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Michael Hodgson

Traveler at HI Travel Tales
Born to British parents in Canada, Michael Hodgson had been schlepped back and forth across the pond since he was a toddler. In college, he took the big leap and spent a few months in Kenya – and never looked back. His biology major somehow led him into a writing career, focusing on the outdoors, hiking and gear testing. Building on his lifetime of travel with travel writing was a natural, although he still loves to seek out the wilder side of a mountain – or a city -- for a good story. Michael also is a partner in a consulting business (www.NewNormalConsulting.com) built on a passion to help specialty businesses and brands succeed both domestically and internationally.
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Kodak Pixpro SP360 cameraAfter playing with the Kodak Pixpro SP360 for six months, I can state it is a very cool, compact tool for the travel photographer. Not perfect but quite good. The growing importance and impact of 360-degree video options for action and for travel photography was in fact underscored in 2015 when YouTube (Google) announced it was supporting 360-view formatted video. To view videos we have shot with the Kodak Pixpro SP360 camera, go to our YouTube channel.

With a 360-degree panoramic camera, a photographer can capture an immersive experience that shows the viewer what is going on above, to each side, to the front and to the back while filming. In playback mode on YouTube, viewers are able to pan around the scene as if they were actually there, looking around. I used the Kodak Pixpro SP360 on HI Travel Tales adventures for many things: filming inside museums, walking along Miami Beach, snorkeling coral reefs in the Dry Tortugas, around outdoor concerts in Washington, D.C., and more. The ability to add an additional user experience for our readers makes using 360-degree panorama cameras fun, unique and intriguing. The same experience applies of course to your post-travel memories for yourself or your friends and family.

Important to realize, however, is that the Kodak Pixpro SP360 is not really a 360-degree camera in the true spherical sense of the word. In truth, you are only viewing the world virtually through half an orb – or in a 180-degree mode. True, you get 360 degrees of panoramic rotation, but nearly half of your outputted video in 360 is black. That is why you see a black band when loading video to YouTube.

Kodak Pixpro SP360 black band output from YouTube

YouTube of Dry Tortugas National Park video output with the black band.

The Kodak Pixpro SP360 free desktop editing software

Kodak Pixpro SP360 desktop editing software showing the same image above before YouTube output.

To view things in a true 360-degree format in all directions would require two cameras mounted together with lenses facing in opposite directions and with the imagery stitched together using software, which the Kodak Pixpro does in a 4k version of this camera (we did not test this version).

The Kodak Pixpro SP360 ($300) is extremely compact and light — weighing 3.6 ounces. Its bright yellow box shape (topped with a dome lens) measures a mere 1.6 by 2.0 by 1.5 inches. Built to be an action camera, it is dustproof, water resistant (not waterproof), and shockproof from a drop of just over six feet (useful if the camera ever takes a tumble when being used, which ours did just once … off a rock and into a stream with no adverse affects). A removable glass cover protects the lens on top of the camera and this glass cover has a removable plastic cap for complete protection when the camera is packed. Images are stored on a MicroSD or MicroSHD card, up to 32GB … I would recommend nothing less than 32GB. The camera is powered by a rechargeable Lithium battery, which can be recharged via a USB cable either in or out of the camera.

The inner workings of the Kodak Pixpro SP360 feature a 16-megapixel sensor and a 214-degree ultra-wide-angle f/2.8 lens that can shoot 360-degree panoramas at a max resolution of 1,440 × 1,440 at 30 fps. What all that technical stuff means is that you can capture decent, though not perfectly clear, resolution in 360-degree videos.

The camera has a very small LCD screen that is best used only to see when your device (smartphone or tablet) is connected to the camera via Wi-Fi. While you can use the camera without pairing it with a device, good luck with that. Changing settings with the camera alone requires drilling down through numerous menus and sub-menus. If you select the wrong item, you end up having to start all over … yes, frustrating. Using the camera alone did get more intuitive after time, but most times, I preferred using the camera paired with my iPhone. From the iPhone Pixpro app (compatible with Android as well), I could easily adjust various settings and get a clear, stable view of what the camera was actually filming. It was also easy to view the various viewing modes offered – dome, segmented, ring and panorama though I found I used the dome view most often.

Regarding Wi-Fi: When my iPhone was connected to the camera, there was no access to the Internet and no email reception. So if I needed to send an email or check something on the web, I had to disconnect from the camera, and then reconnect. And anytime I left the app, I had to reconnect to the camera. Frankly, while a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things, it still got really old very quickly.

Even though the camera is quite small, I was indeed impressed with the overall audio quality.  Underwater, in a museum, and even at an outdoor concert, the audio remained crisp and clear, without distortion. That said, it does pick up wind noise, and there is no way to muffle it or place a windscreen over the microphones.

At the very least, you will want to add a waterproof housing for the camera, but if you think you will want to use it for example while biking, skiing or paddling, then opting for the Extreme Accessory Pack bundle is worthwhile ($400 – though you can likely get it for much less online). It includes the camera, a waterproof case, a regular case, flat and round helmet mounts, adhesive patches, straps, and more accessories to allow you to mount the camera onto just about anything.

Kodak Pixpro SP360 Extreme Accessory pack

The Kodak Pixpro SP360 Extreme Accessory Pack

All in all, I love the Kodak Pixpro SP360, but there is certainly room for improvement before I’ll consider it a must-have in my photography bag. It remains a secondary camera I bring along frequently, although not on every trip, and it serves well when it seems useful to provide a one-of-a-kind, immersive 360-degree panoramic point of view in addition to still and standard video images.

Watch the actual YouTube output in 360-degree format of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park.

 

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