Which 360 camera should you buy in 2021?
It’s been a slow year for 360 camera releases for obvious reasons, but the overall standings have still changed significantly over the past year. So as usual, I’ll be ranking the top 360 cameras right now into four categories. Cameras you should buy because they stand out above the others and have a strong unique selling point. Cameras you should consider because they’re good, but not great. Cameras I feel kind of meh about, and cameras you shouldn’t buy due to no unique selling points. Also just a heads up, if you want early access to my camera reviews sent straight to your inbox before they’re published on YouTube. Then be sure to subscribe to my email list in the description.
Now, I’m going to start with one of the most popular cameras of last year, and that is the Insta360 One X2, which was released at the end of the year and it didn’t seem like that big of an upgrade from the One X or the One R, because on paper the specs were more or less the same as we had before, however it was upgraded in a few places, that do make this a significant upgrade. for example, it’s now waterproof straight out of the box, it’s got this really cool big touchscreen that makes life so much easier when shooting, it’s USB-C charging, the battery is bigger and better than before. So overall, physically it’s a significant upgrade from the original One X. They also added a few other features to the app that the other Insta360 cameras couldn’t do, as well as improving the photo modes, as you may have read in one of my previous blogs, the pure shot mode with the One X2 is really fantastic for a consumer point and shoot camera and a significant upgrade from anything we’ve seen before from Insta. For 360 video though, it’s not really that different from the One X nor the One R, it’s like they’ve taken all the good things they added to the One R and put them into a dedicated 360 camera design, as opposed to a modular GoPro type camera. And to be honest, for me personally it’s not that big of a factor, what the actual camera looks like as long as the footage and photos look good.
So I don’t really see too much between these two cameras, They are still more or less the same with some very small differences, with the One X2 it’s a better overall design, especially for dedicated 360 camera shooters. With the One R it’s modular, so you can use it as a standard GoPro type camera, as well as a 5.3K action camera. If you decide to shoot with the 4K or one inch mods with the One R, you now also have the ability to use filters like polarisers ND filters. I’ve got a couple here from Freewell, and while these aren’t for the 360 build of the camera, they have also made ND filters for the 360 mod as well. And these the only 360 camera ND filters I’ve seen. So that is a cool thing, if you’re shooting outside and you want to use ND filters, I don’t really think there’s a strong need to use these, because you can simply just change your camera settings to reduce the effect of the sun. But for those who want to experiment with them, I’ll link these filters down below. Okay, so that’s an advantage to the One R. Oh, another advantage is the One R is now compatible with Matterport, whereas the One X2 isn’t. I’m sure it won’t be long before this is compatible. I guess there’s potential for them to add modules to the One R in the future, it has been awhile and we haven’t seen any new modules. Like the 3D mod, that was originally promised when the camera was released, it’s now a year later and we haven’t seen this mount.
We have seen the drone edition of the One R which turns a drone into a 360 camera. And while I do hope they released new modules for the One R, I’m not going to hold my breath. So these cameras are really good for cool quirky social media type content that you can shoot and edit within 60 seconds, just using a phone. So that’s what I see as that the unique selling point of both of these cameras, also they’re okay, at 360 photos, you could use them for basic virtual tours for small clients, and if you were to choose just one for 360 photography it would be the One X2, due to the improved pure shot mode, the One R doesn’t have in 360 mode. Anyway, I got a couple of videos covering these cameras in depth on my channel. But to start off, I’m putting both of these cameras straight onto the buy list. This brings me to the previous two Insta360 cameras, the One X and the EVO, and unfortunately, both of these cameras have been discontinued. They are not officially being manufactured anymore. There are still a few of them out there, they will be available for sale but stocks are going to run out. So for that reason, I can’t recommend them anymore because they probably won’t be available by the end of 2021. So thanks for the memories, One X and EVO, but you’re going in the do not buy category. Next are the two 3D cameras from Vuze, the Vuze Plus and the Vuze XR, or as I like to call them the space ship and the inspector gadget eyes. And both of these are cameras from a couple of years ago, that no longer stand up to the quality we expect in 2021.
