Fast forward to Photokina in September of 2016 and Nikon launched not just one but three KeyMission cameras: the KeyMission 80, 170 and 360. Their names represent the angle of view you get from each camera. They are all waterproof, although to different extents. The KeyMission 80 costs 280 dollars, the 170 is 400 dollars and the 360 is 500 dollars.
The KeyMission line is a bit different for Nikon; they’re video-first cameras. This made us very excited — because, you know, we’re Videomaker. The KeyMission 360 is not a normal video camera, however. It shoots spherical 360 video. It achieves this via two opposing cameras with all the stitching done in camera, recording to a microSD card.
Let’s take it for a spin.
My desk faces the entryway at Videomaker World Headquarters. Whenever a delivery arrives, I get a front row seat to watch the presents coming my way. I’m like a kid on Christmas morning. We’ve been asking and waiting for a KeyMission 360 review unit since the original announcement at CES. Needless to say, when it finally arrived, we quickly opened the box to see the camera; new in box with a few extra accessories for mounting options. The selfie stick and the mini tripod are the two we would use most.
Our approach for this shoot was to film in the real world to see what weaknesses we might find, as well as its strengths.
After the two batteries Nikon provided were all charged up, we mounted the camera onto a mic stand with a ¼-20 adapter and took it out shooting. Our approach for this shoot was to film in the real world to see what weaknesses we might find, as well as its strengths. We captured a few different types of shots to create a narrative for the video review and to get test footage. Taking it to the beautiful Lower Bidwell Park here in Chico, California, we started out shooting static shots. Moving around the park, we shot low angle shots of the large sycamore trees we found and of the creek that feeds the public pool. To capture audio, we used the Lewitt Interviewer mic with a Tascam DR-10X XLR recorder connected to it. We raised the camera to eye level and did the A-Roll for our review. While shooting one of our A-Roll shots, an onlooker came over to what they believed was the back of the camera, just to be told it shoots in every direction. It's amazing how quickly people run from a camera they know can see them.
During that first shooting experience, what we like to call the discovery shoot– we didn’t use a monitoring device or control the camera via a smartphone. We just pressed record and went for it. This worked just fine. If the camera settings are the way you need them, monitoring might not be all that necessary, but lighting can be tricky. There is a front and back to this camera, but all it means is that the front is where your video will start from. The two cameras otherwise are identical.
We quickly uncovered some notable takeaways. The first is that because there are two lenses, leaving fingerprints on the lens windows was easy to do. We’d recommend bringing a lens cloth to wipe away the fingerprints and smudges. We cleaned it before every shot. The second takeaway wasn't realized until we played back the footage. If you stand too close to the camera near a stitch point, it’s likely the stitch will chop off some part of your body.
The stitch point was very easy to see in most cases. Depending on your lighting, the contrast between front and back cameras make for a very noticeable stitch. The feather where the two cameras meet is too abrupt for most lighting. On top of that, unless the stitch is really bad, it's hard to even notice when using the app on your phone for preview. A work-around that works pretty well is to make sure that your brightest light, in our case the sun, is near but not on a stitch point. This makes the lighting for the stitching better and the stitch is not as noticeable. For a dual-lens spherical video camera, it looks pretty good, just not perfect.
Continuing on our journey, we needed to see how good the spherical effect worked when the camera was moving. In the packet of information Nikon provided to us, they recommend not shooting while moving, but the KeyMission 360 is in an action camera housing, so we assume that this is a use some might buy it for. We were surprised that the stitch, when moving, wasn’t as noticeable. We think this is because the movement is distracting. When watching spherical video on a headset where the camera was moving, watch out: You could get motion sickness. For this reviewer, it doesn't take much. If you can stomach it, we tested movement on a swing and while driving a car. When the camera is moving, it’s harder for the viewer to establish where they are. A longer shot might be more necessary than one might think for the viewer to take in everything around them.
Having completed our more typical field tests, it was time to test its underwater capabilities. Since we only had one camera, we needed to make sure that if it failed underwater, we would still be able to complete the review. We tested it with and without the underwater setting on. Plus, we tried out the underwater lens protector that offers a flat window vs the standard dome. It’s been raining a lot in Northern California, so our streams were swelling with fresh snow run-off. The water is very clear and fast moving. We shot near magic hour, just before the sun set. After seven different underwater setups, the camera still functioned, and after being dried off, we opened up the battery and sd card bay and it was desert dry.
On the other hand, the underwater footage looked bad. Because of the way light refracts in water, the two cameras are so dramatically different that no matter what we changed, be it lighting, underwater setting, flat door or shooting situation. What each camera captures looks fine on their own and the underwater image is good, but the stitch makes it look like two very different shots were put together.
For some, editing spherical video is a bit scary. We are happy to see that spherical video production is far simpler now than it recently has been. Because the camera stitches the video in-camera, you can upload the file you just shot directly to Facebook or YouTube. We also edited it in Premiere Pro CC17, and we had no issues whatsoever.
We also tested two other movie modes. The first was superlapse, which is just sped up video. It offers 2, 4, 6, 10 and 15 times speed. The second was time-lapse movie, which involved taking a picture at an interval and composing it into a video file ready to post or edit. Both timelapse and superlapse look very similar and are much more interesting than just a normal speed video. We’d recommend using them where the lighting is changing with time, or where there are clouds or other types of weather that pass through the scene. There is also a loop recording mode to make a spherical video loop.
The audio is easily controlled through different recording level settings. The built-in mic is good for a scratch track to sync and is decent enough to use where dialog is not present.
