Lens Options for 360 Degree Virtual Reality Camera Rigs? And other thoughts on cameras.

Sony 360 Degree Virtual Reality Camera Rig

I’m a long way from upgrading my multiple (from six to a dozen cameras at once!) action cameras 360 Degree Virtual Reality Rig (thus I don’t need to worry about interchangeable lens options on this rig), but when I do I am thinking to go with Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera. Even though high resolution is very important for 360VR.

If you do go with 4K cameras then the Panasonic GH4 is a very popular 4K option (such as these guys using GH4 cameras for 360VR: http://shinichi-works.info/project_gh4.html). Also there is the Sony a7R mk2 / a7S mk2 options (but costs skyrocket, after all you’re not buying just one camera but many!) or Sony A6300 (which has overheating issues, an especially troubling issue if you have six of these operating all cramped up close together to each other! As then they’ll overheat even faster). Also Blackmagic Design has their Micro Studio Camera, but that requires an external 4K recorder, which introduces significant size/power/cost issues. Samsung NX1 is also very much worth a look (& NX500, but in 4K it has a harsh crop factor), but it is a dying system and ever since the NX1 hack came out the secondhand prices of the NX1 have been staying high.

Thus in the end I’d prefer the BlackMagic Micro Cinema Camera (BMMCC), because I’d prefer the dynamic range, bit depth, and color space of the BMMCC. And while the Panasonic GH4 / G7 does a max of 30p @ 4K, you are gaining resolution but giving up frame rate and I’d rather keep it at 60fps (as arguably high frame rates are nearly just as important for Virtual Reality as resolution is. Least you give the viewer motion sickness. And you can get higher resolution by using more cameras!). Presumably the GH5 will give 4K 60fps, but that will probably cost US$2K or more per camera (and you need many multiple ones of them of course for complete 360 degree coverage!), and it hasn’t even been announced yet so who knows.

Though given the likely length of time until I’ll be upgrading, we’ll surely see a Panasonic G7 sale by then which might make that option too cheap to resist vs going with BlackMagic Micro Cinema Cameras.

Anyway, I have still been putting a lot of thought & research this year into the various options for the future, and I decided I’d at last put the metaphorical pen to paper and share a few of my thoughts on this particular aspect of lens choices. We can broadly speaking split it into three groups:

  • a) native mount (i.e. MFT lens, or E mount lenses if a person was using A6300/A7 series instead), but then this can severely limit a person a couple of years down the track if they change bodies. It would be a lot smoother / cheaper if only the bodies need to be swapped out and not lenses as well. I’d like to have some degree of versatility with this rig.
  • b) full frame UWA lenses (in Nikon F mount of course, as I’ve explained in other blog posts), but not an option as you can’t then go truly wide if using them on APS-C or smaller bodies. And A7r mk2 / A7s mk2 are the only truly interesting options to consider here for use that are full frame. Maybe with the one exception of the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 lens, which does almost hit the sweet spot for price & focal length even when used on APS-C. Or the Rokinon 12mm F2.8, but then you have to deal with fisheye distortion.
  • c) APS-C UWA lens, this appears to hit the sweet spot of maximum versatility plus maximum FoV.


    APS-C lens options:
  • Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6, max FoV but I’d be concerned about the slow f-stop, as then you’d start to be losing one of the key gains of ditching GoPros with their poor lowlight ability.
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (or the newer Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8, but that costs more so no), this is the lens I own myself and is in my eyes the “best” UWA lens for normal filmmaking, but does that mean it is for 360VR too?? Hmm
  • Rokinon 10mm f/2.8, is lighter/cheaper/wider (all 3 keys points for a 360VR rig) than the Tokina but is a fixed focal length (probably not a disadvantage though at all! As you absolutely don’t want that focal length to change once you’ve set it, thus why people will tape down zoom lenses if using them on a 360VR rig). However the Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 isn’t cheaper than Tokina when you consider the older Tokina models can easily be picked up secondhand, but the Rokinon can’t be so easily found at all secondhand as it is a newer lens.
  • Rokinon 16mm f/2, the fastest option but by this point at 16mm it is only barely UWA at all.

Outside these options listed, I can’t think of any good UWA lenses, or am I missing something? Everything else that comes to mind seems that they’d all be a worse compromise somewhere in price/FoV/speed/etc than these four that I listed.

Keen to hear in the comments your views on my thought process and each of the options I reached at!

Samsung is about to release a cheaper NX1 with 4K…. or does the NX500 only have 2.5K?

The Samsung NX1 has been getting attention on both the photography side for having the highest resolution APS-C sensor on the market (28 megapixels, greater than any full frame Canon DSLR!), but even more so on the film side for being the second system camera after the Panasonic GH4 to have internal 4K recording.

