This past year, the virtual reality world saw camera after camera join the market. Although most of these cameras were geared to consumers, many of them just don’t cut it when it comes time to charge for your work.
Although the recent additions, like the Insta360 Pro and Kandao Obsidian cameras, are sure to shake things up, two long-standing popular professional options include the Z Cam S1 and multi-cam GoPro rigs, like the Freedom360 rig.
Since the democratization of virtual reality, which was when many user friendly and affordable 360 cameras were introduced to the market, the VR industry has seemed to prefer these newer, sleeker cameras over the GoPro rigs.
Although the Freedom360 may not be a backpack journalist’s best friend, the people who have always used the six-camera GoPro rig still swear by it. So, I set out to do a side-by-side comparison and discover why multi-camera rigs are still relevant.
At StoryUP All of immersive media encompassing VR, AR, MR and beyond., we’ve used the Freedom360 for over two years and the Z CAM S1 for a little less than one year. During that time, I’ve been able to spot key advantages and disadvantage to using both cameras, from how they operate in the field to the challenges they create in post-production.
Below you can see some shots recorded with the Z Cam S1 and the Freedom360. For the GoPro A camera position for a given scene. You might shoot more than one shot from a single set-up (wide shot and close-up)., we use 1440 The number of pixels in an image, typically presented as a ratio of the total pixels on x axis to the total pixels on th... More at 60fps and 5500K. I used the auto settings for the Z Cam S 1. The videos are roughly stitched with the auto The adjustment of color in post-production to match different shots and enhance the picture. setting on the Kolor stitching software.
About the Freedom360 rig and Z Cam S1
The Freedom360 includes six Gopros in a cube formation, and the Z Cam S1 is one unit comprised of four all-glass 190 degree An extreme wide-angle lens, with image distortion occurring at the edges of the frame. lenses that automatically sync and record with the press of a button.
The Freedom360 mount is designed for GoPro Hero 3/3+/4 cameras, but they recommend that you use the best camera that’s in your price range. The newest model that is compatible with this particular rig is the GoPro Hero 4 Black Edition. These cameras can shoot 4K at 30, 25 and 24 frames per second and a photo The number of pixels in an image, typically presented as a ratio of the total pixels on x axis to the total pixels on th... More of 12MP. The GoPro can shoot video, Individual instance of a shot; a take = each time the camera is started and stopped. photos and record a time lapse. When shooting in 4K at 30fps while using the Wi-Fi and the remote, It has the recording time of 55 minutes.
The Z Cam S1 can shoot 4K at 60fps and 6K at 30fps. It can record video continuously for 120 minutes, so you get an extra 25 minutes of shooting time with the Z Cam.
The Freedom360 Mount sells for $424.95. However, this does not include the actual cameras. One GoPro Hero 4 Black retails for $279.00 on GoPro’s website. This includes a standard housing, skeleton backdoor, rechargeable battery, curved adhesive mount, flat adhesive mount, quick release buckles, 3-way pivot arm and a USB cable. In total, that means $2,098 for six cameras and the rig. There may be some added cost with the Freedom360 if a GoPro camera breaks or wears out.
You can get the Z Cam S1 for $2499. Included in the purchase is a detachable battery unit, AC/DC power adapter and power cables. The only thing not included are the rechargeable battery cells.
When comparing the Z Cam’s one unit to the Freedom360’s reliance on six GoPro cameras, it’s pretty safe to say that the Z Cam is easier to use.
It’s compact and you don’t have to worry about syncing the cameras. All you have to do is point a specific lens towards in the direction of whatever you want all cameras to match the The measurement of the brightness and range (latitude) of light being captured by the camera. Exposure is governed by ca... More of and then press a button and you have all four cameras synced and recording. This is a lot more user friendly than working the six-camera GoPro rig and manually syncing up the cameras.
With the GoPro rig, it’s also best to use the camera’ Wi-Fi and the remote to ensure that all cameras record, which takes a few minutes to set up and uses more battery. When working the the Freedom360, it’s also important to remember that all six GoPros must be on the same setting. This can get to be a very tedious but incredibly important step before you go on a shoot.
As I mentioned in the previous section, there is some upkeep with the Freedom360 with buying new GoPros when needed. However, GoPros are pretty sturdy and less fragile than then the Z Cam S1.
They sustain drops better and are waterproof. Also, it’s much better to only have to buy a new GoPro camera for $279 rather than an entire new Z Cam for $2499. We know from experience after losing our first Z Cam when it took a dip in the ocean.
