do with the most basic video editing software. Once it hits Premiere or any other editor, though, you'll also need to run it through YouTube's metadata injector.
Kodak's included software does little more than combine your two videos into one and give you some very basic tools for improving the stitch and adjusting saturation, brightness, contrast and sharpness. While it's good that it's included, serious hobbyists (which I imagine you'd have to be to put down $900 for cameras) and professionals will need better software than what's provided.
Moving with the cameras, such as in the biking clip, makes it very difficult to keep the stitch consistent. You'll get better results if you keep the cameras stationary, which is probably why the Dual Pro Pack doesn't come with the action cam-type mounts of the single-camera Premier Pack.
If you're shooting with just one camera, I highly recommend wirelessly connecting to it with a smartphone when setting up your mounting position. Since it's not a spherical image, you lose the portion below the lens, which could result in cutting off your subjects or some unfortunate distortion. Along with previewing, you can change camera settings and control it, and transfer shot shots to your phone, but there is no way to edit.
Kodak provides separate editing software for working with single-camera video, which lets you create clips, join them and export to your computer and upload to YouTube. It does not, however, let you do anything with the audio. And neither piece of software is intuitive, so you'll want to read the manuals before you get started.
Uploading to YouTube (and Facebook for that matter) doesn't do the video quality any favors. The results straight from the camera do look very good in general with better detail than you'll get from cheaper models. You'll want to shoot with a lot of light, though, as low-light video is loaded with color noise and artifacts.
Overall, the Kodak Pixpro SP360 4K is a good choice if you're looking to do more than point and shoot. Using them can be frustrating, though, and you'll likely end up spending more money for better software and mounts. But if you want a midrange option between models like the Ricoh Theta S and solutions like those for GoPro cameras that require more than two cameras to get spherical content, it's a good fit.