Showing posts sorted by relevance for query 360. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query 360. Sort by date Show all posts

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Pushing 360° Video Quality on a Motorcycle

I've been messing around with 360° immersive video at work.  One of the best ways to quickly get familiar with the technology is to use it in a difficult circumstance so you can find its limitations.  At work we're building immersive video to show a virtual walk-through of our school.  If the gimbal and camera we have will work on a motorbike, it'll work stuck to a kid's head as they walk through the school.

There are a number of barriers to admission with 4k video and image stabilization.  Fortunately, the 360Fly4k windshield mount I have is so over engineered that it easily handles the weight and motion of the gimbal and camera rig.

I've previously done 4k video with the 360Fly4k, but it has a big blind spot on it, so this would be my first true 360 4k video.  The Fly is a tough thing that takes great footage, but I'd describe it more as a 300° camera than a true 360 one.

This 4k 360 camera is the Samsung Gear 360.  I'm running it off the camera because the app won't run on my Android non-Samsung phone because I guess Samsung don't want to sell many of these cameras - it's kind of a jerk move on their part so if these things don't sell (because you have to have a Samsung phone to access it remotely), then they're getting what they deserve.

The Gear 360 has a small screen so you can see settings and using the buttons is fairly straightforward, though you'll find yourself constantly accidentally pressing buttons while you're handling it.  The Ricoh Theta 360 is still my ergonomic favourite in terms of control and handling, and they just came out with a 4k version of the Theta - perhaps they'll lend me one to test.

The gimbal is a Moza Guru 360°Camera stabilizer.  The typical gimbal design has weights to the left or right of the camera to keep things balanced, but on a 360 camera that means you're blocking all sorts of sight lines.  The Moza gimbal is vertically stacked with the weights hanging below, mostly out of sight.  It has a power button and a push button joystick that lets you set shooting modes and centre your camera so it's looking where you're going rather that looking down the 'seams' between the two cameras.

Most 360 cameras are actually two or more cameras working together.  The resulting footage is then stitched together in software to make an every direction video.  The raw footage from the Samsung looks like this (on left).  A front and back facing fish-eye camera capturing separate footage.

Because both cameras are capturing different scenes, you can often see where they are stitched together because of a difference in ISO which shows up as a clear line of brightness difference (on the right).  They all tend to be identical, fixed-lens cameras, so the aperture and shutter speed tend to be identical.

The first test video has the Samsung camera set at highest resolution (4096x2048 pixels in video) and 24FPS.  The gimbal is in locked mode, so it's always looking in the same direction even if I go around the corner.  The gimbal provides smooth video by taking the bike's motion out of the video (it's always looking in the same direction as the bike and I rotate around the shot), but a bike's motion is one of the best parts of riding, so for the second shot I set it in tracking mode so it followed the bike's motions.


Uploading it to YouTube out of the Gear 360 Action Director resulted in a flattened video that doesn't allow you to pan.  In order to produce that kind of video in the G360-AD (what a ridiculous name), you need to PRODUCE the video in the software and then share it to YouTube from within the program.  My issue with this is that when you bring the program in it takes an Intel i7 VR ready laptop the better part of twenty minutes (for less than ten minutes of footage) to process it before you can do anything with it.  When you produce it (again) for YouTube you end up waiting another twenty minutes.  The Ricoh Theta saves the video (albeit 1080p equivalent) in a fraction of the time and the resulting saved version is 360 ready for YouTube; the 360Fly software is likewise efficient at 4k.  I'm not sure why I have to wait forty minutes to produce less than ten minutes of footage on the Samsung.  I know it's a lot of data to work through, but it isn't a very streamlined process.

So, after a lot of post processing, the 4096x2048 360° video out of the camera shows up on YouTube at 1440s (s stands for spherical rather than p - pixels - spherical footage is stretched across a wider area and tends to look less sharp).  I'm not sure where my 2048s footage went - I imagine part of that big post processing was to shrink the footage to fit on YouTube more easily?

 If you click on the YouTube logo you can watch it in YouTube and adjust the resolution (bottom right) to see how it looks (make sure to do it full screen to use all your pixels).  If you're lucky enough to be watching it on a 4k display, this will come close to filling it.

