As a videographer and photographer, I have chronicled my outdoor adventures for the past 20 years. I am an urban musher, which means I harness my team of Huskies to a cart and travel on trails and streets. I don’t use a snow sled for mushing in Alaska; instead, I use modified bicycles and mush with my pack from Baltimore to California.
If you’re on this website then you’ll already know: They call me the WooFDriver. And while I might be an expert on all things Husky, I am equally an expert on the equipment that I use to record our epic adventures. I’m usually the first one to buy a new kind of camera to test it out so that I can be an early adopter of any kind of technology that pushes the boundaries further, since I myself push boundaries. I will pioneer news ways of using equipment to get the best shot possible ([LINK] see some examples here), and with enough trial and error I’ll make sure I get that shot.
When Nikon released their KeyMission 360, I was very excited because I’d been using virtual reality cameras for better than two years already, perfecting my skill with them and learning their bugs. Nikon is one of the largest and most respected camera manufacturers, so when it got involved in the GoPro-type camera market I jumped on board to see how they’d taken videography and photography to the next level. Competition and availability of any technology is always a plus for consumers, and the KeyMission seemed like it was going to add to the virtual reality game. I ordered it as soon as it was released, took it out of its box, connected it to my mobile phone, and I was off to the races — literally. The Huskies were raring to run and I experimented with ways to capture spherical, 360-degree images of our trek as we headed outside.
The camera had a learning curve, as they all do, but I loved it. As I began to plan my review of the KeyMission, I checked Amazon and was shocked to see so many negative comments and reviews (to amazon’s product page). This camera is NOT worth all of the negative attention it’s receiving; in my opinion, the camera earns nearly 4 stars out of 5. It has plenty of pros, a few cons, and compares favorably to the other two cameras I’ve used the most: the Kodak SP360 models and the Ricoh Theta (read further thoughts on those cameras here and here). I had started my VR journey with the Kodak, then jumped into the Ricoh and was pleasantly surprised with its simplicity and the results it yielded. The Ricoh Theta is an excellent camera, and when I then moved into the Nikon market, I found the KeyMission held its own against the Theta. I actually travel with both of them now, using them interchangeably as I record my adventures with my dog team.
The KeyMission has the advantage of endless memory. Instead of containing non-removable (and therefore limited) interior storage, it takes memory cards. My storage is limited only by how many memory cards I pack with me on a trek. This is a huge advantage over the Theta which has 8 GB, something I can burn through very quickly. I do not want my shooting capabilities to be hampered, especially when I’m 20 miles deep into the C&O Canal path with four Huskies who don’t want to stop. I can shoot and collect footage without visiting my computer for days.
Another huge advantage of the KeyMission is its ability to let the photographer view his own content without downloading it first. This means I can review my footage at a campsite at night without having to wait until I am back home from my journey. I don’t have to download my footage on a computer and convert it to 360-degree format in order to see it; that process is painstaking and time-intensive. For this reason, Nikon has vastly improved the process over Ricoh.
Some of the negative reviews of the KeyMission focus on its connectivity, so I’ll share my experience with that. The connection requires a two-step process of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for full functionality. It will have limited functionality with a Bluetooth-only connection. In my extensive use of both Android and Apple mobile phone platforms, I discovered I had fewer inconsistencies connecting the KeyMission to an Android than an iPhone. In a second note about connectivity, I further discovered when the battery level neared depletion, connectivity suffered on any platform. I recommend carrying spare batteries to avoid this problem.
Because Wi-Fi connectivity can be problematic, I always like to have a backup. For when the connection to a mobile phone fails, Nikon offers a remote control which I really like. I am all about the failsafe solutions – driving my dogs outside and sometimes mushing miles from anything, I always look for failsafes and backups. And usually a remote control that is dedicated to a particular brand, in this case Nikon, is a pretty failsafe solution. With that being said, people have commented about not being able to see what they’re videoing or taking a picture of – the remote doesn’t frame the shot for you like your phone does – but my solution is to try to frame the content you’re trying to film with a quick connect to your phone, adjust the position of the camera, then proceed on using the remote. Plus, as you get a feel for 360-degree photography and videography, you eventually won’t need the visual aid as you will be able to anticipate the shot you’ll get.
