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Virtual reality is the Wild West of filmmaking. Some consider it the future of the art form, a new technological development on par with the introduction of color or sound. Others see it as a gimmick that will wear out its welcome before it produces a piece of culturally significant art. The one thing everyone can agree on is that nobody knows quite where virtual reality is going, which makes it so exciting.
While it’s primarily used for things like action sports footage at the moment, the possibilities for virtual reality documentaries and narrative films are almost endless. There are very few established norms or best practices, so in many ways virtual reality film is up for grabs. Artists with strong creative visions and technical proficiency can theoretically become the Orson Welles of the medium if they step up to the plate and create something magical. So it makes sense that filmmakers with a bias towards the future have been interested in virtual reality for quite some time. Whether you are interested in making movies or shooting fun videos at a relatively small scale, it’s always a good time to stock up on some new virtual reality gear.
Virtual reality cameras can be divided into several categories, but the biggest distinction comes in post-production. Cameras designed for VR contain multiple smaller cameras, or units, which each shoot a different angle. The goal is to cover everything in sight, ensuring there are no holes in your 360-degree footage. This results image stitching, which is when the footage overlaps in certain places, so the images must be combined to create a panoramic view. The next step up is when cameras stitch images automatically, but this process takes some time, resulting in a lag between when you finish shooting and when you can use your footage. And some of the highest end cameras now contain real time image stitching, using advanced technology to combine images while they shoot for maximum efficiency. When buying a camera, the choice is simply a matter of price point. That’s why we’ve rounded up the best options for a variety of budgets, including beginner models and professional cameras with real-time stitching.
Because the virtual reality viewing experience is every bit as important as production, we included a couple of the best VR headsets as well. And you can get most of them on Amazon, with free two-day shipping for Prime Members. Another perk that comes with the $12.99 monthly subscription: Prime Video, which gives you access to a massive film and TV library (in case your streaming game needs an upgrade). Below, find our picks for the best VR gear.
This highly-affordable 4K virtual reality camera contains eight units, allowing you to capture high quality 360 degree footage for an entry level price. For beginners who are serious about making virtual reality films in the future, this is probably the best camera to start with. For a little over $500, you also get a tripod and 64GB SD memory card.
If you are looking to jump into the virtual reality world and don’t want to break the bank, but at the same time want something a little more serious than a GoPro, this 360 degree Samsung camera is a great option. It’s capable of shooting virtual reality videos, but also contains a standard wide angle lens should you want to shoot 180 degree footage. When you consider the low price tag and the fact that it’s waterproof, this is an easy choice.
Professional cinematographers who want to do VR at the highest possible level should look into the KanDao Obsidian. This 8K camera produces breathtaking panoramic shots, utilizing High Dynamic Range technology that makes it easy to shoot in any lighting conditions, no matter how bright or how dark. KanDao also provides software that makes image stitching easy and allows for virtual reality live streaming. The Obsidian also comes in an entry level model, as well as a 120FPS version that is specifically designed to handle very high frame rates, but the 8K model is the best overall option for those without specialized needs.
This 6K camera sits at the low end of the “high end VR cameras” category. It is a serious piece of equipment that you can take on a professional shoot, but the price point is not quite stratospheric. Offering in-camera stitching and a three hour battery life, the Z-Cam S1 is a respectable choice that can always be upgraded, but will likely solve all of your VR-related problems. It can even shoot 4K footage at 60FPS, which is more than many conventional cameras can say!
Arguably the most versatile virtual reality camera on the market, the Insta360 Pro can do just about everything. This spherical camera can shoot 4K at most frame rates, and is capable of reaching 8K as well. It features real time in-camera stitching, which your editors will certainly appreciate, and is capable of live streaming in 4K as well. The four built-in microphones are a welcome addition, considering how hard it is to hide a boom mic on a 360 degree shoot! If you know you will be working in virtual reality for the foreseeable future, this camera is one of the best investments you can make.
Of course, you don’t need a spherical camera to shoot VR. The GoPro Max is a great option for shooting any kind of real-time virtual reality film, such as action sports or nature footage. It can even be useful for documentaries! Equipped with four digital lenses and HyperSmooth stabilization technology that can handle the heaviest of activity, this 6K camera is more technically proficient than its small size might suggest.
Once you have shot and stitched your virtual reality footage, you need something to watch it on. Oculus Rift is the most recognizable name in the VR game right now, and for good reason. Their products were some of the first to market, and they have stayed on the cutting edge while maintaining a relatively accessible price point. The Oculus Quest 2 is their flagship product, and is great for watching movies as well as gaming.
If you’re serious about virtual reality and willing to spend a little more on your headset, the HP Reverb G2 has superior resolution that will enhance any movie watching experience. The 2160 x 2160 resolution blows the Oculus Quest 2 out of the water, and many users have noted that the Reverb is more comfortable to wear on your face for long periods of time. Consider this an investment in your home theater for the next generation of movies.