The quality is excellent, the microphone remarkably good (they get beaten up pretty badly on motorcycles), but the awkwardness of post processing and the ergonomics of the thing don't make it my first choice.  Trying to manage it with gloves on would be even more frustrating.  What you've got here is a good piece of hardware let down by some weak product design and software.

The software does offer some interesting post processing options in terms of wacky arts filters, but if you're shooting at 4k all this does is drastically reduce the quality of your video.  If you're going to use those filters film at way lower resolution so you don't have to wait for hours while they process.

I'm aiming to go for a ride tomorrow to look at the fall colours after our first frost.  I'll bring the Samsung along and see how well it photographs.  It's promising 15 megapixel 360 images and high dynamic range landscapes, so I'm optimistic.  Photography is timeless and my preferred visual medium anyway, I find video too trapped by the continuity of time.  Maybe the Samsung will be a good photography tool.  Of course, I won't be able to fire the thing remotely because I don't have a Samsung phone...




Follow up:

The next morning I set up the camera on the gimbal for the ride to work.  The camera epically failed to catch any of the magic of the morning mist.  The video I got was starting and stopping every minute and the footage was a mess, full or artifacts and unusable.  

Compared to the robust Ricoh Theta (which I've had out in light rain with no problems) or the bullet proof 360Fly4k, which I've left filming through full on storms, the Samsung gave up the ghost at a bit of fog on an otherwise sunny morning.

This is not a tough camera by any stretch.  Dainty might be a better way to describe it.  For something that's supposed to catch the world around you, it's best used indoors.  Yes, I'm bitter that I couldn't catch anything of that glorious morning ground fog.

Simulated image indeed - this camera wouldn't work that close to an ocean!  If you're looking for a resilient, tough, outdoor camera, this ain't it.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

360° Video on a Motorcycle

I borrowed a 360° video camera from work to see what it could do.  This one is Ricoh's Theta, and it produces some astonishing results (you can move the point of view around with your mouse as you watch it):
On occasion I teach media arts and one of the key aspects of that course is considering point of view in the media you create.  These 360° cameras ask some challenging questions around how camera operators will present point of view in the future.  At some point we'll be telling our grand kids that we once all watched the same movie at the same time and they'll look at us like we're old and backwards.

Immersive video like this means the viewer tells the story by controlling their own point of view.  You can watch the bike going down the road, watch me on it, watch what the other traffic is doing - it's a different video for each person who views it.

When you upload this to youtube it's a big file.  Youtube throws up a low resolution version very quickly, but if you give it some processing time you'll eventually get access to a full 1080p version, which offers impressive detail in all directions.

For three hundred bucks Canadian the Theta does things the more expensive GoPro can't.  It isn't as tough as the GoPro, but forty bucks will get you a waterproof case that resolves that.  If you've never tried 360° video, the Ricoh Theta makes for an easy introduction.  I wish I had it for more than a short term loan!

It also does a good job of 360° photography:

trying the photo app on the phone with the 360° Ricog Theta.. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


For the video above I clipped the camera to the windshield with a rubber clamp.  It's so low profile that the wind had no effect on it.

Below are some screen grabs from the video that show the native resolution of the video in the Ricoh app.  In that Ricoh software you can zoom in and out of the 360° image as well as pan around it.  This is as close as I've seen to the Bladerunner photography tool Harrison Ford uses - you can use the video or photo to actually explore the scene you're looking at.



If you zoom right out you can see the native/fisheye view of the camera.  It does an impressive job of managing the
geometry of filming in all directions simultaneously.

Stills from the garage showing off the resolution of still images on the Ricoh


You can get some pretty interesting perspectives and abstract images out of this kind of camera:





Taken at pretty much the same time as the one above.  This gives you some idea of what the 360° can catch at once.



Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Evolution Of On-Bike 360° Photography

The evolution of on-bike photography from hand
held push button shutter to mounted, hands-free

and distraction-free autofiring shutter.  The photos now
show a rider riding instead of a rider being distracted.
The 360° on motorcycle photographic experiment continues.  At this point I think I've got it down to a science.  What was once an awkward hand held process has evolved into a consistently effective, hands-free automatic process that I could easily set up on just about any bike and get shots with no action needed from the rider.

Initially I just popped the 360 camera into my pocket and went for a ride.  When I saw a nice scene I took it out and pressed the shutter.  The downside was that my arm was in every shot.  Another issue was that I didn't look like I was into the ride because the camera was a distraction, which it was.  All this busy work meant not being able to get photos of the best bits, like bending the bike into a corner.