The app you use to control the KeyMission is called SnapBridge 360/170. We tested it on a Samsung Galaxy S5, operating on Android Marshmallow. It wasn’t a hard process paring the camera with the phone. Once in the app though, there is a lot of work to be done. Too many options are found in menus within menus. Even after using it a while, because of how clunky the app is, we would just as well not use it if we already had the correct settings. We hoped it would be nice for previewing your shot, and it is good for that, but there isn't any framing needed with a spherical camera. We also thought that previewing the shot would help with camera placement, but the stitch isn't easily seen in the preview within the app.
One thing we should mention is that, currently, if you have the newest version of iOS 10.2, SnapBridge 360/170 does not function properly. Here is what Nikon has to say about it: “Nikon is currently working to address a compatibility issue between the new iOS 10.2 and the latest versions of the SnapBridge and SnapBridge 360/170 apps, and will provide an update as soon as possible.” They brought this problem to our attention and have kept us up to date on solutions. Prior to 10.2 the app worked fine, they are just working out the bugs. We appreciate Nikon for being so up-front about the issue, and because of this, we think an update will be ready just around the corner.
Who’s it for?
The whole KeyMission line is directed at enthusiasts and consumers. It wouldn't be a good choice for a high-budget production. With that said, the KeyMission 360 is easy to use and has acceptable picture quality — if you can place the stitch in the right place. We see the KeyMission 360 working well for real estate tours, vacation memories and as an entry into the spherical video world. There are many things to consider when shooting 360 that have nothing to do with the equipment. We feel that it would be a good choice for learning the workflow at a more affordable price point.
The Ricoh Theta S is the most comparable spherical video camera that we’ve spent time with. However, unlike the KeyMission, the Theta S isn’t 4K. It is, however, a simple camera to operate, and the form factor is easier to use than the KeyMission because it’s easier to hold and shoot without accessories. Another negative is that the Ricoh doesn't stitch in camera; you must use a smartphone with it. With the negatives, it is more affordable at $300, so there are savings, but because the Ricoh’s workflow is more difficult, we feel that the Nikon is a better option if you have any goal of editing your video.
Another budget friendly spherical camera is the Kodak PixPro ORBIT360 4K, but this one is not out yet as of this review. It will be $500 and does just about everything the KeyMission does, but is not nearly as rugged on the outside. We have not evaluated it, so we can’t attest to it’s image quality. However, we have seen both in person. Based on exterior looks and feel, the Nikon looks to be a better investment.
Lastly, if you are looking for a 360 rig that has a higher resolution and is ready to make money with, we’d suggest one with more than two lenses, like the GoPro Omini. Brace yourself though, it’s $5,000. That's ten times more than the KeyMission 360, but it's more than just a bunch of GoPros. Its a metal cage holds and controls six GoPro HERO4 Blacks, and it comes with all the software you need to stitch all of the shots together. Because it's an all-in-one unit, one camera controls them all. The ease of use during shooting is very much like the KeyMission; it's just more complicated in post. You’ll have six files to stitch that were taken off of six SD cards, and of course, you will have far more data to manage. But if you are looking to make money shooting spherical video, it's just about the most affordable professional turn-key solution out there.
Taking into consideration that the stitching is less than desireable and that its form factor lends itself to smudges on the lens, we like the KeyMission 360. It’s a good price for what it does. If you want to shoot spherical video in the rain or down a waterslide, it would be a good fit. However, even though it's waterproof, that doesn't mean the underwater image looks good. On the plus side, you can upload the files directly to Facebook or YouTube and it's easy to edit using Adobe Premiere Pro CC17. We had a good time shooting the camera, and though it has faults, they don’t disqualify it as a good camera, especially at $500. If this product was more money, its weaknesses would be a bigger problem.
- Recorded files can be uploaded directly to YouTube
- Rugged Build Quality
- Stitch is easily identified
- Because of light refraction, underwater video is bad
Nikon has made a robustly built, compact and simple to use spherical video camera. The KeyMission 360 is waterproof and can shoot 360 timelapse. We were disappointed in its stitching in some lighting conditions, and underwater footage didn't look good. With that said, it's affordable for what it is and does.
- Real Estate Videography
- Newcomers to 360 Video
- Jacks of all trades
- Travel videographers & Journalists
Sensor: 2x 21 Megapixel 1/2.3" CMOS Sensor
Effective Pixels: 20.3
Focal Length: 1.6 mm (35mm Equivalent Focal Length: 8.7mm)
Maximum Aperture: f/ 2
Lens Elements: 7
Focusing Distance: 11.8" / 30.0 cm
Recording Media: microSD/HC/XC
Video Format :
- 4K: MPEG4-AVC/H.264 – 3840 x 2160p / 24 fps
- High Definition: MPEG4-AVC/H.264 – 1920 x 1080p / 24 fps, 1440 x 960p / 25 fps, 1440 x 960p / 30 fps
- Still Image Resolution: JPEG: 29 Megapixel, 7744 x 3872 (2:1)
Audio Format: AAC
Shutter Speed: 1/16000-1/30 sec
ISO Sensitivity: 100-1600
Compensation: -2 EV to +2 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)
Image Stabilization: Digital
Shockproof Rating: 6.6' / 2.0 m
Waterproof Depth Rating: 100.0' / 30.0 m (Camera)
Built-in Mic: Yes
Tripod Mount: 1/4" – 20
Outputs: v1x HDMI D (Micro), 1x USB Micro-B 2.0
Battery: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack Battery, 3.7 VDC, 1050 mAh
Operating Temperature: 14 – 104°F (-10 – 40°C) 85% Relative Humidity
Dimensions (WxHxD): 2.4 x 2.4 x 2.6" / 6.1 x 6.1 x 6.6 cm
Weight: .44 lb / 200 g
Chris Monlux is excited to see what will become of 360 video in 5 years. He is also Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.