Camera giant Nikon took everyone by surprise when they launched not just their first action camera, but their first 360 video camera — the Nikon KeyMission 360. Using two lenses and internal stitching software, the KeyMission 360 puts immersive video in a pocketable $500 camera. 360 video, however is just beginning to work out all the kinks involved in capturing video in every direction — so does the Nikon KeyMission 360 deserve to have the Nikon name stamped on the side, or did the camera giant fall flat with their first action camera?
Nikon KeyMission 360: Body and Design
The KeyMission 360 is surprisingly small, considering it’s packing in two of almost everything. The camera is about the size of a tennis ball — if a tennis ball got run over anyways, since it’s more cube than sphere, but in general size, a tennis ball is a good comparison. The camera weighs about seven ounces — more than a GoPro, but there’s two lenses and two sensors in there, so that’s expected.
Unlike the handful of other 360s camera out there, the KeyMission 360 isn’t designed for taking simple shots at parties — it’s designed to get dirty, wet or dropped or that’s one of the camera’s biggest advantages over the competition. Without housing, the camera is waterproof down to 100 feet, with that same sealing offering dust protection too. The body feels exactly like you’d expect a camera capable of withstanding a few drops to feel. To maintain that durability, the door to the battery and microSD card slot has double locks.
That durability comes without extra housing, but the lens covers are removable — the box includes one pair of covers designed for above the water and one for underwater. The swappable covers also means that if you happen to drop the camera and scratch one, you can replace the cover and not the entire camera. The camera also includes a rubber bumper, though it doesn’t seem to sit right on the camera’s body.
The camera uses a basic tripod thread at the bottom and Nikon offers a number of different accessories for mounting the camera for action shots, which is really what the KeyMission 360 is designed for. In fact, there’s no grip or any way to keep your fingers from covering the lens, so if you want to shoot handheld, you’ll need to attach a selfie stick or small monopod so you have something to hold on to (Nikon sells one that’s pops out of a compact handle). I used a handlebar mount that worked well if you had a good spot to mount it on and while the helmet mount wasn’t compatible with the DOT-approved helmet I was hoping to use, I did manage to attach it through the vents of a bicycle helmet in another shoot. A ball-style attachment, for adjusting the angle of the camera while mounted just like with a ball-style tripod, is also included.
The control scheme on the KeyMission 360 is simple — one button turns the camera on or starts a recording, while a smaller side button takes a still photo instead. The record button is very sensitive — every time I tried to turn the camera on, I also started a recording. Not a huge issue, but something to be aware of when memory card space is low.
With two lenses, there isn’t room for a screen or a more advanced control scheme. Instead, the settings outside of starting the recording or taking a picture, are only accessible through the app — which we’ll look at shortly.
While there are some minor annoyances like the overly-sensitive record button and reliance on a wi-fi connection, the design is one of the best features of the KeyMission 360. Unlike the Ricoh Theta or the Samsung Gear 360, the KeyMission 360 is designed to mount as a point-of-view camera and designed to survive being cast into the middle of the action.
Nikon KeyMission 360: User Experience and Performance
The KeyMission doesn’t exactly require the app, but if you want to get off the default options, all the settings are inside the app. Pairing the camera with my iPhone 7 and the SnapBridge 360/170 app (which is separate from Nikon’s DSLR SnapBride app) was frustrating at first but that’s because I was missing a step that isn’t required on Android — you have to hold down the power button for about seven seconds until the lights start flashing to initiate pairing mode. Once you’ve done that set-up once, however, you don’t have to do it again. In fact, with the Bluetooth, you can even turn the camera on with the app instead of the physical controls.
Once I was past the frustration of figuring out the connection, the app itself offers a nice user-friendly interface. Inside the app, you can both preview the shot before you record and view the shot afterwards — something that’s actually not universal in every camera app and is very helpful to the process. Even though you’re recording in every direction, it’s helpful to see if you need to adjust the height of the mount or if something is too close to the camera.
