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Giroptic’s unique take on the 360-degree camera is now shipping

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Up close with the crowdfunded 360cam

Two years ago, a company called Giroptic held a pretty successful Kickstarter campaign for the 360cam, ostensibly the first consumer-ready camera that could shoot 360-degree photos and videos. In the time that it took the company to turn that cash into a real product, Giroptic was beaten to market by the likes of Ricoh and Kodak. Now, two years after a the crowdfunding effort brought in $1.4 million, the company is finally shipping the 360cam. Cameras are going out to backers today, and the camera will be available for purchase starting May 24th.

Richard Ollier, the company's CEO, recently brought one of the cameras to The Verge's office for a short demo. But while other companies might have shipped first, Giroptic is doing things with this camera that no other company seems to have thought about. The 360cam is really one of the most unique cameras in this young niche market.

There are some really clever ideas baked into the 360cam

First, the bottom section of the pear-shaped camera — which houses a swappable battery — detaches. This lets you swap other modules onto the camera for different functionality (similar to the "Friends" modules on LG's new G5). One attachment gives the camera live-streaming capabilities — it's equipped with an Ethernet port that provides the data connection and powers the camera, all without making the camera any bigger. This add-on costs $249, but even when you combine it with the $499 price tag of the camera, it's still the cheapest way to live stream 360-degree video at the moment.

Another attachment that Giroptic makes is supremely bizarre but serves a purpose: it's essentially just the business end of a light bulb. Snapping this attachment into the camera turns it into a quick and dirty home surveillance setup that you can plug right into any light fixture.

Somehow it all feels very well-made, especially for a small company without much consumer retail experience. (Giroptic got its start eight years ago making spherical cameras for real estate businesses.) For instance, the modular attachments are secured with three (very sturdy-feeling) snap locks. The exterior of the camera is covered in a tough rubber, and Giroptic says the camera is waterproof out of the box (up to 30 feet for 30 minutes), no extra housing required.

There are smart touches in the software, too. Giroptic's whole process is essentially one-button. You just press once to record, once to stop, and the camera automatically handles all the stitching and processing. You do have to wait to transfer the files to your phone, but you're not relying on your phone (or a desktop computer) to assemble the spherical footage; it can be posted instantly to 360-degree-friendly platforms like YouTube or Facebook.

The Giroptic camera doesn't quite shoot an entire sphere, so the "bottom" of the 360-degree image is cut out. But instead of just being a black splotch, or Giroptic's logo, you can upload your own design to cover up that gap. Companies and filmmakers have already started doing this on their own to cover up similar gaps or blurring in the images produced by other spherical cameras, but Giroptic's taken most of the work out of that process.

Giroptic's lower-resolution image quality means the camera is only for amateurs

Ollier admits that Giroptic can't compete with the high-end specs of the spherical cameras that Nikon and GoPro will release later this year. "I would say 360cam is under the standard where everyone expects things to be 4k," Ollier says. But the camera's 2K (2048 x 1024) footage looked good during the demo, with only slightly visible stitching lines. The camera's digital stabilization also helped the footage look pretty smooth, which was impressive because the video Ollier chose had been shot on the back of a hawk that was in mid-flight. That said, other sample videos released by Giroptic don't look as good as this one did, and image quality is definitely the 360cam's biggest shortcoming.

By the end of this year, there will be nearly a dozen consumer cameras capable of shooting 360-degree footage. Many of them will be locked in a battle over features like 4K and slow-motion, things that will matter to a great number of consumers. But Giroptic's unique 360cam shows that those specs aren't everything.