As far as picture quality, it’s excellent. The KeyMission offers a higher resolution than the Theta, but I wouldn’t say the pictures are necessarily any sharper. That’s not a complaint – the pictures and videos are beautiful with both devices. Some of the negative reviews have been about Nikon’s stitching; photographers report that they can see the seams when the KeyMission creates the sphere, but for me that’s not a valid complaint. Folks, that’s called “missing the forest for the trees,” as they say. Sure, a seam may not be 100% perfect but it’s dang near close enough, and LOOK AT WHAT YOU’RE GETTING. You’re getting a limitless virtual reality experience in a 360-degree sphere of awesomeness, and all of your friends, family, and fans can experience the video you’ve captured as though they were sitting on the dog cart next to you while you were flying through an old railroad trail! Wait… that’s just me! What’s YOUR passion? Remember, this is new technology, and it’s improving constantly. When this technology was nascent, I was stitching the images myself on the Kodak, so I have zero complaints about Nikon doing it for me.
Another huge improvement Nikon made over Ricoh is the KeyMission’s weatherproof and waterproof capabilities. The Theta can’t compete. The Theta takes a waterproof case, which works, but the case distorts the scene and the stitching, bringing the imagery down to a just- acceptable view. I filmed fish entirely underwater using the Theta in its waterproof case so you can check out that video and its quality here ([LINK]) whereas the KeyMission is waterproof without a case so there will be no distortion.
So if the KeyMission is so amazing, then what’s the downside?
Well, here’s one. The Theta’s stitching is better, if that’s the hill you must die on. I encourage you not to focus on the stitching with any camera because you’re missing the incredible immersive experience of virtual reality, which is 99% of the experience (the stitching being about 1%, in my opinion) but if stitching is your thing, then stitching is your thing. The Theta’s is better.
Also, the shape of the KeyMission doesn’t lend itself well to handheld shots without using a monopod or selfie stick, which I would consider a negative over the Theta. The Theta has a built-in handle, more or less – it’s designed with a long narrow shape that fits in your hand and is definitely superior for handheld use.
Finally, the biggest problem with the KeyMission is the same as with all virtual reality photos: There’s no real place to catalog photos, and any video cataloging is limited to YouTube. YouTube allows a video gallery but for photos, there’s no easy photo album or gallery that can be created. Why do we use 360-degree cameras? Why do we capture the entire height and breadth of our adventure? To share, of course. And with no easy sharing platform, we’re often without a good way to upload our spherical stories. Facebook will usually exhibit the VR style, but depending on your device’s capabilities, you may not always see the full experience if the computer you’re on (or tablet, or mobile phone, etc.) doesn’t support it. Personally, I’ve found the best way to display these images on a website in any kind gallery fashion is to use a plugin on the WordPress platform which seems to work well ([LINK] see my examples here). You might ask yourself what this has to do with a review, but I think sharing the videography and photography that chronicles our lives, jobs, and passions is a window that’s now open to us. We can keep in touch with friends and with distant family; we can build a fan base; we can create documentaries of our travels; we can transmit our experiences for business purposes. The applications are endless. But websites on the Internet need to catch up. Sharing an entire scene of what we’re seeing on social media outlets like Facebook works for a moment, but users will find it hard to scroll backwards through memories, going through old posts to try to find a really cool photo or video. Hopefully Facebook someday will offer an album feature – an organization where VR photos can be catalogued. As of now, Flickr offers some VR display capabilities, but not as adequately as I would like.
The most desirable way to display these photographs and videos are in a format that automatically spins and auto-displays the entire view, but also allows you to interact with it to look higher, lower, or back the other way. This technology is unbelievable, but you have to ask yourself what you want to do with it. With any of the cameras I’ve used, I am truly wowed by their capabilities at being able to capture an entire scene, but my options for sharing it with the world are different. For example, after the journey and back at home, the Nikon is actually the easiest to use when sitting at a desktop or laptop computer. I can insert all of the storage cards straight into my computer to review and edit anything I need to, then post all my footage online. This process is best for a guy like me, who is a heavy photographer and videographer adventuring out all the time who is really into the Nikon for the endless storage. My uploads at the end of an adventure can be massive. However, for posting on the fly, during an adventure, the Theta is best. It connects to a tablet or smart phone for quick posts and sharing from the field. I love, and use, my Ricoh, but as for the Nikon, I wouldn’t take a trip without it.
Thanks for reading! Good luck with your decision, and have a wonderful journey! If you’re still comparing the Nikon to the Ricoh to the Kodak, please look here ([LINK]) at all my different images and videos taken in the past two years on all three cameras, ever since I entered the world of virtual reality. If you want to know more about me, I am the WooFDriver and you can read my bio and contact me here ([LINK])!