The iPhone camera does a lot on its own, but it can’t do everything. Shooting 360-degree, panoramic videos is one example. But addressing that missing feature is as simple as snapping a specially designed lens onto your phone's camera. I took a look at two available options—Kogeto’s $79 Dot and EyeSee360’s $80 GoPano Micro—to see how they fare. Both are compatible with the iPhone 4 and 4S, and are used in conjunction with iOS apps that allow you to shoot, view, and share your interactive panoramic videos.
The Dot is a simple accessory with a plastic lens and a snap-on clip that attaches to the back of your iPhone. The lens makes it possible to capture a video with a 360-degree view. Though the results are far from professional-grade, it’s a fun novelty item, especially for people who like to take and share casual videos of lively events such as concerts, sporting contests, and parties.
To use Dot, you’ll need to snap it onto the back of your phone and download Kogeto’s accompanying Looker iPhone app. All Dot videos must be shot in the app’s Shoot mode, which currently allows three minutes maximum of footage. Since the lens is shooting a 360-degree panorama, the video looks like a warped circle of your surroundings—you won’t be able to see what you’re shooting (which is not really a problem with the app since you’ll need to hold the phone face-down while shooting anyway. More on that later.) Once you’re done, the app quickly de-warps your video and uploads it into your Looker library.
On the iPhone app, you can watch your video in an interactive mode where you swipe through to change the viewing angle. If you load the video onto a computer—by sharing via Facebook, Twitter, email, or by uploading it to Kogeto’s Dotspots website—you will also be able to view it in panoramic mode, which lets you see the entire scene in one wide shot. Kogeto plans an update to Looker so that you can switch videos into panoramic mode in the app as well.
Warped Shoot: In the Looker app’s Shoot mode, you'll see a wormhole view of your scene on the screen. But since you have to hold the iPhone facedown, when shooting, you're really not seeing anything.
Dot captures the scene around its lens, so if you hold the phone vertically as you normally would when shooting video, Looker will de-warp your video strangely; plus, you’ll mostly capture video of the ceiling and floor. Instead, you need to hold the phone face down when shooting, making sure not to grip your iPhone’s edges; otherwise, your fingers will have a starring role in your video.
To take videos that make any sense and don’t include your fingers, you need to place the iPhone face-down on a flat surface, or hold it flat on your palm. The latter method doesn’t feel very natural and isn’t the best way to keep your iPhone safe from drops while walking. Since Dot isn’t compatible with any cases, this is particularly problematic. When I was shooting video on the San Francisco streets, I just ended up letting my fingers get into the shot. As noted above, this means you can’t actually see what you’re shooting while you’re shooting.
Dot is super easy to clip on and take off of your iPhone, and comes with a microfiber carrying case that doubles as a lens-cleaning cloth. It's available in four colors—black, pink, red, and green. Overall, it captures decent-quality videos. The main problem with video quality is that the plastic lens creates a reflection in every video that varies depending on the lighting. And while the accessory is designed to be very secure when attached to the iPhone, the actual process of capturing videos feels clumsy. If you can get past having to hold your phone in an awkward position, Kogeto’s Dot does a pretty good job at shooting 360-degree videos. Here's a sample video:
To see more videos shot with Dot, check out Kogeto's Dotspots site.
EyeSee360’s GoPano Micro is a miniature version of the company’s GoPano lens for digital cameras, made just for the iPhone 4 and 4S. Like Kogeto’s Dot, GoPano Micro lets you shoot panoramic 360-degree videos by attaching a plastic lens to your iPhone’s camera. In order to use GoPano Micro, you need to attach a custom-designed case that comes with the lens. Once that’s on your iPhone, you plug the lens into the case, download the GoPano app, and start shooting.
The GoPano Micro case is well designed—all ports and buttons are easily accessible, and it offers decent protection for the back and edges of the iPhone. I felt totally comfortable using the case, instead of my standard Speck CandyShell case, during the time I tested out the lens. Another bonus with this system is that the lens is attached to the case in a way that makes it possible to capture 360-degree video while holding the phone vertically. You can comfortably grip the phone as you capture video, making for steadier shots.
Full-Frontal Action: In GoPano's Record mode, you can see a dewarped shot of what's directly in front of you. You won't be able to switch the view to face any other directions though.
To shoot with GoPano Micro, you'll need to download the accompanying GoPano app. Tap the Record Video button and you’ll be taken to the video capture screen. The great thing about the GoPano app is that it provides a live, de-warped view of what you’re shooting. You’ll only be able to see what’s directly in front of you, but even this helps, since you’ll know how high or low to frame your shot.
Once you’re done, the video is instantly saved—there’s virtually no wait for the app to de-warp or load the footage into your video library. You can share the video by uploading it to the GoPano website, copying it to your iPhone Camera Roll, or by sharing it via iTunes file sharing. (In order to share on GoPano’s website, you will need to sign up for an account and enter in a registration code that comes with the device.)
When you’re watching videos on the app, you can either swipe to change viewing angles, or just pan your iPhone from left to right. The latter feature makes watching the video much more immersive, adding that feeling of “being there” to the experience—you can also better control the speed at which you move across the scene than with finger swiping. If you want to watch a video in full panoramic mode, you’ll need to save it to your Camera Roll, which will export it as a flat scene with a 360-degree veiw.
The way the accessory is designed makes it nearly impossible to get any fingerprints on the lens. The design also leads to great video quality—GoPano Micro captures clear, reflection-free shots of a scene. On the flip side, it can be hard to clean the lens if you do happen to get a lot of dust or an unfortunate spill onto it. Luckily, the GoPano Micro does come with a microfiber pouch that can be used as a cleaning cloth for such situations.
The biggest drawback to the GoPano Micro is the way the lens fits into its case. You need to push the lens into the case’s camera opening, which is somewhat difficult on its own. And when the lens is plugged in, it’s not very secure. Give your iPhone a quick shake and the lens will fall out of the case. I can imagine in crowded places, where you’re likely to bump into people, that it’ll be hard to keep the lens securely on the phone's camera. But as long as you pan slowly and hold your iPhone steadily, there won’t be a problem.