Along with triggering the camera remotely, a settings menu inside the app provides what a typical camera’s menu would offer. Here, you can adjust the recording settings or switch shooting modes. Along with shooting a regular video, you can shoot a superlapse, time lapse, or start a loop recording. Settings also allow you to switch to an underwater mode (for more accurate white balance) as well as adjusting Active D Lighting, color profiles and exposure compensation.
By default, the camera uses a two second delay for still photos — since it’s an action camera, you probably don’t want to record your hand reaching for the record button or fiddling on the smartphone app anyways, but if you want to start the recording instantly, you can. There’s also a longer 10 second delay option.
The app is well organized and —outside of the one-time set-up — easy to use. The app does seem to run a bit slow sometimes when connection to the camera, but it’s also handling a lot of data with 4K from two different lenses.
That limited, app-focused control access can start to get the KeyMission in a bit of trouble though. For example, I lost connection after I had already started recording a time-lapse. To reconnect, I had to turn the camera off, then turn it back on which started another time-lapse since the record button is so sensitive. Then I had to stop the recording, re-try the wi-fi and go in and adjust the settings so I could then shoot a normal video. While there are physical controls for stopping and starting a recording without the Wi-fi access, you can’t swap recording modes without it. If the Wi-fi connection is being a bit testy (which it did once while testing) you’re rather stuck.
The w-fi range seems decent — I could connect and then walk outside, probably about 40 to 50 yards away from the camera, before getting an error message about a lost connection.
Normally, I don’t bother with the software that comes with the camera, but since 360 is so new, I needed a way to trim those immersive clips, so I gave it a try. The desktop software, KeyMission 360/170 is fairly straightforward if you’ve ever used any sort of photo or video editor before. On the lefthand side-bar, you can select your media. Navigating to just the “play” section in the top tabs, you can preview the video, zoom in or out and adjust the playback speed.
For editing options, the program allows you to shorten the video by navigating to the point you want to begin or end at and tapping the button to save that as the starting or ending point. This is probably one of the biggest edits inside the program, but you can also pull a still photo from the video, add music, add effects and flag highlights. An export option allows you to save for YouTube — this uses the right format so YouTube will recognize that the video is in 360 automatically. The only thing that’s blatantly missing is the ability to stitch multiple videos together into one file, but keep in mind the files are large anyways and uploading even a two minute clip to Facebook will take several minutes, depending on your internet connection.
Like any action camera, the KeyMission 360 uses fixed focus — that means as long as you’re not too close to the camera, you’re in focus, so there’s no searching for focus or focusing on the wrong thing when you’re too busy participating in the action to monitor what you are shooting.
Don't Miss: How to Shoot 360 Video
With a fixed focus camera and no burst mode, you don’t quite need the same performance levels as you would a single lens camera. The camera starts up fairly quickly, and while the app is sometimes slow, there’s not much delay to getting the recording up and going if you use the physical control buttons.
The biggest problem with the performance of the KeyMission 360 is that the 4K files are so big, the camera automatically divides longer recordings into shorter clips that are about eight minutes long. The camera continues recording, but not all in one file and there’s no way to merge multiple clips in Nikon’s included software. For repetitive action or long trips like a motorcycle ride or a kayak trip, it’s not a huge issue but if you are trying to capture clips that have peak moments — like catching the wave while surfing — you do risk getting that moment split between two shorter videos.
The app could use some tweaking — which Nikon will likely continue to do through free-firmware update — and the 4K clips are separated into shorter videos. But, 360 is such a new field I’m almost surprised that I didn’t have other performance issues. Stitching multiple views together is an entirely different ballgame over a single lens camera and while the KeyMission 360 isn’t perfect, it’s not a bad start either.
Nikon KeyMission 360: Video Quality
360 video starts to show its age when you playback videos from the KeyMission 360. Immersive video is just a baby in the scheme of things and still has some growing up to do before catching up with traditional photography and videography — and that goes for more than just the KeyMission.