My first attempts at attaching the camera to the bike highlighted a number of issues.  Out of the various 360 cameras I'd tried, only the Ricoh Theta offered a timed shot option, taking a photo automatically every 8-60 seconds depending on how you set it.  The Samsung Gear 360 and the 360Fly both only offered stop motion video at much lower resolutions and quality.  The Theta is also light weight and low profile, so it works well in the wind, unlike heavier, blockier designs from other manufacturers.

I initially tried suction pad mounts, but I never trusted them in the rough and tumble and windy on-bike environment.  I eventually migrated to a flexible tripod, but my first choice started falling apart right after I got it.  When it let go while we were riding down the road and killed the camera I was ready to give up on that kind of mount, but I went up market and got a Lammcou model that has been durable, strong and perfect for the job.

Now that I've worked my way through testing all the kit, it's so well sorted out that I think I could set it all up on any bike and start the photos going.  When the rider returned I could download all the captured images and see what we got.  Ideally I'd have a camera that takes a photo automatically every couple of seconds, but such a thing doesn't seem to exist.  At the eight second delay on the Theta I don't get every shot I want, but after a ride I get an awful lot of choice and there are always some gems in there.

I'd really like to try this process on something a bit more extreme, like track day riding or off road riding.  As long as the rider keeps the bike rubber side down, I think this resilient setup produces unique shots impossible to get otherwise.  When people see these shots they ask if I was using a drone or was from another bike dangerously close, but the process is much safer and cheaper than either of those things.  I'm surprised that no motorcycle magazine wants to give this a go.  The shots it produces are exciting, original and show riding from a very intimate point of view.  The ThetaV takes very high resolution photos that would work well online and even in print.

Putting together a kit that will do this is fairly straightforward.  The list on the left is all the parts you need to be taking 360° photos easily and well on your bike.  If you already have a smartphone you can skip over half of the costs listed for the ipod.  The camera and tripod are only about $300 Canadian ($225USD).  Getting the photos off the camera is easy enough and the Ricoh Theta software is by far the most stable and easiest to use out of all the manufacturers that I've tried.  Ricoh also offers a pile of accessories including a weather resistant hard case that has easily fended off rain while on the motorcycle.  There is also a new fully waterproof case if you wanted to get some action shots of your next river crossing.


The process for shooting 360 on-bike photographs is straightforward:

  • Wirelessly connect the Theta 360 camera to your device and remotely set it over wifi to fire every 8 seconds (maximum shot speed).  Once this is set you never have to do it again -the camera remembers.
  • Just before the rider sets off start the shutter firing by hitting the start shooting button on the ipod or your smartphone.  Have the rider drop the ipod or whatever device you're using into a pocket and off they go.
  • When they get back you can stop the camera auto-firing and collect up the ipod/smartphone, Ricoh Theta and tripod.
  • Plug in the Theta to your PC or Mac using the supplied USB micro cable and copy the photos over to it.
  • Open up the Theta software and drop each picture into it.  You can move around within the pictures.  If it looks like it might make a good tiny planet photo, then upload it to the Theta360 website and use the online editor to quickly and easily (one button push) make a tiny planet out of the photo.
  • You can screen grab any photo angles that look good.  If you have a typical 1080p monitor these images will be well detailed for online presentation.  Get yourself a high resolution monitor to screen grab high resolution images suitable for printing on paper.  The ThetaV takes the equivalent of 14 megapixel images that display spectacularly on a high resolution monitor.  I use a 4k monitor for print images and they come out sharp and detailed.  Dell's 8k monitor is on my wishlist.
  • Once you've grabbed the angles and images you need you can sort them out in Adobe Photoshop to meet the look you're going for.  The Theta shoots dark but has a lot of detail in the shadows.  An HDR (high dynamic range) filter tool does wonders to pull details out of dark images.
Like anything else digital, experiment with it for best results.  I've attached the camera to my windshield extender, rear view mirrors and tail luggage rack, but if you're adventurous (and have that protective case), why not try wrapping it around your frame in various locations.  Since it's set and forget, you can just go for a nice ride and then see what you caught when you get back.

