Earlier this summer, I spoke at Mojofest in Ireland about the future of 360, virtual reality and augmented reality. With my background, I naturally gravitated toward 360 video.
My prediction? That overcapture would lead to a second surge in popularity of 360 cameras.
Overcapture, also known as free capture, is the process of shooting an entire scene with a 360-degree camera and then cropping the video for use in a traditional fixed-frame video.
When I was preparing my presentation, I almost went in a completely different direction because–let’s face it–overcapture isn’t as sexy and sophisticated as, say, volumetric video and some of the other high-tech trends in immersive media.
To my surprise, people really dug the idea. People who said they’d never considered buying a 360 camera were all of a sudden a-buzz with curiosity.
Perhaps I had predicted the present more than I had predicted the future…
The Origins of Overcapture
The first videos I ever saw that employed this technique were published back at the beginning of 2016. I’m sure it was a pain-and-a-half to do, and it didn’t have a name so I couldn’t even Google it if I wanted to, but it was there, it was cool, and I was curious.
Then, at Photokina in 2016 (shortly after GoPro had launched the Omni and not too long after its purchase of Autopano stitching software) I finally had a name for the technique: overcapture.
The following April, GoPro announced its all-in-one 360 camera, the GoPro Fusion, which offered overcapture as a key feature that would be baked into the app (though not at launch).
Here’s an overcapture example from the GoPro Fusion:
The first company to actually make the concept commercially available to consumer 360ists was Insta360, with the August 2017 launch of the Insta360 One (though they dubbed the feature free capture).
Here’s an example of an overcaptured video shot on the One:
Regardless of what it’s called, this technique gives flat filmmakers and other video content creators an immediately useful reason to invest in a 360 camera.
And, hey, maybe after they master overcapture, they just might shoot some 360!
Overcapture = Overkill?
It’s no surprise to anyone who shoots 360 video that those files take up a LOT of space.
And, the very nature of overcapture means you essentially have to shoot your video twice: once as a 360 on-location and then again on your smartphone or laptop to select what part of the sphere to crop in on.
So, is it too much data and too much work? It depends on the situation.
For example, consider a journalist trying to cover a protest. They’re trying to take photos and videos, write down names and contact information, live tweet and send information back to the newsroom, all while scanning the situation to assess where something might happen next–hoping they don’t miss it.
Imagine if they could attach a 360 camera to a monopod in their backpack (a.k.a. “The Humiliator”) to pull video from if need be. Overcapture offers a bit of insurance.
Or, consider a filmmaker on a budget. They may not have sliders and fancy one-trick-pony tools in most filmmakers’ toolkits. Overcapture gives them a chance to capture some really unique shots that would otherwise require specialty gear.
Here’s one of my favorite examples of overcapture, shot with the Omni:
Or some fun shots in this Jeep promotional video:
Or, this behind-the-scenes video from the making of “as it is” by 360 Labs.
Or, think of a one-man-show vlogger. Overcapture lets them use a 360 camera on a selfie stick to get shots that look like they could only be captured by a camera operator walking ahead of or behind them. Overcapture is an invisible camera operator.
Think about its use cases in adventure or travel photography or videography! GoPro Associate Creative Director Daniel Sherer summed it up well:
“We don’t have to set up as many cameras to capture exactly what we’re hoping for, giving us increased efficiency and the ultimate flexibility in our storytelling. We are no longer limited by our ability to anticipate where the action will happen.”
There are so many possibilities, and I’ve only identified a small handful here.
So, then, why do I say its usefulness depends on the situation?
Because of the extra data and the extra time to “re-shoot”, I don’t think it’s feasible for tight deadlines.
I also don’t think it’s appropriate for situations when traditional tools are possible, because–to be totally honest–the quality just isn’t there yet.
Why does my 4K 360 video look worse than 1080p?
The Insta360 One captures 4K 360-degree video. The GoPro Fusion, 5.2K. The Omni, 8K.
But 4K in 360 is not the same as 4K from a fixed-frame camera. I explain 360 resolutions in great detail in this article, but here’s the short of it.
That number–4K/8K/whatever–refers to the total horizontal pixel count your camera can capture. Spreading 4,000 pixels across a 16:9 frame will be much denser (so, sharper and better-looking) than spreading that same number of pixels across an entire sphere.
In today’s average VR headset, a user is typically seeing about 90 degrees of that 360-degree video. Meaning, they’re seeing ¼ of the total pixels. That means if a 360 camera could capture 4K video, the viewer would actually be experiencing something more similar to 1K quality (for reference, 1080p has 1920 horizontal pixels–the 1080 refers to the 1,080 vertical pixels because that’s the way it used to be done…).
So, cropping in on a 4K 360 video to use that in a fixed-frame piece will not look like 4K. It won’t even look as good as 1080p. For that, you’d need an 8K camera like the Omni, which even at its dramatically reduced price of $1,399 isn’t feasible for most people (not to mention, the burden of using six separate GoPros).
Of course, the exact number of horizontal pixels in your overcaptured video depends on how much you crop in on it. These exact numbers are just a general outline.