The dynamic range from both of these cameras is very average, this one is just 4K and it’s 2021, 4K is like, so 2018. For 360 cameras that is. I remember in 2016, how we were all talking about 4K being the next big thing, and now in 2021, whenever you hear a camera is 4K, it’s like 4K, oh okay uh. However, the reason I’m keeping both of these cameras on this list, is because they still deliver the best at what they do specifically. For the Vuze Plus that’s 3D, 360, under a $1,000, and for the Vuze XR that’s 3D, 180 and 360 for under $500. But I wouldn’t rush out and buy either of these cameras, unless you specifically want to shoot 3D, So I’m going to keep them on this list in the meh, category. They are still okay cameras, if you want to do those things, however the quality leaves a lot to be desired. Next camera on the list is the GoPro Max, which came out almost a year and a half ago now in 2019. However, even back then when it came out, it didn’t really have anything over the original Insta360 One X, and today it doesn’t have anything over the One X2. Except really small things, like if you’re someone that’s into GoPro, you like using the app and their storage system and maybe you’re heavily invested in the whole GoPro accessories and ecosystem then, yeah, this is definitely going to be something to consider. However, the video is pretty on par with the other 5.6 and 5.7K, 360 cameras of 2021, and the 360 photos are substandard compared to the other cameras on this list. But it’s still a good camera, and if this was my only camera, I’d be pretty happy.
I could still get some cool social media shots, which is why I’m going to keep the GoPro Max on the consider list. Only buy it if you don’t wanna buy the Insta360 cameras, for whatever reason. Next is the Yi 360 VR which is now four years old, and production on this camera was abandoned, probably like two or even three years ago. And back then when it was released, while it did have high resolution video, it had other issues that were never fixed. The reason I kept it on this list for so long, was because of the price. They dropped the price to be around $200, which made it a good budget option, but it doesn’t even have that advantage anymore. Therefore, I don’t recommend it at all, even for those on a budget. It’s a 360 camera that doubles as a 3D 180 camera. It was pretty good when it first came out, now in 2022, it’s way below standard, it’s only 4K resolution and the photos are also quite low quality.
While it does have the advantage of having a three hour battery life, I can’t see why you would buy a camera just for long battery life, when there are so many other factors that are more important than that. When I compare it with the Vuze XR and Insta360 EVO, it came third out of three, and if you’re someone who’s looking for a 3D, 180 camera, that doubles as a 360 camera, my recommendation is the Vuze XR. So I’m going to putting the original Kandao Qoocam on the do not buy list. Now for a new 360 camera, again by Kandao. And this is the Kandao Qoocam Fun. For some reason, they just won’t give up the Qoocam name, everything has to be called Qoocam. I can’t help but wondering, what were marketing thinking, why is Qoocam such an appealing name that they have to name, every last camera they release Qoocam? What about Toocam or Yoocam or Woocam or Boocam? Anyway, I digress, this is a new 360 camera, and you may have noticed it has a USB-C at the bottom, meaning this is a smart phone attachment. So the camera doesn’t function independently, you will need a USB-C smartphone.
Which means iPhone users won’t be able to use the Qoocam Fun. But if you own an Android, there you go, you clip it on, you turn your phone upside down, and it’s a 360 camera smartphone hybrid. I’ve taken a couple of shots with the Qoocam Fun and the quality was really not great, and that’s to be expected given the low price tag, it’s 4K resolution and 4K photos. It doesn’t come anywhere near the cameras on the buy or consider lists of this blog. However, I’m actually going to add it to the meh list, because it’s a good low budget option, it’s just over a $100. So if you’re someone that has never owned a 360 camera, and you want to buy one, just to test it out and see what 360 photography and video is like, then you may wanna consider it. You’ll need an Android phone to use it, and the Qoocam app, the photos will save directly to your phone. So there you go, it’s like they’ve brought back some of the original 360 camera designs in the Insta360 Air and Insta360 Nano that was smartphone dependent, and in the long run, it turned out that was a disadvantage because you couldn’t use it independently. Anyway, if you’re on an extremely low budget, consider the Qoocam Fun, it’s fun, but that’s about it. This brings me to the Qoocam 8K, which has a pretty mixed reputation. Some people have had a great experience with this camera and being able to achieve incredible results, with both 360 photography and 360 video, then others have had a terrible experience with this camera, with their shots out of focused, video that simply won’t stitch and overly complex photo editing workflows. And as someone that has been using this camera for around a year, I fall into both categories.
