iPhone attachments can shoot 360-degree video

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 Dotand EyeSee360’s $80 GoPanoMicro–to see how they fare. Both are compatible with theiPhone 4 and 4S, and are used in conjunction with iOS apps that allowyou to shoot, view, and share your interactive panoramic videos.

Kogeto Dot
The Dot is a simple accessory with a plastic lens and a snap-on clipthat attaches to the back of your iPhone. The lens makes itpossible to capture a video with a 360-degree view. Though the resultsare far from professional-grade, it’s a fun novelty item, especiallyfor people who like to take and share casual videos of lively eventssuch as concerts, sporting contests, and parties.

To use Dot, you’ll need to snap it onto the back of your phone anddownload Kogeto’s accompanying Looker iPhone app. All Dot videos mustbe shot in the app’s Shoot mode, which currently allows three minutesmaximum of footage. Since the lens is shooting a 360-degree panorama,the video looks like a warped circle of your surroundings–you won’t beable to see what you’re shooting (which is not really a problem withthe app since you’ll need to hold the phone face-down while shootinganyway. More on that later.) Once you’re done, the app quickly de-warpsyour video and uploads it into your Looker library.

On the iPhone app, you can watch yourvideo in an interactive mode where you swipe through to change theviewing angle. If you load the video onto a computer–by sharing viaFacebook, Twitter, email, or by uploading it to Kogeto’s Dotspotswebsite–you will also be able to view it in panoramic mode, which letsyou see the entire scene in one wide shot. Kogeto plans an update toLooker so that you can switch videos into panoramic mode in the app aswell.

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Sample screen view using Looker app.

Dot captures the scene around its lens, so if you hold the phonevertically as you normally would when shooting video, Looker willde-warp your video strangely; plus, you’ll mostly capture video of theceiling and floor. Instead, you need to hold the phone face down whenshooting, making sure not to grip your iPhone’s edges; otherwise, yourfingers will have a starring role in your video.

To take videos that make any sense anddon’t include your fingers, you need to place the iPhone face-down on aflat surface, or hold it flat on your palm. The latter method doesn’tfeel very natural and isn’t the best way to keep your iPhone safe fromdrops while walking. Since Dot isn’t compatible with any cases, this isparticularly problematic. When I was shooting video on the SanFrancisco streets, I just ended up letting my fingers get into theshot. As noted above, this means you can’t actually see what you’reshooting while you’re shooting.

Dot is super easy to clip on and take off of your iPhone, and comeswith a microfiber carrying case that doubles as a lens-cleaning cloth.It’s available in four colors–black, pink, red, and green. Overall, itcaptures decent-quality videos. The main problem with video quality isthat the plastic lens creates a reflection in every video that variesdepending on the lighting. And while the accessory is designed to bevery secure when attached to the iPhone, the actual process ofcapturing videos feels clumsy. If you can get past having to hold yourphone in an awkward position, Kogeto’s Dot does a pretty good job atshooting 360-degree videos.

GoPano Micro
EyeSee360’s GoPano Micro is a miniature version of the company’s GoPanolens for digital cameras, made just for the iPhone 4 and 4S. LikeKogeto’s Dot, GoPano Micro lets you shoot panoramic 360-degree videosby attaching a plastic lens to your iPhone’s camera. In order to useGoPano Micro, you need to attach a custom-designed case that comes withthe 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 tothe case in a way that makes it possible to capture 360-degree videowhile holding the phone vertically. You can comfortably grip the phoneas you capture video, making for steadier shots.

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Dewarped shot using GoPano’s Record mode.

To shoot with GoPano Micro, you’ll need to download the accompanyingGoPano app. Tap the Record Video button and you’ll be taken to thevideo capture screen. The great thing about the GoPano app is that itprovides a live, de-warped view of what you’re shooting. You’ll only beable to see what’s directly in front of you, but even this helps, sinceyou’ll know how high or low to frame your shot.

Once you’re done, the video is instantly saved–there’s virtually nowait for the app to de-warp or load the footage into your videolibrary. 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 toshare on GoPano’s website, you will need to sign up for an account andenter in a registration code that comes with the device.)

When you’re watching videos on the app, you can either swipe to changeviewing angles, or just pan your iPhone from left to right. The latterfeature makes watching the video much more immersive, adding thatfeeling of “being there” to the experience–you can also better controlthe 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 tosave it to your Camera Roll, which will export it as a flat scene witha 360-degree veiw.

The way the accessory is designed makes it nearly impossible to get anyfingerprints on the lens. The design also leads to great videoquality–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 toget a lot of dust or an unfortunate spill onto it. Luckily, the GoPanoMicro does come with a microfiber pouch that can be used as a cleaningcloth for such situations.

The biggest drawback to the GoPano Micro is the way the lens fits intoits 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 pluggedin, it’s not very secure. Give your iPhone a quick shake and the lenswill fall out of the case. I can imagine in crowded places, whereyou’re likely to bump into people, that it’ll be hard to keep the lenssecurely on the phone’s camera. But as long as you pan slowly and holdyour iPhone steadily, there won’t be a problem.

Buying advice
Both accessories do exactly what they say–shoot 360-degree videos withyour iPhone 4 or 4S. Neither shoots as high-quality videos as a nakediPhone camera, but that’s expected with the plastic lenses. I did findthat GoPano Micro offered slightly better video quality, but witheither device if you move closer to an object or subject, you’ll get asharper image.

While I consider both of these accessories novelty items, I cansee them being really entertaining lenses to use during parties or forsports or action videos, so you won’t ever miss a move just because youdidn’t have your camera pointing the right direction. If you alreadyhave a favorite iPhone case, Kogeto’s Dot might be a slightly betteroption since all you’ll have to do is take your phone out of its caseand clip on the lens. But if you hate having your iPhone case-less atany point, then GoPano Micro will keep your phone protected whileyou’re shooting video.

I’d recommend GoPano Micro over Kogeto Dot, solely based on videoquality and the way you hold the iPhone when shooting video. GoPano’sapp is also better designed, plus it provides a live de-warped view ofwhat you’re shooting. Either way, you’ll have a fun time taking aseemingly ordinary scene and turning it into a unique, interactivevideo.

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