Here’s a great video by Matt Sheils/Point of Capture showing what 12K, 8K and 4K 360 captures look like when “overcaptured”:
Like I said, I think there are certain use cases where even video falling a bit shy of 1080p quality is better than not capturing it at all or to gain access to shots you could never capture otherwise. But, I realize 360 cameras have a ways to go in this regard (here’s hoping for an 8K consumer 360 camera by the end of 2018 😉 )
All that said, after the amount of interest in the concept from Mojofest, I decided to take my GoPro Fusion on my supposedly “work-free” vacation to Vietnam to get ahead of the technique, identify some best practices, and push some boundaries.
Let’s face it, I would’ve been bored just sitting on a beach anyways…Here’s what I learned (and here are my favorite shots from my first attempt at overcapture, shot with the GoPro Fusion at 5.2K, 30 fps, stitched and overcaptured within the iOS app, without any post processing–except for speed adjustment):
The best practices of overcapture
Lesson 1: Pick the right camera.
I’ve heard good and bad things about each of these cameras.
The One is very affordable ($300), it offers log and raw shooting modes and the app is easy to use and offers some great features (like SmartTrack), but the image quality isn’t quite as good.
The Fusion captures very clear, crisp video and has good auto-stitching, but it doesn’t balance exposure very well, it’s pricey at $700, and you can’t save photos directly to your phone.
The Rylo has good image quality and stabilization, and the app is nicely done, but it’s only 4K and at $500, it’s quite pricey for what it is.
There’s also the Garmin Virb, whose desktop companion software, Virb Edit, has a feature called HyperFrame Director that can also be used for overcapture (though no support for this feature within the app, that I’m aware of). The Garmin Virb is durable, offers some interesting data overlay features and shoots good quality 5.7K video, but not being able to re-shoot overcapture within the app is a big bummer. At $800, it’s also the most expensive of the consumer/prosumer cameras on this list.
There may be other 360 cameras that are adding this feature–smart move!–that I’m just not aware of. If I’ve missed one, please leave a comment about it!
My personal preference is the GoPro Fusion. However, Immersive Shooter’s Editor-At-Large Robert Hernandez prefers the Insta360 One. And, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t used the Rylo personally so my impressions are based on reviews and posts I see from other content creators, particularly Mic Ty of 360 Rumors who really knows what’s what in terms of 360 cameras (read his full Rylo review here).
Generally speaking, the overcapture quality from any one of these 360 cameras is probably good enough for Instagram and other quick social media stuff, but you probably wouldn’t want to put it in a portfolio piece.
For that, you’d want something like the Omni. But then you’re committing to a computer-based workflow that works with footage from any 360 camera, so you may want to choose another camera, like the much-loved Z Cam S1, the industry favorite Insta360 Pro, or the super high-quality Kandao Obsidian.
Like I said, every camera has pros and cons. Think about how you’ll use it, watch lots of sample video from users, and make the decision based on what’s right for you.
Lesson 2: Not all shots that work in 360 work well for overcapture, and vice versa
Before I headed out with my Fusion, I already had an idea of some of the things I thought overcapture might work for: 360-degree pans, interesting little planets, action/reaction shots, fun vertical pans, following an object, invisible camera operator shots, and more.
What I found was that some of my hunches were correct. Others…were not. I recommend experimenting for yourself and watching some of the examples embedded here for ideas–including 17 of my favorite shots in the video up top.
For some inspiration on how the same shot can be done many different ways with overcapture, check out this video from Point of Capture:
Rylo also has some really great uses for overcapture in their promotional video:
Lesson 3: Take notes about each shot.
Sadly, I did not do this, which turned out to be a big fat bummer. Like I mentioned earlier, you’re essentially shooting the same shot twice. Once in 360, once for fixed-frame.
If you don’t have good notes and/or wait too long to review your footage, you’re going to forget what each shot contains. And, unlike fixed frame, it might take watching it a few times before you spot what you’d intended to be the focus of your overcapture shot. And when I say you, I mean me.
Saving 5 minutes so I could keep hiking, or jump in the water because it’s hot out, or (insert excuse here) wasn’t worth the hours of extra time trying to hop back into my vacation brain to figure out what I was thinking when I shot some crappy shot of the back of my own head.
(Playing the video back in equirectangular mode can help you spot what you’re looking for faster; I can’t imagine how much longer it would’ve taken me if I’d watched it in magic window mode or in a headset!)
Lesson 4: Orient the shot for maximum quality.
Whatever you plan to feature in the cropped video should be oriented at the center of one of the camera’s lenses. Not only will this reduce the chance of a stitching error ruining your shot, but the visual clarity is also the best at the center of the lens.
Look at just about any 360 video shot by a camera with two lenses and you can usually notice the seem–even one without stitching errors–by a sight drop in quality, chromatic aberrations, and extra fuzziness.
Put the center of attention at the center of a lens.
Lesson 5: Except when…
You want to shoot one of those “invisible camera operator” shots.
If you angle the camera so that you are at the center of the lens, you will likely see the selfie stick in the shot because it will no longer be hidden in the stitch lines.
(P.S. I found it was very difficult to frame out the hand holding the selfie stick, so really pay attention to the next lesson…)
Lesson 6: Use the right tools in the field.
