360 cameras are unlike any other type of camera, so it’s worth spelling out what they do and what this means.
The key is to imagine capturing a scene not in a flat rectangle, but on the inside of a sphere. You view a 360-degree image from within this sphere, moving your smart device or a window in your web browser to look around.
Update: We have a new number one! In fact it's the Insta360 ONE X, and you can find out more about it below.
360-degree stills are easiest to figure out because everything is static. 360 videos are more confusing because you have the freedom to look where you like, but the action carries on regardless, which means as a viewer you kind of have control but don’t, and it’s easy to end up looking the wrong way while things are happening.
Read more: How to take 360-degree videos and photos
You can either consume 360 photos and videos directly via smart devices and websites with the necessary navigational interactivity, or as a content author you can use this spherical raw material to produce smaller, ‘flat’ windows on the scene with a lot of editing control.
For example, with 360 stills you can create wide-angle shots and panoramas. It’s 360 video that offers most potential, though, because you can shoot from a static position and than pan and zoom with moving subjects later in software.
Read more: 10 of the best 360-degree videos ever filmed
There is just one thing. These cameras sound like they’ve got good resolution for stills and videos, but it’s spread over the inside of a sphere. When you start viewing and editing smaller sections of this, that resolution doesn’t go very far.
And another thing. Broadly, there are two types of consumer 360 cameras: spherical action cams designed to survive hazardous adventures, and lifestyle cameras that are cheaper, smaller and often easier to use.
Our buying guide has four of each type to help you decide which is best for you. We've already made our decision!
1. Insta360 ONE X
This amazing new camera makes 360 imaging soooo easy!
Weight: 115g | Dimensions: 115 x 48 x 28mm | Waterproof: Optional housing | Stills resolution: 18MP | Video resolution: 5.7K | Memory: MicroSD | Mount: Tripod socket | Battery life: 60mins
We liked the Insta360 One, which features just a little way down our list below, but the new Insta360 ONE X is a completely different product. Or, for 'different', read 'amazing'. It's got the appealing slimline shape of the Ricoh Theta V, the 5.7K 'overcapture' of the Garmin Virb and an app that offers advanced video editing and subject tracking on your smartphone. Insta360 makes a great play about this camera's 6-axis gyro system and 'FlowState' stabilisation, and it's every bit as good as they say – we got the odd 'shimmer' during low-light shooting indoors, but in decent light it's as smooth as you like, and playback stays level however you angle the camera. Even better, if you get the optional 'invisible' selfie stick, it's hidden in the recorded footage and it looks like you're a bystander in your videos and photos and not actually holding the camera at all. The Insta360 ONE X feels like a massive step forward in simplicity, usability and quality for 360 cameras.
2. Garmin VIRB 360
The VIRB 360 has everything: ruggedness, quality and features
Weight: 160g | Dimensions: 39.0 x 59.3 x 69.8mm | Waterproof: 10m | Stills resolution: 15MP | Video resolution: 5.7K | Memory: MicroSD | Mount: Various, via supplied cradles | Battery life: 65mins
The VIRB 360 is a rugged action cam which is waterproof to a depth of 10m and comes with clip-on cradles for both a regular tripod mount and a GoPro mount. You can operate it as a standalone camera via a small mono display and three multi-function buttons, or you can control it via the VIRB app. The VIRB’s stills show average sharpness but with very little colour fringing and well-blended seams where the two hemispherical images are stitched. Its 5.7K capture should yield better results, but you need a computer for that. In-app stitching is restricted to 4K, but the app’s HyperFrame Director offers simple but efficient tools for adding smooth camera pans and angle of view changes to create separate standalone movies for saving and sharing. The in-built GPS and G-Metrix sensors also offer data overlays for extreme sports fans who want their viewers to see this extra data. If you like your adventures rugged, this is the tool for job.
3. Ricoh Theta V
The classy lifestyle alternative if you don’t need action cam toughness
Weight: 121g | Dimensions: 45.2 x 130.6 x 22.9mm | Waterproof: No | Stills resolution: 14MP | Video resolution: 4K | Memory: 19GB internal | Mount: Tripod: | Battery life: 80mins
The Theta V is instantly likeable. Its tall, slim shape is perfect for holding in one hand without obscuring either lens, and you have easy access to the controls. These are very simple and you don’t need the smartphone app to start shooting. You set the Theta V to stills or video mode and press the shutter-release button to capture the image – and that’s all there is to know. The smartphone app is equally simple. You can browse images both on the camera and already transferred to the app, and simply tapping on a file on the camera to view it initiates the transfer and deletes the image from the camera’s memory – and as it’s fixed at 19GB, that’s probably just as well. The app has basic but effective VR viewing options and there’s a separate Theta+ app for editing your images. The still image quality is very good, and the video isn’t bad either, though there is strong purple fringing where the two hemispheres blend. It's good, but it's upstaged now by the Insta360 ONE X (above).
4. GoPro Fusion
Powerful, tough and smart, but the dual card slots can be annoying
Weight: 220g | Dimensions: 74 x 75 x 40mm | Waterproof: 5m | Stills resolution: 18MP | Video resolution: 5.2K | Memory: 2x MicroSD | Mount: GoPro | Battery life: Not quoted
The GoPro Fusion is slimmer than the Garmin VIRB 360 and Nikon KeyMission 360 and, like its other two action cam rivals, it’s waterproof, though only down to a depth of 5m. With a maximum video resolution of 5.2K, the Fusion uses a feature called OverCapture to allow the extraction of regular ‘flat’ Full HD movies from its spherical footage. The extra resolution can be exploited either by the companion smartphone app or by the free-to-download GoPro Fusion Studio software. The QuickCapture button starts recording with a single press, even if the camera is switched off, and there’s a Photo button which does the same. You can also use voice commands to start and stop recordings and add Highlight Tags to find key moments later. Like other 360 cameras, the Fusion is effectively two cameras back to back. Oddly, though, it requires two matched microSD cards to go with them, which makes image transfer to a computer more fiddly later on.
