A sharper picture is a welcome addition to this tiny action camera with eyes in the back of its head. I'm still not convinced that your average punter will rush out and embrace 360-degree video, but if you're keen to be an early adopter then the 360fly should certainly be on your short list.
Last year I reviewed the first-generation 360fly, so I'll try not to go over too much old ground, but the new $849.95 Ultra HD model is certainly worth a second look.
What Is It?
Unlike more expensive 360-degree multi-camera rigs, the 360fly relies on a single extreme fish-eye lens which points straight up but can see out to the sides. Think of it as a basically a GoPro blessed with impressive peripheral vision of 240-degrees, looking out to the sides a little lower than the horizon but not straight down.
The 360fly shoots standard MPEG-4 video but open a clip in a standard video player and you see a circular video with the sky in the middle and the horizon wrapped around the edges. To view it properly you need to use the 360fly website and app, or else upload the footage to video services like YouTube and Facebook.
The first-generation 360fly recorded the entire scene in 1500x1500 resolution at 30 frames per second, but the new 4K Ultra HD model ups this to 2880x2880 resolution with the option to shoot at 24 or 30fps, or else 1728x1728 at 60fps.
Of course when you look in any given direction you're only looking at a small section of the overall picture, distorted to compensate for the fish-eye lens. This naturally has a big impact on picture quality and resolution.
Screen shot from the new 360fly 4K camera.
Shooting at 2880x2880 there's a noticeable, if not striking, improvement in picture quality compared to the original 360fly.
I tested the 360fly 4K at a nearby creek in the same spot where I tested the original camera. The lighting conditions aren't exactly the same but when you look at these screen shots you can clearly see the benefit of the extra resolution when looking at the detail in the undergrowth. There's also a lot less distortion and blur on the edges of the image.
That said, the 360fly 4K video still doesn't look as sharp as even the 720p video from a GoPro Hero4 silver. There's more to picture quality than resolution, it's also about lenses and image sensors where the GoPro clearly wins out. In the 360fly 4K's defence its colours are a little more saturated, although you can adjust this in the settings.
A drop in picture quality is the sacrifice you're asked to make if you want to shoot 360-degree video with a single camera, but if you're keen to embrace 360-degree video the 360fly 4K's improvement in quality is worth the extra $200 above the price tag of the original $649.95 360fly, which is still for sale. That said, there are plenty of new contenders on the market so it's worth shopping around.
In an effort to be more versatile, the new 360fly 4K adds a new "first person POV" mode which lets you use it more like a traditional action camera. This mode reduces the fish-eye effect and shoots 2560x1440 video with a 16:9 aspect ratio like a traditional action camera.
At this point you've got the best of best of both worlds, with the benefit of compatibility with GoPro mounts so you can attach the camera pretty much anywhere.
The supplied accessories have changed slightly, you still get a GoPro-compatible mount adaptor but not the flat mount so it's tricky to sit the camera upright on an uneven surface unless you bring along the charge cradle (which you can see in the image at the top). The unusual design also makes it difficult to rest the camera on its side to shoot in POV mode.
Side by side comparison of top right corner, where the distortion is much more noticeable with the original 360fly on the left.
Unfortunately POV's fish-eye effect is still rather severe and you can't dial it down or disable it like a GoPro. The POV picture quality still falls far short of 720p GoPro footage in terms of sharpness and contrast, plus the GoPro also leaves the 360fly for dead in terms of low-light performance.
The new model 360fly doubles the onboard storage to 64GB, which is handy now that you're shooting sharper video with large file sizes. New features include built-in GPS, a time lapse video mode and the ability to live stream using the LIVIT app.
So What's The Verdict?
The new 360fly 4K is a worthy successor to the original 360fly but you're still taking a big hit in picture quality compared to a traditional action camera. Unless you're absolutely sure the novelty of shooting 360-degree video won't wear off then a GoPro might be a better investment.
If you are convinced that the 360fly is right for you, and you want to see the action from every angle, then it's worth spending extra on the new Ultra HD model.