The KeyMission 360 is 4K video, but, that’s not 4,000 pixels on a standard screen, that’s 4,000 pixels stretched around a sphere. On a 360 camera, 4K is really like plain HD, a minimum standard that gets the job done but doesn’t let you bask in the details. Smaller details are hard to make out, but the scene, as a whole, is captured to easily take a look around in.
While the smallest details may not be intact, the KeyMission 360 captured excellent color and contrast. While a cloudless day is difficult for any camera on auto mode, I was surprised at the bright blue of the sky, and that the camera was able to capture that without darkening the remaining colors in the scene.
Video here is coming from two different lenses and two different sensors, which means that the footage, at some point, is stitched from the different sources. Stitching errors are apparent the closer an object is to the camera. Mounted on the handlebars of a kid’s bicycle, pieces of the front of the bike are missing, and if the biker leans a little too far forward, parts of his face are cut off too. Mounted closer to the wheels of a motorcycle and taking a look around the scene, I didn’t notice any stitching. That’s not unusual for a 360 camera at all, but since the camera is designed to be mounted in the middle of the action, make sure there’s a way to do that so the camera is at least a foot away from the most important parts of the scene. The KeyMission is better mounted on the front of a kayak than close by on handlebars — it’s not that it can’t, but you’ll notice fewer errors the farther you mount the camera from any objects near the lens.
With the sun low in the sky, the KeyMission 360 does well keeping the exposure even between the two lenses. When the sun is higher in the sky and between those two lenses, however, a lens flare on one lens but not the other can create a more obvious stitch, with half of the sky darker than the other.
The KeyMission 360 doesn’t include image stabilization — but that’s not surprising considering GoPro only just recently added the feature and this is Nikon’s first action camera. The mount needs to be fastened tightly and you will notice bumps and shakes along the way — these are more noticeable at slower speeds, like on a bicycle, than at faster speeds, like on a motorcycle.
For audio, the KeyMission tends to pick up sounds near the camera well. Like most video cameras, sound pick-up drops off the farther you are from the camera. In environments without other sounds to fight with (particularly sounds close to the camera, like noise coming from where the camera is mounted), voices can be picked up at a decent distance from the camera.
The video quality isn’t quite what I was hoping for on the KeyMission. But then again, I haven’t yet tried a 360 camera where I was pleasantly surprised by the video quality, the tech is just too new. Color and audio is solid, but taking 4,000 pixels from two different sources and stretching it around a sphere is going to lower the quality and create stitching errors.
Nikon KeyMission 360 Sample Videos
Nikon KeyMission 360 Review: Conclusion
360 video is simply too new to expect perfection. If you pick up the $500 KeyMission 360 and expect the same quality as a $500 entry-level Nikon DSLR, you’re going to be disappointed. But, if you pick up the KeyMission 360 knowing that 360 video is in it’s infancy and hasn’t yet reached the same standards as regular video, then you’ll be able to shoot 360 in places that you can’t take cameras that aren’t water-sealed like the Samsung Gear 360 or Ricoh Theta.
The Nikon KeyMission 360 isn’t the easiest camera or app to use, has some connectivity issues and creates videos with some obvious stitching. But, if you need a 360 camera that you can take in wet conditions and mount in the middle of the action, few options can tackle the task. The 360Fly 4K is also weather-sealed but has a lower resolution. Options like the Ricoh Theta line or Samsung Gear 360 aren’t designed to mount in the middle of the action or withstand any weather that comes it’s way. The Kodak PixPro Orbit360 VR looks to have similar specs, though it's only splashproof and not submersible, but it's too early to directly compare the video quality from the two.
As the company’s first foray into both action cameras and 360, the Nikon KeyMission is just average in terms of quality and ease of use, but with so few options on the market at consumer price levels, it’s not a camera to disregard either. If you don’t mind the stitching in the sample videos and are willing to push through occasional connectivity issues and eight minute video limits, but need a sub-$500 camera that can withstand the water, the Nikon KeyMission 360 might just be it.