360° Rig

The background

Building a 360 photo or video rig seems to be quite easy. We need cameras that would cover with their FOV the entire sphere. And that is all. But there are several ways to do that, most of them depend on the FOV of a single camera. We all know that a fisheye lens with FOV of 180° is in a way the most common and probably the best as using such FOV of a single camera minimizes the number of photos to cover the surrounding sphere. If the fov is narrower we need more cameras. I aimed for the common solution.

Before I built the rig I gave the idea a long thought. The main question was: what camera shall I use? On one hand I wanted to shoot 360 videos, on the other I still wanted to shoot high resolution photo panoramas. I wanted to work with it on ground level and flying in a helicopter. I looked carefully at nearly every camera that is available on the market, pros and cons of them. My main assumptions were as follow:

  • shoot video panoramas with best quality
  • shoot panoramas (as photos) with best quality
  • have full manual control for perfect color and exposure
  • small, light size of the rig
  • as small parallax as possible but having all the four points above
The camera

After the research I decided to go for a Sony Nex 5N – a 300 gram camera, small enough for reasonable parallax and powerful enough to shoot both panos and panoramic videos.

The lens

I decided to use a fisheye lens by Samyang with FOV of around 185 degrees.

The setup

Normally we would need 3 cameras with 180 degrees lenses to cover the sphere but due to a narrower image while shooting a video 1920×1080 we would not cover full 360 degrees. The 4 cameras was the right number.

The samples

Video Panoramas

Image quality and color
4 sample images from each camera

As we all know shooting a panorama we set a camera to manual settings including white balance, ISO, aperture and shutter speed - this insures us that all images in a row will have the exact same settings and exposure no matter if we aim the camera towards the sun or other lights. Each camera has been carefully tested if it meets high image quality demands even at fastest aperture. To somehow control the images and movies created by each camera I married each lens to each camera and placed a tape on them with different colors.

  • black - _c for polish 'czarny' - aims forward
  • red - _cz for polish 'czerwony' - aims right
  • blue - _n for polish 'niebieski' - aims backwards
  • yellow - _z for polish 'żółty' - aims left

You may download the full resolution images in the zip file.

Stitching in PTGui
4 images template sample

The angles of the cameras may be adjusted, they may aim a little (or a little bit more) upwards or downwards or just aim straight ahead. If they aim straight ahead, due to almost 185 degrees of FOV of the lenses, you may record full sphere. However if there is an unwanted object (like my head) at the bottom setting cameras a little upwards is a wise decision as this gives the top part more overlapping. Here is a screen from PTGui that shows you how the images align, their color and their exposure. I create one template for each set of images or movies taken at the same time just to be sure that I use a correct template in case one camera could move a little.

Sample images
4 images shot as photos

The resolution of each image is 4912px x 3264px - this outputs an equirectangular panorama at around 9000px x 4500px with an extreme good pixel quality, thanks to Sony Exmor APS HD CMOS Sensor. To be honest one Sony Nex 5N is a perfect choice for shooting panoramas, but 4 cameras set in one rig give a panoramic dream that shoots full spherical panos with just only one click.

You may download the full resolution images in the zip file.

Sample video frames
4 images extracted from 4 videos

The above images are single frames from each camera extracted during post processing. The resolution of each image is 1920px x 1080px - this outputs an equirectangular panorama at around 3500px x 1750px that is more than enough for today's needs.

You may download the full resolution images in the zip file.

Sample videos
4 original videos to stitch

Here are 4 sample videos for you to try to stitch them into one panoramic video. The videos are the original files the cameras produced. Each of the video is around 28MB and the zip file is 111MB. The videos are 10 seconds long.

You may download the videos in the zip file.