LG made a really good point-and-shoot 360-degree camera for $200. It's what comes after you're done shooting that's lacking.
The current crop of 360-degree cameras have one thing in common: They're expensive at upward of $350. LG's 360 Cam is the one exception at the moment coming in at a more reasonable $200 (£200, AU$400).
A low price is a convincing argument when trying to get a lot of people to adopt a new technology. That's almost impulse pricing for a gadget like this, and I imagine for some it will be cheap enough to pick one up for the hell of it. If you like wowing your friends and family with the latest tech, the 360 Cam will definitely do that.
Instead of a ball like Samsung's Gear 360 or a box like the Nikon KeyMission 360, this two-lens camera looks very similar to Ricoh's Theta cameras, though the LG is short and stout, not long and slim. A plastic sheath securely slides over its lenses, protecting them when you slip it in a pocket or toss in a bag. And when you're ready to shoot, just remove it and use it as a handgrip by clicking it onto the camera's bottom.
The camera's lenses each have an angle of view of 200 degrees -- ample coverage for stitching together for a single spherical image. A quick press of the shutter release just below the lens snaps a 16-megapixel 360 selfie (5,660x2,830 pixels) or a slightly longer press starts it capturing some 2K-resolution video (2,560x1,280 pixels). But before you start snapping, you'll need to pop in a microSD card for storage: It supports cards up to 2TB (should those ever exist), which isn't included.
Without a screen and just two buttons -- the shutter release and power -- you'll have to use the LG Cam Manager mobile app to do anything beyond simple photo and video captures. Available for iOS and Android, the app gives you control over the camera and lets you preview and review your shots.
Connecting a phone to the camera is as simple as selecting it from your phone's Wi-Fi settings like you would any other wireless network. The camera also creates a low-power Bluetooth connection with your phone, so that the next time you open the mobile app, it will automatically switch on the 360 Cam and connect via Wi-Fi. This worked better with Android devices than iOS ones, however.
Most people will likely stick to the camera's Auto mode, but the app does give you manual control of shutter speed, exposure compensation, white balance and ISO sensitivity. You can also turn on or off location tagging, use a 3- or 10-second self-timer (perfect for using with a selfie stick to avoid extreme distortion from its fish-eye lenses), and turn off one of the lenses for those times when you don't want 360-degree photos and video.
Overall, the LG is fun and easy to shoot with, even if you do need the app to do most things. It's after you're done shooting that the experience starts to fall apart. For starters, whenever you want to view a photo or video you've taken, it has to be transferred to your phone first. Most photos only take a second or two, but it's much slower for video, and, naturally, the longer a clip is, the longer it takes. (By the way, the camera can continuously record until your microSD is full or the battery dies, but it creates a new file every 20 minutes.)
From there you can upload photos and video to social sites. To get the full spherical effect and best results, you'll have to share photos to Google Street View or Facebook and video to YouTube or Facebook. Flickr also supports 360-degree images, but the processing isn't as good.
There's also no way to edit clips or photos before you upload with the app. You can use other apps or desktop software to edit once they're imported using the mobile app or LG's desktop viewer, but the results won't look the same as the original. The video below, for instance, was imported with LG's app and then edited with Adobe Premiere. Then it was injected with metadata using this free YouTube application, so that when you upload, YouTube (or Facebook) knows it's a 360 video.
The stitching, which is actually pretty seamless straight from the camera, is readily visible once it's been edited. It's something that could be fixed with stitching software, but that sort of kills the whole shoot-and-share aspect of this and other connected cameras. Basically, if you want to edit video from this camera, be prepared to use stitching software to make it look better.
The video above was again transferred from the camera to my phone and uploaded to Facebook. While there is some softness around the stitching, it is considerably better than the edited video. The stitching is more noticeable with still images such as the one below. Complex subjects such as trees or buildings or people are a challenge. Plus, there's quite a bit of purple and green fringing around high-contrast subjects and noise becomes a problem in anything other than daylight.
Played back directly on a phone or tablet using LG's app, the 360 Cam's photos and video look good, though. The quality isn't quite there for viewing in a VR headset or blown up large on a computer monitor, but in my experience most people get caught up in exploring the images to care too much about the overall quality.
It might not blow you away with it's image quality, but as an entry point for capturing 360-degree photos and video, the LG 360 Cam doesn't disappoint. That said, the Ricoh Theta S is more of an end-to-end solution with editing capabilities and easy sharing to more social networks.