Kodak PixPro SP360 Review

November 7, 2014 | Gavin Stoker | |

Introduction

The Kodak PixPro SP360 is the World’s first 360-degree action camera. With a unique 360º curved lens, the SP360 features a 16 Megapixel sensor, Full HD 1080p video, 10fps burst shooting, Wi-Fi and NFC Connectivity, wireless control with iOS and Android Devices, and is also shock, freeze, dust and water -proof. The Kodak PixPro SP360 retails for around $350 / £299.

Ease of Use

An existing ultra wide-angle lens not quite doing it for you? Do you long to capture not only the subject in front of you, but go one better and capture the world all around you in glorious 360°? As is suggested by the model name and number, the concept of the Kodak Pixpro SP360 is that of a 360 degree-shooting action camera that sits in the palm of your hand, which admittedly sounds like fun. At the UK launch way back in February this year, Kodak’s new license holder for camera manufacture JK Imaging claimed that it was the first ‘full view’ action camera of its type; indicating that users can be shooting both in front and behind simultaneously (or above and below). There is also the option to go to panorama mode for a more elongated, albeit still slightly fisheye-type, effect. Telling us that they wanted to take us into a brand new world, a good seven or eight months ago, JK Imaging/Kodak insisted that there wasn’t anything else like this on the market.

Fast-forward to day and the central pitch remains. Namely that prior to the SP360’s introduction, 360° panoramic photography required users to possess advanced techniques, specialised equipment and software and/or multiple cameras. Now, the theory goes that anyone can do it. Alongside the release of the camera there is the added ability to download a Pixpro SP360 app for your iOS or Android phone or tablet to connect wirelessly between the action cam and your ‘smart’ device. Both Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity are further offered.

The device certainly looks one-of-a-kind. Its familiar Kodak yellow square base block, with round lens window sitting on top, to our minds resembles a hand buzzer from a TV quiz show. Or perhaps a distress beacon for those lost at sea? Shipped direct to us from the factory in China, the matchbox sized miniature camera certainly comes well presented, with our review sample rocking up in a box many times its size that also included a host of ‘extreme accessories’ (we’re convinced its maker means ‘built for extreme use’, not that the concept of the accessories is itself extreme).

This kit version has a suggested retail price of £339 via Dixons and Argos in the UK. There are also further explorer kits or aqua kits, both at £299 – the camera is not currently being sold in any other configuration. We’re guessing at that price that the Kodak Pixpro SP360 is not going to be an impulse purchase, so read on for more information.

In the accessory bundle box we/ you get various housings and several different means of camera attachment. These comprise a standard camera housing, waterproof housing (allowing the device to be used for up to four hours at depths of up to 60 metres), a (handle) bar mount, a curved adhesive mount, a flat adhesive mount, a head strap mount, plus a couple of helmet mount options. Added to this mix we get a surfboard adhesive mount, a standard suction cup mount, two extended arm options, a ‘quick clip’, some double-sided adhesive, anti fog inserts and two tethering straps. No wonder the shoebox-sized package feels like we’re being treated to some heavyweight gear! JK Imaging reliably informs us that accessory bundles such as this one will vary dependent on geographical region; as it is the SP360 in its standalone ‘naked’ state is purportedly dust-proof shockproof, freeze-proof and water resistant/splash-proof. There’s no manual in the box, just a brief ‘quick start’ guide, so best head to the kodakpixpro.com website to download a full(er) manual as a PDF.

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Front of the Kodak PixPro SP360

Back to the camera itself for a moment, and specifications that, on the face of it, don’t sound that shabby. At the core of the SP360 is a 16.38-megapixel back-illuminated 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor. The fixed focus lens boasts a bright-ish f/2.8 aperture, with a focal length the equivalent of a super wide 8.25mm in 35mm film terms. Focus range is 50cm to infinity.

Apart from the full 360° viewing option we’re given a choice of 214° (‘Dome’ effect), 212° (‘Front’), Ring and Segment (180° to the front and 180° to the rear respectively), as well as the self-explanatory panorama. In terms of video resolution – and this does feel like a device you’ll be more often using for motion clips rather than stills – there is the ability to shoot Full HD videos in 1920x1080 pixels, plus an altrenative option to record at a high-speed 120fps (848x480 pixels resolution) and play it back at 30fps with resultant slow motion effect. Stills haven’t been forgotten though. Maximum resolution is a respectable 10 megapixels.

We said that you could hold the Kodak P360 in the palm of your hand and at an unobtrusive weight of just 103g, that’s no lie. Its official boxy dimensions measure 41.1x50x38mm with the design appearing simplicity itself. There are big enough buttons to aid those using the device while wearing skiing gloves or with wet fingers, while the lens cover/housing (which can be screwed loose and removed if so wished) does get quickly smeared with fingerprints when handling the device. Luckily JK Imaging has thoughtfully included a lens cleaning cloth in the box with the camera. As a further layer of protection there is a slip-on rubber lens cap that resembles a squash ball sliced in half, which can be applied if you’re transporting it to avoid further smudges and smears. We also get an additional ‘spare’ lens cap in the extreme accessory package.

Let’s take a look then at the anatomy and functionality of the SP360 itself. Under a hard plastic flap at one side, that requires prizing open by a fingernail, is a narrow compartment housing both micro HDMI interface and USB 2.0 output port (the USB port and cable can also be used for re-charging the battery in-camera, should you be in a position to be bale to hook up to a laptop etc).

