360-degree capture is still a relatively new concept, and one that can be hard to explain to the casual consumer. But play someone a 360 video and you suddenly have the ability to expand their idea of what photography is. This is especially true when 360 content is viewed with a smartphone that senses its position in space, allowing viewers to explore an entire surrounding area, revealing more – behind, above, and below the viewer – as they move the device around. Where most photography provides a window onto an experience, 360 puts the viewer smack in the middle of a scene.

When Nikon announced the KeyMission 360 more than a year ago it appeared, on paper, to be the category leader. 4K image resolution, a somewhat compact form factor, weather sealing for action sports, dual lenses to capture a full sphere of image data: it was all there.

  • Dual F2.0 lenses for full 360-degree image, each with a 1/2.3" 21MP CMOS sensor
  • 4K UHD video capture
  • 29MP still capture
  • Shockproof and waterproof housing
  • Removable battery and microSD card
  • Prominent, easy-to-access physical controls

Well…mostly there. When it was finally released in September 2016, the KeyMission 360 arrived with a personality as dual as its opposing lenses. The hardware impresses in many ways, but the software and interaction with mobile devices quickly make you forget about those advantages. Although Nikon is making incremental progress, you may find the urge to test the camera’s shockproof construction by throwing it across the room.

  Nikon KeyMission 360  Ricoh Theta S  360fly 4K  Samsung Gear 360 (2017)
Max Video Resolution

3840 x
2160/24p 

1920 x 1080/30p 2880 x 2880/30p

4096 x 2048/24p

Photo Resolution 7744 x 3872 5376 x 2688 2880 x 2880 5472 x 2736
Waterproof (without a housing) Yes No Yes No
Field of View 360 degrees (dual lenses) 360 degrees (dual lenses) 240 degrees (single lens) 360 degrees (dual lenses)
Storage microSD card 8 GB internal 64 GB internal microSD card
Weight 198 g 125 g 172 g 130 g
MSRP $500 $350 $500 TBD

It's worth noting a new 4K Ricoh Theta will likely be announced soon. The Nikon KeyMission 360 is available now for a a street price of $496.95. 

But let’s start with the overall experience, because shooting in 360 degrees takes a different approach from most cameras.

Handling

When we talk about how a camera handles, we usually mean how it feels in the hand, how much it weighs, and how comfortable it is to shoot using a viewfinder or an LCD. With the KeyMission 360 (and most other 360-degree cameras), the entire surrounding area is recorded as a sphere. Its dual lenses (each backed by a 1/2.3" CMOS sensor) capture two separate images that are stitched together by software, leaving nowhere for a photographer to hide.

The camera itself is compact and solid, with a size and heft a bit larger than a baseball (roughly 6.4cm/2.5in cubed), including the space occupied by the curved lens covers. The KM360 weighs in at around 198g (7oz). If you’re holding the camera, though, your hand and arm dominate much of the field of view. When I asked in the DPReview offices if anyone had a selfie stick I could borrow, I thought I would be knocked over by a concussion wave from eyerolls. And yet, 360 works best when you can get the camera away from yourself, be that on an extended mount, a tripod, or a helmet mount. The KeyMission 360 has a standard 1/4 inch socket at the bottom for attaching almost anything.

Two prominent buttons on the case let you capture video or stills. They’re sized and placed in such a way that you can easily trigger a shot by feel alone: video recording using the rectangular button on top, or still photos using the smaller square button on one side. They’re also large enough that you can initiate a capture if you’re wearing gloves. (The typical way to turn the camera on or off without recording is to press and hold the video-capture button for a few seconds.)

Additionally, pressing a button starts a capture even when the camera is off, an unusual feature for most cameras that, in this case, is often helpful. If the camera is mounted on top of your head, for instance, you don’t want to mess around trying to start recording when it’s time to hurl yourself down a snow-covered mountain. By default, the still photo is on a timer so you don’t capture just your King Kong-looking giant hand. The downside to this feature is that it’s easy to accidentally start a video recording as you’re putting the camera back into a bag (I have the hour-plus videos to prove it), or occasionally capture a still image while opening the interface hatch on the opposite side of the button. I’d like to see a setting or lock switch for toggling this feature on and off.

That exterior hatch reveals one of the KeyMission 360’s strengths: the battery (the EN-EL12, which is also shared by several of Nikon's Coolpix compact cameras) and microSD memory card can be removed and swapped with others when needed. Many 360-degree cameras have sealed-in batteries and internal memory, requiring you to stop and recharge the battery or offload media when the storage is full (or both). You’ll also find a microUSB port for charging and data transfer, as well as an HDMI micro (type D) connector.

Nikon claims a CIPA battery rating of 230 still shots and about 1 hour and 10 minutes of video capture per battery charge. In my experience, I got a little less than 1 hour of video when shooting continuously until the battery ran out, without controlling the camera via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (which consumes a bit more power). Shooting stills using the exterior button and with minimal interaction from the phone app resulted in an impressive 479 shots, however.

The hatch seals tight when closed with a double-locking door, retaining the camera’s waterproofing down to 30m (98ft). It’s also shockproof from 2m (6.6ft) and freezeproof down to -10°C/+14°F.

The wide-angle lenses sit behind protective plastic lens covers that you'll want to keep clean from fingerprints and dust. Unlike most 360-degree cameras, the KeyMission's covers are removable so you can swap in an alternate set of included covers designed for use underwater (to adjust for distortion). Although I could have used the camera without any covers, I didn't see much difference in the image quality, and would rather pay to replace lens covers than the lenses themselves if the KeyMission took a tumble.