5. Insta360 One
It’s iPhone-specific, but the Insta360 One is neat, easy and effective
Weight: 82g | Dimensions: 96 x 36.5 x 25mm | Waterproof: No | Stills resolution: 24MP | Video resolution: 4K | Memory: MicroSD | Mount: Tripod, Lightning port | Battery life: 70mins
The Insta360 One is designed solely for use with an iPhone (or iPad). It has a flip-out Lightning connector that plugs straight into the iPhone’s Lightning socket and also fixes it to the phone. It feels reasonably secure but would feel even better if there was some kind of additional fixing point. But this direct connection offers fast, reliable and fuss-free communication. The accompanying app launches automatically and provides an instant, lag-free live view of what the camera sees. If you to use the camera independently, you can use its single power button to capture stills or video, or fire the camera remotely via Bluetooth. There’s no Wi-Fi so there’s no live view, and your iPhone now simply acts as a remote release. The image quality is great and the editing tools in the app are second to none at rendering ‘flat’ video from your 360 images, with a Viewfinder mode for panning and zooming in real time, a SmartTrack mode for tracking moving subjects and a PivotPoints to create smooth panning movements. It's not as good as the newer Insta360 ONE X, but you should be able to find it a lot cheaper.
6. Samsung Gear 360 (2017)
It’s cheap and it’s cute but the Gear 360’s images aren’t the best
Weight: 130g | Dimensions: 100.6 x 46.3 x 45.1mm | Waterproof: No | Stills resolution: 15MP | Video resolution: 4K | Memory: MicroSD | Mount: Tripod | Battery life: 130min
The Gear 360 (2017 model) is just as appealing as the Ricoh Theta V but in a different way. Its rounded shape gives it the cute look of a toy robot and it's ideal for handheld shooting, although there’s also a tripod socket in the base. Like the Ricoh Theta it’s very simple to use, and this time you’re helped by a small LCD screen for navigating through the camera modes, which include Video, Photo, Time lapse, Video looping and Landscape HDR. It’s cheap enough in the UK, but in the US the 2017 Gear 360 is an absolute steal, and the companion smartphone app is straightforward to use and offers a good range of viewing options. Still images look somewhat soft, but the 360 video quality isn’t bad. We did have to re-initiate our Wi-Fi connection to an iPhone from the camera a couple of times, but connectivity issues are seldom far away with 360 and action cameras and smartphones. The Gear 360 is cute, simple and cheap, but the quality just isn't up there with its more modern rivals.
7. Nikon KeyMission 360
Nearly a great product, but let down by its SnapBridge system
Weight: 198g | Dimensions: 65.7 x 60.6 x 61.1mm | Waterproof: 30m | Stills resolution: 24MP | Video resolution: 4K | Memory: MicroSD | Mount: Supplied mount base | Battery life: 230 shots
It doesn’t take long to find the KeyMission 360’s weak spot; it’s let down badly by its SnapBridge 360/170 app and unreliable Wi-Fi connection. In our hands the Wi-Fi connection persistently dropped after just a few seconds or a couple of inputs from the app, which made any attempt at remote control both frustrating and futile. All of this is a great shame, because the KeyMission 360 is a very attractive, well-made and substantial camera that really feels like it means business. It doesn’t offer the 5.7K ‘overcapture’ of the Garmin VIRB 360 or GoPro Fusion, being limited to 4K spherical video, but it does offer 24MP stills. Furthermore, it’s shockproof to a height of 2m, waterproof down to a depth of 30m, and both freeze-proof and dust-proof. The KeyMission 360 can still be used as a standalone 360 camera, with stills and video transferred later to a computer for stitching and editing with Nikon’s KeyMission 360/170 Utility software. This is a simple editor that doesn’t offer the same tracking or panning tools as other 360 editing software, but it’s a start.
8. Kodak PixPro Orbit360 4K/4KVR360
This dual-lens PixPro shoots in three different modes
Weight: 156g | Dimensions: 55.0 x 55.0 x 67.6mm | Protection: Splashproof, Shockproof, Freezeproof | Stills resolution: 20.68MP | Video resolution: 4K | Memory: MicroSD | Mounts: Optional packs | Battery life: 160 shots
The PixPro Orbit360's main claim to fame (it's called the 4KVR360 in the UK and Europe) is its choice of three viewing modes. Interestingly, it uses asymmetric lenses to offer a wide-angle action-cam style view, an even wider 'dome' view and a stitched 360-degree spherical view. Kodak makes three different 360 cameras, but the other two – the PixPro SP360 and PixPro SP360 4K are single-lens cameras which need to be used in pairs and the results stitched in software to get a full, spherical image. The Orbit 360 4K looks cool and is easy to use, but while the horizontal resolution matches the 4K standard (3840 pixels) the vertical resolution is just 1920 pixels, so the Kodak is outgunned by many of its more recent rivals. The results are average, so it's a good buy at a discounted price but not so attractive otherwise.
More best camera buying guides
- The 10 best selfie cameras
- The 10 best action cameras
- The 10 best point-and-shoot cameras
- The 10 best cameras under £500/$600
- The 10 best compact cameras
- The 10 best mirrorless cameras
- The 10 best travel cameras
- The 10 best bridge cameras