Motorola has a new Moto 360, and it’s not a smartwatch. This time, it’s a Moto Mod that records 360-degree video at 4K resolution using two 12-megapixel cameras and captures 3D audio thanks to its four built-in microphones. The “Moto 360 camera” is, if nothing else, one of the more unique mods that Motorola has released in some time; battery packs represent the bulk of snap-on modular accessories available for the Moto Z family.
However, the 360 camera feels rather overpriced at $300 when you factor in that it doesn’t have its own battery — it pulls power from your Moto Z phone instead — and all the processing happens on the phone as well. That $300 MSRP is significantly more expensive than Samsung’s Gear 360 camera, which works with Galaxy phones and also Apple’s iPhone devices.
But if you’re dead set on getting the latest Moto Mod to justify buying into the Moto Z line, here’s how to get started using the new Moto 360 when it goes on sale later this week.
The first time you attach the Moto 360 camera, the Moto Z’s camera app will automatically open and give you a brief tutorial on the various modes and editing tools that you can use. All 360 recording happens right in the default camera app, so there are no extra apps or software to learn; you can toggle between the 360 cam and the phone’s camera with a simple tap of the icon with two arrows in the lower left corner.
There are three viewfinder modes for the 360 cam. None of them actually change or affect the image or video you’re taking; they’re just different ways of getting a handle on everything that the camera is capturing. My favorite is the globe, which is an all-encompassing spherical view of what the camera sees. You can swipe around, zoom in, and easily focus in on whatever you want in the scene. That’s a good way of checking how you look in the shot, but just remember that when you hit the shutter, you’re taking a still or video clip of everything around you.
The second viewfinder option is a split-screen look at what the front and back cameras are recording. There’s no way to interact with this one or zoom in. And the third choice gives you a horizontal slider at the bottom that can pan the larger, primary view above it left or right.
Shooting is pretty straightforward — but you’ve got to keep expectations in check regarding quality. You’d probably expect the world from a $300 camera accessory, but remember that professionals use way more than 2 cameras to record high-grade 360-degree footage. Motorola’s mod just isn’t going to compare to even pricier options on the market.
Outdoors in bright light, it’s quite good. Here’s a clip of me walking around Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg. Note that the footage can get pretty shaky since the Moto 360 cam doesn’t have much in the way of stabilization. On the whole though, it should give you an idea of what quality would be like if you were carrying this around on vacation. When recording video, you’ll always want to have the back of your Moto Z phone facing the action. Three of the four microphones are on that side of the 360 camera.
Indoors and in low light, both photo and video quality starts to degrade significantly and get becomes very noisy. You’re probably just not going to want to bother using the 360 cam in less-than-ideal conditions at all. Here’s a sample image taken indoors at a cafe. And here’s an example of a shot from a grey, rainy day. I was a little surprised by how overexposed the sky came out.
Editing 360-degree video isn’t really something that most consumers would want to attempt, but Motorola has included a few useful tools to cover the basics. First, it’s super simple to stitch multiple 360 clips together into a longer video that you can share via YouTube or elsewhere. There are also a few filter effects that can be applied your 360 videos and pictures, but they’re pretty lackluster so I’ve mostly avoided them. Another, actually useful editing tool lets you crop certain parts of your 360 shot for a more traditional image that’s easier to share on Instagram. (360-degree content is natively supported by Facebook now, so everything works right away when you upload it there.)
You can also easily save “Tiny Planet” shots with the editor, which can make even boring content look pretty cool.
Motorola came up with a similar trick for video. Since not every app or service supports 360 video, the company includes a pretty convenient feature it calls Director’s Cut, which lets you make a more traditional video clip using the 360-degree footage you’ve captured. When you select the mode, you’ll need to choose an aspect ratio for your finished video. Swipe the 360 video to the desired starting vantage point that you want, and then hit the record button.
As the original video progresses, you can swipe around in the frame to show different areas and focus in on the most important subject. Thus the directing part of the name. Once it’s all done, you’ll have a regular video that wouldn’t seem as though it came from a 360-degree camera. The tradeoffs are that it’s not interactive, and viewers won’t be able to explore the full scene. And the video quality is subpar compared to the 4K video that many smartphones can record. But if you only got 360 video of a special moment, the Director’s Cut option can help make something that’s a little easier for family members and friends to watch and enjoy.
But that about covers the basics of using Motorola’s 360 cam. You’ll need a Moto Z smartphone to use it in the first place. Everyone else will need to stick to other options on the market — and soon the Essential Phone will offer a similar accessory. I don’t think Motorola’s version is something I’d spent $300 on. At half that price, maybe...
Other observations after some outings with this camera:
- I wish Motorola had included some kind of stand for your phone to use when the 360 cam is attached. There’s a timer mode in the camera app, but good luck actually getting yourself out of the shot without a tripod setup. If you lean your phone against anything, you’ll almost definitely see it in the finished photo or video.
- Live streaming in 360 on Facebook and Periscope aren’t yet supported. Motorola says this will be enabled in a future software update.
- Try to keep better track of the protective silicone lens cover than I did; I lost it within a couple days. Sorry Moto.