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Equipment

Lensrentals.com’s Review of the Nikon KeyMission 360 Camera

2016 has become the year of virtual reality and head-mounted displays. We’ve seen the release of three major VR platforms and countless other phone-based reality virtualizing peripherals, but until recently, tools to produce content for this new form of entertainment have been only within reach of professionals. Photography behemoth Nikon is the latest to lower this barrier to entry, and the KeyMission 360 is the next product designed to immerse users directly into all 360 available degrees of a video.

The Nikon KeyMission 360 feels nice in your hand. It has the weight-to-size ratio of a well-built product, and the included silicone jacket gives a little extra comfort to the thought of a drop. I say a little extra because the idea of dropping a device that has this much surface area covered by lenses is anxiety inducing. A tight, rubber gasket and additional lock slider on the battery/media door keep the camera’s internal bits dry, and the whole exterior of the camera seems to have at least a slightly hydrophobic coating. The button selection on the KeyMission 360 feels scarce with only one for video and one for photos. Any deeper dive into camera settings requires the use of Nikon’s SnapBridge 360/170 smartphone app.

KeyMission 360 Review

This brings me to the most disappointing aspect of the KeyMission 360 user experience. The app is atrocious. As an iPhone user, the connection process is more complicated than any other device pairing I’ve ever encountered, and, according to my research, is only slightly easier on an Android device. Connecting rarely works for me on the first try, and do not expect to lock your phone or allow it to go to sleep with that connection staying active. I’ve only once had a successful repeat connection without deleting all bluetooth and wifi evidence of the camera and starting over from square one. When a connection has been established, the settings available to be tweaked are lacking even by action camera standards. Video resolution, time-lapse, and exposure compensation are the only meaningful options that are user-selectable, leaving finer controls such as aperture and ISO to be decided, usually poorly, by the camera. The good news, however, is that we can hope for intermittent updates to the app, which will improve the functionality.

360° cameras around the KeyMission 360’s $500 price tag are primarily judged on the quality of their stitching, and Nikon’s dual 180-degree camera system performs well until subjects enter inside a three-foot radius. The claims of a close focus distance under 12” are moot when seamless stitching isn’t possible until much further out. This leads to the necessity of carefully planning out the placement of close subjects which seems at odds with the spirit of the medium. In the sample footage below, the stitching is always noticeable. It’s worse at close distances and intensified by the camera being submerged in water.

This camera is advertised as 4K, which is in line with similar 360 action cams. While technically true that the image recorded by the camera is UHD 4K, the captured image is designed to be viewed in 360 degrees. In practice, you are seeing roughly a quarter of that resolution at any given time. If viewing the footage on one of the many VR options available, it’s likely the lack of resolution is lost on the user. Most head-mounted displays and VR headsets top out at around 1200 x 1080 pixels (per eye) currently. When viewing the video on a traditional monitor in a 360° viewer such as YouTube’s, lack of resolution and detail lost to compression is very apparent. The 4K quality is comparable to other all-in-one solutions but is out shined by more expensive, multi-camera 360 rigs. I find the 1080p and lower resolution slow motion options available on this camera to be unusable as evidenced by the example footage below. I can’t see anyone needing 360 degrees of slow motion video at this extreme expense of resolution.

What fun would an action camera be if one couldn’t buy endless accessories to mount it to every vehicle, pole, and forehead in your general vicinity? The KeyMission 360 does not disappoint. All of the usual fare is accounted for, and, in my testing, I have found that GoPro quick release buckle accessories are compatible with Nikon’s buckle. This opens the camera up to hundreds of mounting options.

What I Liked:

  • Nikon’s decades of industrial design lead to a solid construction.
  • The housing is waterproof without need for an additional case.
  • It’s a suitable option for dipping your toes into 360 video.

What Could be Improved:

  • The app is really bad. It will turn away all but the most determined of users.
  • Image stitching is okay but needs improvement closer to the camera.
  • 4K resolution is muddied by what seems to be an inefficient video codec.

Nikon’s KeyMission 360 camera is a decent entry point into consumer 360 video. Personally, I might wait to revisit the format when 8k sensors become available. In the meantime, Nikon could make improvements that put this camera at the top of the sub-$500 360 camera list. Currently the bad in the software far outweighs any good in the optics and build quality. An unreliable app this important to basic camera functionality is unacceptable, and if you’re familiar with smartphone controls from Nikon’s competition, I feel you will find yourself similarly frustrated.

 

Joshua Richardson
Video Tech – LensRentals.com

Author: Joshua Richardson

I’m Joshua and a video technician at Lensrentals.com. Before Lensrentals, I was a weekend portrait photographer and owned an audio recording studio just outside of Memphis, TN. Now, I have the pleasure of inspecting a small selection of the video gear you rent, and after hours produce content for YouTube and the wider internet.

Posted in Equipment
  • obeychad

    Given Nikon’s implementation of software in the past I’m not surprised it’s as bad as feared. I had 5 of these cams on pre-order for a project and noticed that bad reviews started coming in on Amazon. Thankfully my order was delayed by a Jewish holiday and I was able to reduce it down to 1 camera. For all the bad listed above it gets even worse underwater.

  • Thanks for the note, @travisthaxton:disqus.

  • Travis Thaxton

    Note that mobile viewers will need to watch the test footage in the native YouTube app. If you view the embedded videos it will show as one large flat image.

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