You may recall from the last time I made this blog, I had quite a few issues with the camera not being ready and I was constantly getting the thermal de-focus issue, which meant when the camera got hot, the focus changed from far to near, only getting close objects in focus and throwing the background out of focus, which to me, someone who shoots a lot of virtual tours, made this camera too unpredictable and not reliable, but over a year has passed now, since this camera was released and they have been working on it, I think there’s been over a 100 firmware updates since it was released, and they have fixed a lot of the issues that originally plagued this camera. Not only have they improved the app, but the desktop workflow is also much better now in early 2021. They’ve released some really cool photo modes, the best one being Super HDR 2.0, that allows you to shoot really nice 360 photos with fantastic dynamic range, relatively quickly. And for me in the past with this camera, that’s something that hasn’t always been certain, sometimes I’ve been able to go out and do that and get fantastic results, other times my shots are out of focus or for some reason the workflow wasn’t working for me.
So now with these updates, I do consider this camera to be a bit more reliable. As you can see here, this shot looks really, really good and I’d be happy using it with a paid virtual to a client. And I’d say that’s where this camera holds most potential, if you’re shooting 360 photography professionally, but you’re not yet ready to upgrade to a DSLR and pano head, I will be testing out the Qoocam 8K gainst the Theta Z1, the Labpano Pilot One and its other closest competitors in an upcoming blog. So you wanna subscribe for that if you haven’t already. I know I’ve been a little bit harsh on this camera, so I’m going to try and say a few good things. Okay, one thing I like is that it’s got inbuilt storage, I’m someone that is very forgetful, sometimes I go out shooting and realise that I left my SD cards at home, but this has enough inbuilt storage for you to shoot probably a 100, 200 shots, without needing an SD card. And I wish all 360 cameras could do that, that’s cool. I also think the Qoocam 8K has the potential to be a camera that lasts a long time, it’s still gonna be on this list, because it’s starting with high specs to begin with and high potential that has not yet been fully fulfilled, but there’s still time for it to get better and better. So I think the Qoocam 8K, has potentially the most long lasting potential, or the potential for it to still be around for a long time, more so than almost all cameras on this list, whether it will fulfill that is another question. Now I’m going to put it on the cameras you should consider list, and here’s why.
I still feel like it’s got a slight element of unpredictability. The heating issue is still there, when I turned the camera on and just leave it on my desk for five minutes, it gets so hot that it almost burns my fingers, and I know for many past experiences, this can affect the image quality it produces because of the focus issues. So again, I think it has the potential to perform amazingly but doesn’t always do it, it doesn’t always have that reliability that you want from a 360 camera, but it’s reliable enough to consider buying it. So yeah, more soon on Qoocam 8K. Next is another spaceship looking camera, and that is the XPhase Pro S and S2 which is the new updated version, they don’t sell the original S anymore, it’s the S2, but it’s basically identical. With some very small physical upgrades, but internally it’s basically the same camera. And this is a camera you should buy if you’re someone that obsesses over resolution for 360 photos, it doesn’t shoot 360 video, but the photos it can take are simply stunning, with sharpness far greater than every other camera on this list. However, it comes with a difficult workflow, so only consider this camera, if you’re someone that knows photo editing really well, you’re comfortable spending time to figure a new camera out, when there’s not a lot of information out there. Because, this doesn’t come with a lot of tutorials or instructions or manuals or anything, you’ve got to figure it out yourself.
Being a part of the X Phase Facebook group will help you, but it’s not easy and intuitive straight out of the box. And you’re going to need to spend at least a week to become a 100% comfortable with this camera, before you start using it professionally. But when you do, you’ll be able to get results like no other point and shoot 360 can deliver. I’m putting the X Phase on the cameras you should buy list. And this one really is only for people, who are intermediate to advanced, and are extremely comfortable with post-production workflows. Next is the Theta SC2, and the Thea SC2 for business, which as you may recall from one of my previous videos was the best budget 360 camera for virtual tours. Is it any more? No, it has a successor, and that is the One X2. If you see my recent One X2 video, I put them side by side and I got better results with the One X2 in pure shot mode. There are way more settings you can use with the One X2, whereas the Theta SC2, it’s just one, it’s inbuilt HDR, which outputs a JPEG, and then there’s only minimal editing you can really do to that JPEG. Whereas the pure shot mode allows quite a lot of flexibility in editing. So the Theta SC2 is no longer the go-to budget option for virtual tours. However, I’d say it would be if your budget is around $300, whereas the One X2 is roughly a $100 more expensive. So it’s up to you, how much money you have to spend on a virtual tour camera. Again, only choose one of these two cameras, if you’re a beginner and you’re shooting for low budget clients.
