Nikon KeyMission 360 Field Test

  By Jordan Drake

The Ricoh Theta was the first 360-degree camera I ever dabbled with, and I distinctly remember both having a great time manipulating the still photos and being hugely disappointed with the poor video quality.  Since that time, I’ve seen endless announcements of new 360 cameras, but haven’t gotten my hands on one until I received the new Nikon KeyMission 360. Not only does this camera boast hugely improved specs over the Ricoh Theta S, but it comes in a shorter, waterproof, ruggedized housing!

Having not worked with 360-degree video before, Chris and I decided to start (literally) at the deep end, and shoot an entire episode in 360 on the Bow River. Our friends Wade and Elliot from Troutfitters brought us along on a fishing trip, and we documented the process with a couple KeyMission 360s. The entire trip was a constant learning experience, but we only suffered one serious tragedy.

One thing I found viewing many 360 clips prior to shooting the episode was that I preferred shots where the camera was largely static, giving the viewers a chance to look around the entire location without enduring a constantly bouncing camera. As a result, we brought a variety of clamps, brackets, and suction cups so we could easily mount the camera on the boat. I loved that the KeyMission 360 has a standard 1/4” mount, so we didn’t have to mess around with proprietary accessories.

I found it odd to be shooting video thinking only about the camera’s proximity to the subject. I could worry about composition, as that was up to the viewer afterward, and the camera has minimal manual controls. It was also odd for me to not have the option of coverage (as it was very unsettling to suddenly jump to a close-up view of a camera in VR) , which meant Chris had to nail long takes with no mistakes. He didn’t let me down. 

I did have a few issues, the most irritating being the placement of the photo button. While I love that you don’t need to power the camera up to start shooting (you just hit the photo or video button and the camera starts up and shoots), every time I was spinning the camera onto a tripod or clamp, I would be constantly hitting the shutter button. This made organizing the stills and video a bit of a hassle. As well, I found the battery life to be a major concern. We were lucky to get 40 minutes of shooting time on a single charge. You’ll need plenty of spare batteries to get through a full shooting day.

The biggest disaster of the day happened midway through shooting. We had been using fishing line as safety wire in case any of our mounts failed. But, it was removed to change mounts. Chris popped the camera in his pocket while grabbing a clamp, and our brand new KeyMission 360 fell out of his pocket, bounced on the edge of the boat, and tumbled to the bottom of the Bow River. Lesson learned: never take your safety line off the camera ever!

Editing 360 video was a weird experience for me. I cut this episode on Final Cut Pro-X and was unable to preview the video in its proper format until it was uploaded to YouTube. This meant looking at oddly shaped frames, and hoping the effect worked once the project was complete. It reminded me a bit of shooting on film. After uploading the files, it was pretty cool to watch the video on a cheap Google Cardboard VR system, and see everything happen exactly where I remembered it on the boat. I hope that experience comes through in the final video.

At the end of it all, this shoot was a huge learning experience. Hopefully, we can refine our post-production process for the next 360 shoot, and keep our camera out of inhospitable rivers! That said, it was a pretty cool experience after a hard day’s shoot to be able to revisit the river in VR later. I’d like to try using the KeyMission 360 in a few more situations, but mostly I’m excited to see what fun uses other people will find for this compelling little camera!