I 100 percent do not recommend holding the 360 camera by hand. Your arm and hand are going to take up way too much of the frame. Instead, I’d recommend a selfie stick (the Fusion comes with this one, and Insta360 makes an affordable selfie stick accessory for the One).
That could help you attach the camera to a backpack or shoot those cool “invisible camera operator” shots.
Another benefit of these selfie sticks, in particular, is that they are narrow enough that they’re essentially “invisible” in the shot, even if you look directly down at them.
That said, if you do think the area around the selfie stick will be in your overcapture shot, I’d recommend holding it in such a way that your hand and arm won’t be obvious/visible. For example, have it coming out of your backpack, cradle the selfie stick on your forearm, hold it between your knees, or hand-hold it in such a way that your hand looks natural (like at your side) rather than arm-extended-I’m-so-obviously-holding-a-camera.
You might also want a monopod or tripod for stable shots. A monopod’s narrower feet will mean you’ve got more real estate to use for your overcapture shots without seeing the monopod. But if all you’ve got is a tripod, just plan ahead so your final cropped-out shots don’t include the legs (here are our recommendations for top monopods and tripods).
If you have other accessories, like adhesive mounts or a cable camera system, those could also be used to get some interesting car-mounted or canopy shots. I didn’t try this because I only brought a backpack and prioritized clothes instead of gear…However, I can’t wait for my Wiral Lite camera cable setup to arrive so I can play around with this idea!
Lesson 7: Know thy app.
The app behind the Insta360 One has given users the ability to “free capture” their shots since day one (GoPro launched the feature some months after the camera began shipping).
With the Insta360 One, simply shoot the video, save it to your smartphone via Bluetooth or by connecting the camera to your phone directly, and then use the app to re-shoot your fixed-frame shot.
The Insta360 One app has some other cool free capture-related features. In addition to simply moving the camera around so that what you see on your screen is what your overcapture video will be (i.e. re-shooting), you can also use the app’s SmartTrack feature to select a subject and the app will track that subject or object through the scene. They also launched a tool called Pivot Points in March that lets you set points of interest in the video and the app will automatically and smoothly pan from one point of interest to the next.
Although those automatic features are neat, they do result in very smooth motions that might be too perfect for some use cases where you maybe want it to feel a bit hand held (and considering many 360 cameras have pretty great built-in stabilization, it might look too produced for some peoples’ preferences). Some people still prefer to just re-shoot by hand.
GoPro didn’t launch the overcapture feature in the GoPro app until January of this year for Apple, and April for Android. To use the feature on mobile, you need to connect your camera via Bluetooth, download the footage to your phone, open the video you want to re-shoot, select the overcapture button (the circular white icon on the right side of the screen) and then re-shoot.
One note: until you process the video, the stitch line will “jump” around. Although this is fixed in processing, you could still see some stitching errors in your final overcapture video, just as you might with traditional 360 video from any self-stitching camera (and why you might want to stitch and reframe on your computer–see lesson 9).
There are no fancy overcapture features within the GoPro app, but I’m not complaining since GoPro’s VR plugin tools for Premiere and After Effects offer robust overcapture options and they’re totally free to anyone, regardless of which 360 camera you use. All you need is the video in equirectangular format!
Lesson 8: Mind the angle
When you’re re-shooting your overcapture footage, be sure to pinch, pull, drag, etc. to get the angles just right. Since you have unlimited power to choose the angle of your shot, it can take some finessing to get the angle just right for whatever pan you want–especially if you want it NOT to look like a wide angle shot. And, remember, the more you zoom in, the lower resolution the video will look.
Lesson 9: Don’t forget the tripod
As strange as it may sound, you may want to put your phone on a tripod to keep static shots stable or even get smoother pans.
Lesson 10: Use the right post-production tools.
The app may make it fast and simple to re-shoot your overcapture footage, however, you’re going to sacrifice a bit of quality.
For example, you might have unbalanced exposure across the lenses (of course, it’s always a good idea to put the light source in the stitch line to avoid this, but that isn’t always possible). Or, the in-camera stitching might result in obvious and unsightly stitching errors.
Neither of those things would be an issue if you pointed the lenses at the object you intend to focus on and you actually use the shot the way you planned. However, that probably won’t happen and/or you’ll want to pan around the shot or use a super-wide-angle shot.
In that case, if you have the time and tools, I’d recommend bringing the footage into MistikaVR to stitch and balance the exposure (and stabilize, among other tools). You can also use the free desktop software that comes with whatever camera you’ve purchased to stitch, but MistikaVR is my preference for its ease and quality.
Then, you’ll need to bring the stitched video into Adobe Premiere Pro or After Effects (use GoPro’s Reframe free VR plugin, available here, for the cropping). And don’t forget what you can do with creative keyframing!
Here’s a useful tutorial for using Reframe (relevant section starts at 5:19):
I guarantee there are other workflows out there that may be better/faster/simpler–if you find them, share them in the comments!
As much as 360 best practices and processes have yet to be defined, there’s still a lot to figure out when it comes to overcapture, too.
But, I think it’s high time to start that conversation.