The Nikon KeyMission 360 ($499.95) does a lot of things right, but it also does a few things wrong. It’s the easiest 360-degree video camera to use—the footage is ready for upload to the Web right off the memory card, without the need to any time-intensive conversion process—and it’s waterproof to 100 feet without an external case. But it lacks some features that would make it more versatile, including a single-lens 16:9 capture mode and a microphone input jack. Video quality is up there with some of the stronger 360-degree cameras we’ve looked at, including the Samsung Gear 360 ($260.00 at Amazon) , but the price is also higher. If you’re intent on jumping into the 360-degree capture world at this early juncture, the KeyMission 360 will give you the fewest headaches. But we still recommend holding off until video quality is better.
The KeyMission 360 ($299.00 at Amazon) is a a small, squarish camera with two huge lenses, a protective rubber cover, a 6.6-foot drop rating, and a 100-foot waterproof rating. It measures 2.4 by 2.4 by 2.6 inches (HWD), weighs about 7 ounces, and sports a standard tripod thread. An adapter to connect the KM360 to Nikon’s mounting system, as well as two adhesive mounts, are included. Despite looking a lot like a GoPro ($559.99 at Amazon) mount, Nikon’s are proprietary due to a different center rail design. If you have an extensive array of GoPro accessories already, you can alway use a GoPro tripod mount adapter with the KeyMission 360’s standard socket.
Each lens is protected by a dome cover. They’re ideally used for video above ground. Nikon also supplies underwater lens protectors, which are better suited for shooting underwater footage. The underwater covers do block a portion of the field of view of each lens, so there will be a blacked out area in your video.
The KeyMission is powered by a removable, rechargeable battery. It’s good for about 50 minutes of recording per charge. It’s protected by a sealed door, with a dual locking mechanism, that also houses the microSD card slot, as well as micro HDMI and micro USB ports.
The video record button is on the top. It doubles as the power button—you hold it down for a couple of seconds to turn the KeyMission on. A shutter release for photos is on the side, and also doubles as a power button in the same manner. But in order to keep your hand out of shots, you’ll need to set a self-timer or use the companion app for remote control.
The app, Snapbridge 170/360 for Android and iOS, shouldn’t be confused with the standard SnapBridge app that Nikon offers for its SLRs, like the D500 ($1,909.95 at Amazon) . Once you get the right app up and running, you need to pair the camera with your phone via Bluetooth. It’s a painless process.
In order to actually control it remotely and transfer images and video to your device, you need to activate the KM 360’s Wi-Fi and connect it to your phone. Android users have a pretty easy time doing so, as the app can make the change for you, but iOS folks will need to open up the Settings app and choose the network manually if you are already connected to a known Wi-Fi network. If you’ve used iOS with wireless cameras in the past, you’re used to this.
And you do need the smartphone app in order to take full control of the KeyMission. If you want to change the video resolution, image quality, adjust self-timer settings, and dial in any sort of manual exposure adjustment, you need to use the app. That’s in contrast to the Samsung Gear 360, which has an app that only works with select Samsung devices, but also includes a small LCD so you can change settings using the camera hardware itself.
Nikon supplies very basic editing software for both the Mac and Windows platforms. It allows you to trim clips to shorten them, apply filters, and upload to YouTube. But since the video is already stitched, you can edit in the application of your choice. I used Premiere Pro CC, but Final Cut Pro (Free Trial at topdeblogs.com) and iMovie would work just as well. You’ll just need to add 360-degree metadata, a simple process with a free app, before uploading to YouTube.
Image and Video Quality
Still images are 30MP in resolution and pre-stitched for easy upload to Facebook. Image quality is on par with a good smartphone or pocket digital camera, with some of the same faults you find with photos from small sensor cameras. In an indoor shot of PC Labs, with the studio lights for our daily Facebook show turned on, the lights themselves appear to be blown out, but the rest of the scene is clearly lit. You can click on the photo below to see it in its full 360-degree glory. Seams are visible in close objects—the NES Classic ($176.98 at Amazon) next to the camera is only partially visible—but aren’t as noticeable when in parts of the scene that are a few feet from the lenses.
The same is true with video—keep objects away from the side of the camera if they’re in close proximity for the best results. The footage is recorded at up to 4K quality, which is what we used for testing, at 24fps. Likewise, 1080p footage is also 24fps only; you need to drop down to the lowest resolution setting, 960p, for 30fps capture. We don’t recommend using anything less than 4K, as the resolution requirements to get crisp detail out of 360-degree video are steep.
The KeyMission 360 delivers some of the best video we’ve seen from a camera of its type, but it’s not on the same level as the 16:9 4K footage you get from compact cameras like the GoPro Hero5 Session ($799.00 at Amazon) . Of course, you can’t navigate through an entire 360-degree sphere with video captured by that camera. I think we’ll start seeing 360-degree footage that is really eye-popping in detail when technology advances to meet 6K and 8K resolution standards.
Audio is a mixed bag. The KeyMission 360 picks up my voice loudly and clearly when I’m right next to it. But even from just a few feet away, it sounds hollow and distant. Unfortunately, there’s no way to connect an external microphone.
Video is stabilized using digital methods. The camera does a good job removing jitters from handheld footage, but it’s no match for the vibration caused by the motor of a tractor when mounted to the hood. There’s a bit of purple fringing visible in high-contrast areas of the scene, especially near where the lenses stitch together. This has been par for the course with the 360-degree cameras we’ve reviewed.
The big advantage of choosing the KeyMission 360 over the Gear 360 is workflow. With the KeyMission, your video is compressed using H.264 and is ready to edit right off the card. There’s no time-consuming process required to convert it to a format that you can load into the included software or something more robust like Adobe Premiere Pro CC. The trade-off is that the KeyMission 360 records really, really big video files—about 1.7GB for each minute of footage.
The KeyMission records 360-degree footage only. It doesn’t have the ability to shoot with a single lens and crop out a 16:9 frame, which is something the less expensive Samsung Gear 360 can do. It makes the Nikon a less versatile solution, as you don’t always want to shoot in 360-degree mode.
The Nikon KeyMission 360 offers the most streamlined workflow for dual-lens, fully spherical 360-degree video footage to date. There’s no need to spend hours converting footage into a usable format, as you have to do with Samsung Gear 360, nor do you have to deal with low-res footage like you get with the Gigabyte Jolt Duo . It’s also a go-anywhere camera, as it’s waterproof without the need for an external housing and can survive drops from moderate heights. But, as we’ve seen with other dual-lens solutions, seam lines are visible when items get too close to any side of the camera that doesn’t sport its own lens. If you’re an early adopter, the KeyMission 360 delivers the best user experience from the models we’ve tested, and its video quality is right up there with the Gear 360. But 360-degree video has a long way to go to catch up to traditional 16:9 footage in overall quality.