I think they’re both good choices, and in the past I’ve noticed Ricoh have stood out head and shoulders above the other brands, when it comes to 360 photography and fast workflows, I’ve shot countless 360 photos with my Ricoh 360 cameras. I own every generation of them and they have never let me down. So the Theta SC2 gets a demotion to the consider category. Only buy it if you’ve got $350 for a basic virtual tour camera. And there’s one camera left on this list. Can you guess what it is? It’s the other Ricoh camera, the Theta Z1. And this has been up at the top for a long time, it came out nearly two years ago now and it was groundbreaking at the time for its two inbuilt one inch sensors, meaning you could shoot amazing raw shots, in all kinds of tricky lighting and get fantastic results before and after editing. This has been my go-to virtual tour camera for the last two years, firstly because of its speedy workflow and image quality, but also roughly a year ago, there was a plugin release called the dualfisheye plugin. Which made this camera twice as good, because it made bracketing in raw so much easier, and would basically automate a sequence of nine raw shots that are perfectly optimised to the lighting conditions of the room you’re shooting.
Meaning you can get fantastic dynamic range with minimal noise, and that is the kind of quality you can charge for. While it doesn’t actually have a lot of megapixels. Using this technique, results in photos that look far superior to anything you could imagine, just looking at the spec sheet. And while technically there are other cameras, that can produce better results in the Theta Z1, they don’t always. Because of the element of unpredictability of lighting. Sometimes when you have bright windows and dark interiors, cameras like the X Phase and Qoocam aren’t always reliable, whereas I know I can go into any situation with a Theta Z1 and get great 360 photos. So right now, as of early 21, the Theta Z1 is still my camera of choice for beginners to intermediate, starting with virtual tours, that want to invest a little more to get fantastic results straight away. Which also brings me to price. This is still a $1,000 dollars, nothing has changed over the past two years, you really would expect the price to go down at least two or $300 by now, but it hasn’t. So this is not a cheap camera and therefore not an easy purchase, unless you are shooting professionally and plan on earning your money back with your camera. I just wouldn’t buy this if your sole focus is social media, the One X2 does a good enough job and a price tag of a $1,000 just can’t be justified. Whereas if you’re making virtual tours and you charge a $1,000 for a virtual tour, you’ve paid off the camera in one hit. So yeah, I’ll be putting the Theta Z1 on the cameras you should buy list.
This is a definite buy, and I still consider it, King of the 360 photo cameras. Purely, from a reliability standpoint. That said it has been two years since it was released and Ricoh have a release schedule of one camera a year. They released this, then the Theta SC2 came out a year later. Well it’s roughly eight to 10 months, since this was released, so I’m going to make the bold prediction that Ricoh will be releasing something this year. When it will come, what it will be and what the specs will be, who knows, but it’s likely it will be a Theta Z2 or another random letter or random number. And it will likely be a 20 to 25% improvement on the original Theta Z1. So should you buy this now? Only if it’s a significant upgrade to what you currently have. Again, if you plan on shooting professionally with it, you’ll easily earn your money back, then when a new camera comes out, you can always sell this and upgrade the newest one. But I do think the quality is still really good and will be considered really good at the end of 2021, even if a new camera comes out, the photos are still fantastic with this camera. And that’s it. That was fun. But I do plan on releasing many more blogs in 2022, including which 360 cameras should you buy for photography and virtual tours.
So be sure to stay tuned for that. Also I’ve been releasing email reviews as well lately, of all of the best cameras and gadgets and software’s that I’m sending exclusively to my email list only. I have some freebies in case you didn’t know, I’ve got two eBooks that I wrote that are completely free, you can download them in the description. One is a beginner’s guide to Tiny Planet Photography, which teaches you everything you need to know about creating cool tiny planet effects with any 360 camera. The other one is my Top 10 Ways to Make Money with your 360 Camera. So if you’re someone that sees 360 photography and video as something that has a bit more potential beyond just a fun hobby, then you will definitely want to check that out.