Performance

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1/500 sec | F2 | ISO 100 | Auto WB
(Click for a flat view)

To capture a 360-degree field of view, consumer cameras take one of two approaches. Some use a single super–wide-angle lens that records 360 degrees of horizontal view and about 270 degrees of vertical view. That creates a single image but results in a blind spot occupied by the camera itself. The KeyMission 360 takes the other approach, using two opposing wide-angle lenses that each grab half of the scene for every exposure, and then stitches the two hemispheres into a single image.

One important thing to note about the image is its resolution. Yes, we all want more (and better) pixels from our cameras in general, but pixel density is more important in 360-degree photography. The KeyMission 360’s still images are 7744 x 3872 pixels (30MP) ; Nikon claims 23.9 effective megapixels, which takes into account the areas where the two cameras’ images overlap. Video is 3840 by 2160 pixels, or '4K Ultra HD.' What’s important to remember is that those pixels aren’t contained in a rectangle in front of your eyes, but are instead spread out to cover the full wrap-around scene. So even with more than 8 million pixels of video, you’re not viewing 'ultra-high definition' resolution while you’re looking in one direction of the 360-degree view.

'So even with more than 8 million pixels of video, you’re not viewing 'ultra-high definition' resolution while you’re looking in one direction of the 360-degree view.'

That’s not as bad as it sounds, considering the most common way people are likely to view the movie or photo is online via YouTube, Facebook, or other sites that can properly display 360-degree footage, usually compressed to conserve bandwidth, which itself severely limits the amount of detail anyone can see.

The KeyMission 360 can shoot both time-lapse and looping videos, but they’re hobbled by forcing the resolution down to 1920 by 960. The camera also applies image stabilization when shooting video: but only when shooting at that reduced resolution, and the effectiveness seems minor. Spread out over the entire 360-degree sphere, the lower quality is especially noticeable.

The above clip is an example of HD video from the KeyMission 360. Note: make sure the Youtube quality setting is set to "HD."

Accessing those settings requires connecting to the camera via Nikon’s SnapBridge 360/170 app for Android or iOS. Some camera apps provide extra features or alternate methods of capturing shots, but with the screenless KeyMission 360, the app is an essential tool. And unfortunately, that sabotages the entire experience of using the camera, for a few reasons.

'The app is an essential tool. And unfortunately, that sabotages the entire experience of using the camera.'

Usability

Note: we tried the KeyMission 360 paired both an iPhone 7 running 10.3.1 (and also running 10.2 earlier) as well as an HTC One M7 running Android Marshmallow 6.23.

First of all, connecting a mobile device with the camera involves an approach that seems sensible in theory, but turns out to be maddening. With nearly every Wi–Fi-enabled camera that comes to mind, the camera creates its own wireless network to which you connect your phone. You can browse and download images and often remotely control the shutter and capture settings.

The KeyMission 360 connects initially via Bluetooth, which draws less power and is easier to establish without intervention on the user’s part. When the camera is powered on and nearby, and the Nikon SnapBridge 360/170 software is running on the device, the two start communicating like best friends. You can use Bluetooth to check the battery level and modify camera settings, from basic functions to shooting modes and resolutions.

As soon as you want to control the camera or download photos from it, a Wi-Fi connection is required, and each time you have to confirm that you want to enable Wi-Fi. This is where I want to liberate the KeyMission 360 through the nearest window. Sometimes it connects. Sometimes you get a vague error message that says 'Cannot connect to camera, possibly due to issues with the camera, smart device, or wireless signal strength. Try again after checking the camera and smart device.'

If Wi-Fi is required, why ask if I want to use it? Just connect, already.

I’ve had more luck connecting to an Android phone than with an iPhone. Nikon’s two-stage connection dance is made more difficult under iOS by sending you to the Settings app – jumping to SnapBridge’s preferences, requiring you to navigate back to the Wi-Fi settings – to connect to the KeyMission’s Wi-Fi network. This difficulty is driven by Apple’s built-in security features, presumably to prevent apps from connecting to wireless networks on their own, but it doesn’t explain the connection sequence itself. I’d say it successfully connected with the iPhone via Wi-Fi maybe 5 percent of the time. An app and camera firmware update released in April improves the Bluetooth connectivity on iOS, but Wi-Fi remains a stumbling block.

'I’d say it successfully connected with the iPhone via Wi-Fi maybe 5 percent of the time.'

Beyond the connection issues, the software overall feels rushed, or worse, just not well considered.

Accessing the basic shooting options requires you to burrow through the list of camera settings – specifically, listed eleventh in the list, just below 'Network menu.' Fortunately, the settings are closer at hand when you’re in the live view Remote Photography mode.

The software is also deferential to the point of annoyance, asking for permissions and offering up confirmation dialogs like an attention-starved child. When the only way to control the camera is via a Wi-Fi connection, it shouldn’t take the extra step of asking if it’s okay to connect via Wi-Fi. Or, when downloading an image from the camera, it feels apparently compelled to throw up a dialog announcing that it’s beginning the download, necessitating a tap on OK to dismiss it.

Some messages are inexplicable. When attempting to download a video, I sometimes get a message that reads, 'To reduce the time required, download will begin when there is more bandwidth available. OK?'

No, actually, that’s not okay. When will more bandwidth be available? The phone is already connected directly to the camera via Wi-Fi. The only option is to cancel the download, or say OK and have no idea when the transfer will take place. To view the status of the download, you have to go to the Camera tab in the app.

All right, say you want to download something else instead: nope. The following dialog appears: 'This option is not available while large files are being downloaded. Try again later. [OK].' You can’t even switch to the live shooting mode until the task is complete, effectively locking you out.

My favorite terrible message has to be the one that appears when you delete one or more shots using the app: 'Deleted all images from the memory card'! All images? Thankfully, only the ones you selected are actually removed, not the entire contents of the card.

When it does work, the Remote Photography mode is basic but functional. Video and still capture buttons both appear, saving the trouble of switching between modes. You can drag to pan around the live preview of the 360-degree space. Access to shooting options is more direct than from the main screen of the app, although the limited manual exposure controls is disappointing. You can enable Active D-Lighting, set white balance (Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent and Cloudy), and choose from three color options (Standard, Vivid and Monochrome). More helpful is the ability to set exposure compensation from –2 to +2 for still photos, though that setting has no effect when recording video.

The SnapBridge 360/170 app's Remote Photography mode is basic, but gives you a rough idea of what you're capturing.

On the desktop, Nikon's KeyMission 360/170 Utility software is a serviceable viewer and limited editor for the images and videos the camera creates. You can browse a connected KeyMission camera's memory card and preview the files with a 360-degree preview. A thumbnail view of the entire scene reveals the center of the current immersive view, which can be helpful if you're zoomed in or just lost within the frame after panning around.

For videos, there's a rudimentary editor that lets you set start and end points, save a frame as a still image, or add one of 11 pre-installed background music tracks. You can apply a monochrome or sepia effect to the footage, fade the clip in and out from black at the beginning and end, or add highlight tags at sections of your video to make it easier for a viewer to skip ahead to specific scenes. There's also a Save for YouTube option that writes the correct metadata YouTube needs to identify the clip as being 360-degree spherical, but in my testing even movies saved without this step appeared correctly at the site; perhaps YouTube adjusted its backend identification of the clips.

If you're going to do even moderate editing of your footage, though, you'll want to skip the KeyMission 360/170 Utility and go straight to something like Premiere Pro or Final Cut X.

Nikon's desktop application for viewing and editing KeyMission files is bare bones.