'Uh, what is that thing?'

'What is that thing?' That's the question I was asked pretty much every time I took the Panono out shooting. There is a lot of curiosity surrounding 360/VR content and my week spent fielding questions from curious onlookers as I dipped my toes into a new, more immersive photographic world is proof of that. In fact, only once did someone walk up to me and say "Hey I know what that is, its a 360 VR camera!" And it was a 12 year old child.

Damn know-it-all kids making us all look bad...

Yes, it can be tossed in the air to take a picture. 

So uh, what exactly is it? The Panono is the highest resolution 360-degree still camera currently on the market. A grapefruit-sized ball constructed of tough plastic, the Panono contains 36 separate cameras. Each camera uses a 1/4" sensor (a bit smaller than the sensor likely found in your smartphone) and when the files are combined, the result is a 108MP 360-degree image that allows one to pan and zoom around the scene. 

Panono started off as a thesis project, but was later successfully funded via crowd-sourcing campaigns (DPreview field-tested an early version in 2013). Designed in Germany and constructed in Poland, everything about the camera is surprisingly frustration-free and the controls are intuitive. I say 'surprisingly' only because Panono is such a new company and good UI often takes time to get right. But once paired with a smart device, taking shots, processing  and sharing them is all a breeze. 

For optimal viewing, open the 360 in full screen mode. This image was shot using the HDR-setting, which combines a properly-exposed image with one exposed for highlights. 

The design 

The Panono only has a single button on the top. Holding it down for a second turns the camera on and off. When it's switched on, the button can also be used to take images without the need for a smart device. However, for the best user experience, you'll want to use the app to set up and control the Panono remotely from a phone or tablet. 

Around the periphery of the Panono's one and only physical button is a glowing LED. It lights up when the camera is switched on and blinks whenever a photo is taken. If battery or internal space is getting low, part of the LED ring will illuminate red next to the corresponding symbol. While useful in dim conditions, the LED ring is near impossible to see in bright light.

There is a micro-USB port located at the very bottom of the camera for charging. It doubles as a mounting point for the Panono Adapter (to mount it on a tripod) and the Panono stick (a selfie stick). When plugged into a computer via Micro-USB, the Panono is not discoverable at this time, but we're told that will change soon with a firmware update.

The app

Pairing with a device simply requires turning the Panono on and connecting to it via Wi-Fi. The password to connect is written directly on the side of the unit. Once connected, open up the app. At the bottom of the screen there are five icons. If you've properly paired the unit, green lines will appear above the camera icon (which is the shooting screen), indicating you are connected.

Most of the shooting controls are accessed via the center-most camera icon on the bottom. The app is also used to push images downloaded to your device to the cloud for processing. You can also view your processed 360s. 

Simply tap the green camera button to fire a shot. For more control over the camera's exposure and color parameters, tap the gear symbol. 

To take images from within the shooting screen simply tap the green camera button bottom center. By default the camera will beep and blink when a photo is fired (the beep can be turned off). For more controls, tap the gear symbol in the lower right. There you can control a number parameters, like dialing in a white balance or specific exposure. I found the auto exposure and white balance modes largely worked fine for the majority of the places I shot. But it's nice that those additional manual controls exist.

There is also a switch to toggle HDR mode on and off. If you're mainly photographing static subjects, HDR mode is very useful. You can see an example of it on and off below:

The above image was shot as an HDR file, the one below was not.

The camera has 16GB of internal storage. Once an image is taken it is stored locally within the camera and a low-resolution un-stitched version of the image will appear within the app's shooting screen for quick viewing. If you're please with the preview, simple tap "download from camera," and the files are transmitted to your device, but only temporarily - more on that in a moment.

It's worth noting that if you are shooting a non-HDR image, there is a 10-sec black out time between when a shot has been fired and when an additional shot can be taken. When shooting an HDR image, that time gap is closer to 30 seconds. When the camera is ready to shoot again, the circle around the camera symbol/trigger button will turn from white to green. 

Once back in the comfort of a proper Wi-Fi connection open the "Task" screen (2nd icon from the right). There you'll find all your transmitted 360's. With the tap of a finger you can upload them to the Panono cloud where their servers do all the hard work of stitching and processing – you can simply sit back and make yourself a cocktail. In about 10 minutes, your 360s will appear in your Panono account where you can share them either via a direct link, iframe embed or Facebook/Twitter/Google+. It's really that easy.