It's an exciting time for real estate technology, as we step into the world of virtual reality through 360 images and other VR experiences. As many of you know, our brand new VR website features 360 immersion, allowing your clients and website viewers to take a step into a listing or community, right from the comfort of home.
While we recommend using a professional photographer for your 360 Home page images and property listing photos, a DIY solution can work well for impressing prospective clients during listing presentations, and is a great addition to your sales pitch.
In order to bring property photos to life, realtors will need a 360 camera. 360 cameras take two or more images simultaneously, then automatically stitch them together to create a single picture or video. (By contrast, many professional photographers use rigs to take numerous individual photos at once and then manually stitch them together in post-production.)
We did a lot of consumer camera research on your behalf and put a few 360 cameras to the test. Here's what we found out!
Things To Look For In A 360 Camera
Before you purchase a 360 camera for your site, it's a good idea to know what you should be looking for. This will help you make an informed decision, and will also help you decide whether an upgrade will be worth it as the technology evolves. 360 cameras are a very new tech and competitors are building new models as quickly as possible to try to stake their claim in this new territory.
Here are a few factors to consider when choosing your 360 camera:
Ease of Use
Mono vs. Stereo
Recommendation: $500 or less
Like a lot of technology, 360 cameras have a significant range in cost, starting around $300 and increasing to $60,000+. Because this is relatively new technology for most realtors, we recommend starting on the more cost-effective end when choosing a camera for your personal use, which you can then upgrade at a later date when the technology evolves and you already know you love it.
One of the biggest challenges with 360 technology is the resolution. This is a limitation of all recreational 360 technologies at the moment, as manufacturers are still figuring out how to minimize "dead zones" and provide truly crisp images at high resolutions (and reasonable costs). The challenge becomes even more monumental when you realize that image resolution is spread across the entire 360 photo—not just the portion you're viewing at any given moment. For that reason, you'll want a 360 camera with the highest resolution possible: 4K.
Ease of Use
Recommendation: Beginner Level
This goes without saying, but you need a 360 camera you can use. Some of the best cameras on the market require high level photography or post-production knowledge, and won't be the best fit for a lot of agents who want to DIY their 360 videos. We also found that some userfaces are easier to use than others, so try to test out a camera in the store before you purchase it.
Monoscopic vs. Stereoscopic
When choosing your 360 camera, know that there's two types of 360 imagery. Monoscopic imagery is the type of 360 you're most familiar with, used on Facebook, Youtube and Google Streetview. The end result is a flat rendering that can be viewed on any device or in any headset with ease.
Stereoscopic video is what you need for true VR, as it makes an image that uses two separate lenses, creating the dual input needed for an immersive virtual reality experiences. It doesn't sound like any 360 cameras do this well at the time of writing, and it requires a lot of post-production work, but it's worth mentioning this difference so you're aware of it for when the consumer-level technology evolves.
The Best 360 Cameras In 2017
Remember that 360 is a new technology, and even video manufacturers are still figuring out how to do it well. Once we narrow down all of the specifications above, there actually aren't that many that fit our criteria for a real estate website:
Samsung Gear 360 (2017) - Not to be confused with the first edition, the Samsung Gear 360 (2017) packs a solid punch. I loved it the second I started using it, largely because the interface was intuitive and user-friendly, the Bluetooth connection was reliable, and the entire process of taking 360 photos was extremely easy. It also produced the best overall quality images of the consumer 360 cameras we tried.
Nikon KeyMission 360 - We didn't get the chance to test this one out, but it has solid reviews online—with the exception of its user interface, which challenged some reviewers. Still, if the price is right, this might be a 360 camera worth trying.
Ricoh Theta 2017 (To Be Released) - Our very first tests here at REW were using the Ricoh Theta S. Unfortunately, the lack of 4K meant the resolution wasn't high enough for our liking, while the user interface and Wifi-only connection weren't as user-friendly as the Bluetooth-enabled competition. While the Theta S is technically off our recommendation list for now, it wasn't a bad little camera and we'll reconsider the 4K version when it's released later this year.
Popular 360 Cameras We Don't Recommend (For Now)
You may be surprised by some of the names we aren't recommending. The reality is that your time is money, and Realtors likely don't have the time for complex camera operations.
Some of the best 360 cameras out there are only a viable option if you are willing to do complicated prep and post-production work, and are by no means a "beginner" option. While these cameras may work for some people, most will want a simpler option.
Here are the cameras I think you should skip for now, and my reasons why.
GoPro / Freedom360 - Arguably one of the most awesome setups, we axed this as a consumer option only because of the price. The Freedom360 rig actually requires 6 GoPro cameras, which is quite the investment. But if you try your hands at 360 and love it, this is an upgrade worth checking out.
360fly 4K- Though 4K, the 360fly uses a single lens that limits the viewing range of the photos, and the bottom of the scene gets left behind.
Kodak Pixpro Sp360 4K - While a neat 360 camera, the Pixpro SP360 comes at a higher cost than some of its other counterparts. It boasts a couple more features, like the ability to shoot two 360 videos simultaneously, which are undeniably cool but ultimately unnecessary for a real estate website.
Insta360 Air - The Insta360 Air is simple and has positive reviews, but it doesn't have a 4K option yet.
The 360 camera space is definitely one to watch and I'm looking forward to seeing what this technology looks like a year from now. I suspect image quality and known 360 challenges, such as grey zones, will be greatly improved as manufacturers try to conquer this space.