Confirmation of recording
This may seem like a minor detail, but since you cannot see your footage while in the field, it’s imperative that 360 videographers can use information from the cameras to know if a shot was captured (or not).
Each GoPro shows how many shots the camera has recorded. This makes it very easy for a videographer to confirm whether or not all of the cameras fired.
Conversely, the Z Cam has no way of showing if it actually recorded or not. This is even harder to keep track of since you press the same button to record as you press to turn the camera on and off.
When using the Z Cam S1, there was one time where I was uncertain that the camera had recorded the shot. The only way I could be sure is if the lights were blinking before I pressed the button to stop recording.
With all that can go wrong during a VR shoot, it’s great to be sure that you at least recorded the shot that you needed. This allows videographers to notice if something went wrong and redo it in the field before starting the stitching process and realizing that the camera didn’t fire.
The seams in a 360° video where footage from one camera has been combined with another.
Because the Z Cam has four An extreme wide-angle lens, with image distortion occurring at the edges of the frame. lenses next to each other, you get vertical The seams in a 360° video where footage from one camera has been combined with another.. The Freedom360 produces zig zagged The seams in a 360° video where footage from one camera has been combined with another. throughout the shot.
Although the GoPro’s The seams in a 360° video where footage from one camera has been combined with another. give you a bit more freedom to move them away from key subjects in the shot, the Z Cam is better for interviews since you can more accurately place an interview subject safely in between two The seams in a 360° video where footage from one camera has been combined with another.. GoPro’s lines can get tricky, especially when something is at the intersection of three lines. However, you have very little room to fix the Z Cam’s The seams in a 360° video where footage from one camera has been combined with another. in post, so if a key subject falls on a stitch line, you’re pretty much stuck with it.
Another benefit of the Freedom360 is that you can hide the spatial mic when it’s attached to the tripod. There’s no way to conceal it when using the Z Cam.
Although the cameras’ quality is pretty close, the Freedom360 GoPro rig squeaks by just ahead of the Z Cam S1 for a number of reasons.
The main issue with the Z Cam is the black point is way too high and once again limits the amount of control you have in post. The GoPros aren’t the best at capturing color, but it’s pretty easy to bump up the saturation and improve the quality of the video. The GoPros have color settings that let you change the color profile of your footage. The flat setting allows for easier The adjustment of color in post-production to match different shots and enhance the picture. and more flexibility in post.
However, if you want to shoot in darker places, the Z Cam is a much better choice than the Freedom360, which can’t sync all of the cameras without enough light.
If something can go wrong in the field, given enough time, it eventually WILL happen to you. With a VR shoot and the (often) multiple cameras they entail, opportunities for technical issues are multiplied, more or less, by the number of cameras on your rig. And they’re compounded by the fact that you aren’t often near your camera and, in most circumstances, can’t review what you’ve just captured.
There have been plenty of times that certain cameras don’t fire when using the Freedom360, but as mentioned before, the videographer will always be able to tell if a certain camera didn’t record a shot. Every once in awhile, the Z Cam has a bad habit of randomly stopping recording.
When it comes to comparing the Freedom360 rig and the Z Cam S1, there’s no clear winner. The prices are comparable and everything else is a give-and-take. You’ll gain X, but you’ll lose Y
The Z Cam S1 wins in practicality, ease of use, filming in dark situations and can be easier to stitch in some circumstances. But, it doesn’t give easy confirmation that you captured a shot and the final footage quality is a little less impressive than the GoPro rig. Plus–though it performs in hot environments without overheating–the lenses are exposed and easily scratched and the camera itself isn’t particularly durable.
The GoPro rig is more durable, gives some sort of confirmation that you captured a shot, the quality is a bit better and there’s more overlap while stitching. But, the system can be a pain to sync both on the shoot and back at the studio when stitching. Also, as a modular system, if one GoPro breaks, you can simply replace that individual camera rather than replace the entire rig.
Despite the benefits and sacrifices, I think there’s still a place and time for each camera. I certainly won’t complain about having both in our kits!
Overall, I think the Z Cam S1 is a great option for those looking for an affordable option without a steeper learning curve. It’s also easier to travel light with the Z Cam S1 compared to the GoPro rig. However, if you’re willing to deal with lots of accessories and the potential headaches of dealing with six different cameras in exchange for better video quality, the the Freedom360 is the camera for you.