This article is a part of RS Recommends, an editorial series reviewing products in music and entertainment. Items are independently selected; Penske Media may earn a commission from purchases made from our links.
If you’re looking to step up your photo game this year, consider springing for a 360 camera. A must for both gear-heads and casual enthusiasts alike, a 360 camera lets you capture your view from all angles, using multiple, ultra-wide lenses to take in the world around you. You know those pretty panoramic photos you like to take on your phone? Imagine those same images, only expanded, extending the views from top to bottom and side to side. Even more, picture those images in video format and rendered in stunning HD quality. That’s what you get with a 360 camera.
A response to the rapidly growing field of virtual reality, 360 cameras are designed for a truly immersive experience, letting you and your viewers see things from a more detailed and realistic perspective. After all, the world isn’t flat – why should your videos be?
With VR technology evolving at a rapid pace, you don’t have to be filmmaker to get your hands on a decent 360 cam these days. While there are plenty of professional models that can run into the thousands of dollars, we’ve found four solid models under $200 that deliver on image quality, portability and ease of use.
Note: the vast majority of 360 devices are designed as video cameras that also shoot stills. Also keep in mind that you’ll still need to stitch your photos and videos together to create a full 360 finished product, though most of the models listed here allow you to do that in the camera or through a connected app.
1. Samsung Gear 360
One of the best-reviewed 360 cameras in the marketplace, the Gear 360 gets you 4K video capabilities in a portable, lightweight package. Weighing just 130 grams, the Gear 360 is designed for travel, with a long handle/grip and a dust and water-resistant casing.
In addition to the 4K video (roughly four times the quality of regular HD), the camera shoots 15MP photographs. The spherical design and dual, 180° lenses deliver sharp, focused images, and the battery gets you up to 130 minutes of recording time on a single charge.
Download the Samsung Gear 360 app to edit and share your photos. You can also pair the camera with your Samsung Galaxy to livestream footage (note: the live broadcast mode only supports 2K video). This set comes with a USB charging cable, a carry strap and a protective pouch. Purchase: $138.00 on Amazon.com.
2. Ricoh Theta SC 360° Video and Still Camera
Ricoh is the parent company of renowned camera brand, Pentax, so they know a thing or two about producing high quality images. This 360 camera stands out for its bright F2.0 lens (great for low lighting conditions), auto HDR feature and intuitive app (which lets you edit footage, choose music, add special effects, etc). The camera’s 1/2.3-inch image sensor gives you 14MP pictures.
Weighing in at under four ounces, and about the size of a TV remote, the Theta is great for capturing footage on the go, and won’t take up a lot of space in your kit.
Unlike some of the other picks on our list, reviewers say this camera is better suited to still photos, rather than video, and they say the depth and accuracy of the images is surprisingly good for the price point. The one drawback: users say the battery tends to drain quickly, though it charges up easily using a simple USB connection. The Ricoh Theta is available in four colors. Purchase: $179.95 on Amazon.com.
3. YI 360 VR Camera
The Yi 360 Camera delivers crisp, 5K video at 30 frames per second, and at under $200, it’s the cheapest 5K 360 cam in the market right now. Dual 220° lenses capture more of your view, with zero blind spots. Built-in “Advanced Electronic Image Stabilization” technology, meantime, helps prevent shakiness, to keep your footage stable.
What we like: the Yi is one of the few devices that offer in-camera stitching, eliminating the need for you to stitch your footage together in a separate app or computer program. It also lets you live stream your 360° videos in up to 4K resolution. Battery life gets you about 40 minutes at 5K, and over an hour shooting in 4K.
This set includes the 360 VR Camera, battery, a USB cable, mini tripod and protective case. Purchase: $195.99 on Amazon.com.
4. Insta360 ONE 360 Video Action Camera
While reviewers rave about the Insta360 ONE X ($420), this model gets you similar features for $200 less. Unless you’re filming a movie or documenting a particularly involved action sequence, the Insta360 ONE will serve you just fine.
What we like: the ONE shoots in every direction at once, capturing 4K 360° video (the ONE X shoots in 5K) and 24 MP photos. The camera’s “FlowState Stabilization” technology keeps things smooth (even if you’re on the move), and their “SmartTrack” feature will hone in on your subject to keep them in focus — and in frame.
Shoot using the buttons on the camera, or connect it to your phone via Bluetooth and preview and control your shots through your screen. You can also plug the camera directly into your phone.
The Insta360 ONE is rated IP68 for its waterproof housing, meaning it can be submerged in 1.5 meters of water for up to half an hour without damage. The casing is also dust-proof, drop-proof and has a 9HD rating for hardness — the same rating found on the best screen protectors for your phone. Purchase: $200.76 on Amazon.com.