The red thing just below and left of my head is the top of the flexible tripod holding the camera onto the rear view mirror.  It's triple wrapped around the stalk and doesn't move even at triple figure speeds.  The other two arms of the tripod are arranged to help brace the tripod and still leave 70% of the mirror unobstructed, so even the rear view is still good (the Tiger has nice, big, and not buzzy mirrors).  The nature of the 360 camera forces perspective back around the base, so I usually angle the camera away, which also uses the length of the Theta to push the lenses even further away.  The result is a an image you couldn't get any other way. 


A 'tiny planet' photo done using the online Theta360 website.  It's the easiest way to get this effect I've found.  Again, a unique perspective you would find hard to duplicate any other way.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Motorcycle 360 Photography and Digital Art

Setting up a 360 camera on your wing mirror using a gorilla pod and setting it to automatically take a photo every few seconds seems like the best way to catch some interesting self portraits while you ride.  It's a set up and forget system so you can just enjoy the ride.

Afterwards you download what the camera caught and then frame the photos as you wish (the 360 picture lets you move the point of view around until you've framed something interesting).


I've been trying to replicate the tiny planet view that the Ricoh Theta could do in its software on the Samsung Gear360.  GoPro makes a little planet capable app that they give away for free, so I've been using that.  Here is an example of a time lapse video tiny-planeted in the GoPro software:



The photos are screen grabs of time lapse scenes on the Samsung 360gear. They've all been worked over in Photoshop to give them a more abstract look.  I've included the original photo to show variations:


Here's the original photo.
Here is a posterized, simplified version.
Here it is with an oil paint filter and a lot of post processing.







Here is a tiny-world 'wrapped' image taken with the 360 degree camera.  Below are some variations on it...





 Below are some other 360 grabs - they'll give you an idea of how you can select certain angles and moments and then crop a photo out of them pretty easily.






























One of the few things the Samsung does well is make time lapse video fairly straightforward (I miss my Ricoh Theta).  The software Samsung bundles with the gear360 only works with Samsung phones (which I don't have).  The desktop software won't render 4k video at all (it ends up so blocked and pixelated from artifacts as to be almost useless).  And when you're first importing video it takes ages for the software to open a video for the first time.  By comparison the Ricoh renders video almost instantly, has never had artifact problems when it renders and has never crashed on me (the Samsung software has crashed multiple times). If you're patient and are ok with crappy results, go for the Samsung.  Meanwhile, here's what I could get out of the damned thing:


This is a 360 fly video sped up, the weekend after the April ice storm:



Software used:  Adobe Photoshop CC, Adobe Lightroom CC, Paper Artist, Windows movie maker, Go-Pro VR Viewing software

Saturday, 1 April 2017

360 Camera Thoughts & Early Spring Commutes

Some media from the first week of regular (twice!) commuting:

A tiger's eye view of the ride in to work.  About 4°C and a bit damp.  That afternoon was up to 12°C and I comfortably took the long way home.  Both videos use the high speed video capture option within the Fly360 (long motorcycle videos are tedious):

Photos and video screen grabs from the rides all on the 360Fly4k - great resolution but it isn't really a 360° camera like the Ricoh Theta is with a large blank area around the base.  If you mount it facing up it doesn't see the bike.  The photo on the left shows the full range of view - if it was a true 360°view you'd see where the bike was going too.  The Theta stitches two of those globes together giving you a true 360° capture.  It's also much smaller and easier to clip onto a motorbike.  Having a physical button to take photos and move between video and photo mode while on the go is also helpful.  The Fly can only be operated through your smartphone, which isn't possible while in motion (well, I guess it is, but you'll probably end up wrapped around a tree and the copper who sees you with a phone in your hand will loose his mind).

Editing is a whole other thing.  I find the 360 Director software buggy at best.  PoV in camera editing doesn't seem to pick up when you ask it to render.  I can get it to go about one third of the time.  The resolution of the Fly is excellent, and it does an ok job in low light considering that it isn't really designed for it.  The Fly is also weather proof, so you're not worrying about the odd drop of rain like I did with the Theta.

The long and the short of it is, if you're looking for resolution and clarity, the Fly's your choice, just be prepared to stick it in some strange places because it can't see everything.  If you want ease of editing in a small camera with true 360° video and photography, the Theta's where you should go.

These are all taken with it suctioned to the inside of the windshield and pointed back at me...