This compartment sits below a screw thread for attaching the unit to a tripod or other means of stability, such as the handlebar mount we tried out during our test period. At the opposite side/facing edge of the SP360 we have a small display window that looks like something from a 1980’s digital watch; it’s via this that we navigate the camera’s settings in slightly rudimentary fashion, in conjunction with a press of the large ‘OK’/video record/shutter release button on another side (or ‘face’) of the device, plus up or down arrow-like controls that double up as a means of activating the Kodak camera in the first place.

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The Kodak PixPro SP360 In-hand

These aforementioned directional buttons are also marked with ‘mode’ (the button pointing upwards) and menu icons (button pointing downwards). The entire base of the device meanwhile is taken up by a lithium ion rechargeable battery, which slots into a hollow compartment, with a separate charger and mains cable provided in the box (we’ll forgive the fact that ours was for European sockets rather than UK ones). With battery inserted the unit immediately feels more substantial than its plastic-y outer shell initially suggests, power officially sufficient for either 350 shots (based on CIPA standards) or 160 minutes of video. We don’t get means of reviewing what it is we’ve just shot however on the device itself – which is where the phone app comes in handy, although using both phone and camera as you’re riding or driving along feels somewhat impractical and potentially inviting of an accident.

For capturing sound we get a pair of microphones imbedded on the uppermost surface next to the lens itself, with speakers situated on the side of the device, resting just below the flap for the USB and HDMI ports. Unsurprisingly given the compact dimensions here, stills and video are committed to fingernail-sized removable microSD media cards, for which a tight slot is provided in the compartment shared with the USB and HDMI outputs. We had to pull quite hard to extract the card once inserted. There is a tiny internal memory – but since this is just 8MB it can quickly be discounted. 8GB would have been more useful!

Switch the unit on – you’ll know it’s activated because it emits a loud ‘beep’ – and the first thing you’re asked via the LCD panel is whether you’d like Wi-Fi on or off, options presented as a couple of icons that you tab between using the directional buttons and then press the ‘OK’ / record button to place into effect. If you’re not wishing to use the SP360 in conjunction with any supplementary device from the off, having to get past this screen before you can start shooting pictures feels like a minor inconvenience.

In terms of photo sizes, unsurprisingly offered in JPEG format solely, there is the option of five megapixel (at 4:3 ratio) or two megapixel snaps (at 16:9), alongside the default option of the maximum 10 megapixels (in 1:1 aspect ratio). There is also a burst mode option for photos with up to 10 shots captured sequentially. In terms of light sensitivity this ranges from ISO100 to ISO800, though this is an automatic feature so cannot be selected either manually or incrementally as on a ‘normal’ digital camera.

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Top of the Kodak PixPro SP360

MPEG 4 movie format options include the Full HD 1920x1080 pixels at 30fps, with stereo audio, progressing downwards to 848x480 pixels at 60fps, with the high-speed movie option also captured at 848x480 pixels at 120fps. Additionally we get the offer of a wind cut mode, useful for cleaner audio when you’re cycling, skateboarding or skiing along. The small size of the device had us not wanting to change around options too much, as navigating to them and then implementing them is a tad fiddly.

Though not immediately obvious from the very outset, it transpires from looking at the downloadable PDF manual for the SP360 that there are five image settings selectable – whether for stills or video these are the same, namely: ‘dome’, front, segment, ring and panorama. There is a further creative video opportunity afforded by ‘loop recording mode’, which continuously records ‘movies’ of a selected length until the record button is pressed a second time to end the recording. Interestingly, when the memory card is full, the device will record over the previously captured files starting from the first and thereby continue on its mission – suggesting the possibility of using the P360 as a surveillance device, possibly, should the battery hold out?

Time-lapse recording is another possibility here. This has its own mode setting too, if you can work out which one it is without consulting the manual, with the device recording in intervals and automatically splicing together the resultant footage. Sound isn’t recorded in this mode however.

In practice we did find the curved lens SP360 a little awkward to use – the size and shape, though cute from a minimalist design perspective, feels immediately unfamiliar and navigating through its menus took some practice and trial and error. We found ourselves having to remember which direction to scroll through the menus – represented on-screen one icon at a time – to find what we wanted, and weren’t always successful. We longed for both a better screen and the convenience of a drop down menu, whereby the options might be presented to us simultaneously to pick and choose.

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The Kodak PixPro SP360 LCD Screen

In addition there is no way you can frame what you are shooting, or review what you have just shot on the device itself – so it’s a case of making an educated case and ‘pointing and hoping’. Unless that is you’re linking it to your smartphone or tablet and using that as a remote viewfinder.

Due to the extreme wide angle nature of the lens and inevitable fisheye effect, and no matter which image aspect you are shooting in, when shooting stills or video hand held (as opposed to via handle bars, car dashboard or helmet mount – delete as appropriate), it is very easy to include tips of fingers in the corner of the frame; though of course these can be edited out later or the frame simply cropped if you’re that bothered.

In bright sunlight we also experienced inevitable lens flare and colours a little washed out/ image overexposed, resulting in some shots leaning toward the appearance of a cheap camera phone. The camera is cool however for taking the kind of psychedelic-looking still photographs that would have graced 1970s prog rock albums or posters in a student dorm – and without needing specialist software to achieve that unique perspective.

In truth though, action cameras such as the Kodak Pixpro SP360 aren’t really foremost about the image quality – they’re more about the images that you can capture with them, images that we wouldn’t have been otherwise able to capture without. Whether that’s worthy of £300 of your money depends. But you might like to check out our video clips and still samples before deciding for definite.