Now it appears that Samsung is bringing out a cheaper version of the Samsung NX1 called the “NX500” with a lot of the benefits which made the NX1 so great!

Here are the leaks:

Over in Italy there is a promotional offer:

Nella presente Operazione il prodotto promozionato è la Smart Camera NX a marchio Samsung modelli NX1, NX30, NX300, NX500, NX3000, NX3300.

Which Google Translate tells me means “In this operation the product being promoted is the Smart Camera Samsung NX-branded models NX1, NX30, NX300, NX500, NX3000, NX3300.”

Now neither NX500 or NX3300 are cameras which Samsung currently makes! Yet it says the promotion is “Dal 12 gennaio 2015 al 31 marzo 2015 inclusi” (“From 12 January 2015 until March 31, 2015 included.”). I’m guessing somebody slipped up and including cameras which are not out, but will be available to buy before the promotion ends on March 31st.

We can get a better guess at exactly when they do ship as this store in the Netherlands has already put up the option to pre-order them along with expected shipping dates: Shipment date in the Netherlands is 30 January 2015 for NX3300 at €449 (already down from €600??) and 6 March 2015 for NX500 at €749 (already down from €999??).

Sadly these links lack any specs info, except for the Dutch Photo Semeins store which says the NX500 has a “28 megapixel BSI APS-C” sensor. Which very strongly indicates it will have the same sensor in it as is in the Samsung NX1!

But… Photo Semeins isn’t the only Dutch web store with info up about these new Samsung cameras! (what is it with these Dutch stores huh? I’m guessing it is somebody at Samsung Netherlands who let the info out too early)

The Dutch store Foto Tuerlings also has info available about the Samsung NX500:

Samsung NX500

Translated this says:

In mid-February available !!

1. 28M BSI CMOS sensor
2. Hybrid Auto Focus System (Phase Detection + Contrast AF) AF 205 points!
3. 9 frames per second shooting continious
4. New SMART options: GEO tagging, 4x faster WiFi connection, Bluetooth etc.
5. 2.5K (Quad HD) movie
5. UHD Timelaps Video
6. Tilt flip-up Super AMOLED display with Touch
7. Double control wheel

First of all, these are same nice looking specs for a budget priced camera!

What exactly “Quad HD” is and what exactly “2.5K” is can vary a little depending on who you ask, just like how the meaning of “4K” can vary by a few pixels here and there.

So the Blackmagic Cinema Camera for instance is 2.5K and is 2432×1366.

Quad HD is also knowns as QHD, or even as short for WQHD (Wide Quad HD), or 1440p. To quote Wikipedia for more info:

…is a display resolution of 2560×1440 pixels in a 16:9 aspect ratio. It has four times as many pixels as the 720p HDTV video standard, hence the name.

Thus Quad HD is 4x HD (720p) but is not the 4x FHD (“Full HD”, i.e. 1080p) or “4K” that you might hope for.

None the less, having Quad HD / 1440p is very handy for a filmmaker who is providing FHD output! As it gives you a better quality HD file, and extra room in post to play around with stabilisation or other aspect rations without dropping below FHD resolution after cropping.

However… maybe Foto Tuerlings got it wrong, and it has 4K as well as “2.5K”?

After all, Samsung itself leaked that the NX500 has 4K:

Sensitivity: ISO 100 – 32000
Highest Sensitivity: Manually ISO 32000, ISO 25600 Auto ISO limit
Top shutter speed: ISO 1/4000
Video: 4095×2160 (24p), 3840×2160 (25p / 30p), 1920×1080 (50p / 60p), 1920×1080 (25p / 30p)

And back last month there was rumours of the Samsung NX400 (which would actually be info for the NX500 we would assume) that said it too has 4K (and will be released in February). But… the day before a different website said their rumour it is will not have 4K! (and they said it will be released in January instead)

So will it have 4K or not? Hopefully it will! Fingers and toes crossed.

Anyway, it is a camera to keep your eye on! If it does have 4K, this might be my first 4K camera? (especially once it goes on sale at a reduced price for the body only) As while I’ve purchased a Sony A7s, it will need an expensive Atomos Shogun as its external recorder to do 4K. (although… if the soon to come Sony A7000 surprises us and has internal 4K, maybe I’ll be getting that? I’ve got high hopes for the A7000, just add IBIS and 4K!)

UPDATE (18th of January):

PhotoRumors.com has released 3D renders of what the NX500 is meant to look like:

NX5000 render
NX500 render and info

Additionally, you can now pre order it from B&H:

NX500 B and H