Answers to your Questions
We encourage you to read the following in depth as it covers 90% of the questions we’re being asked. Thanks!
What is 360 Designs?
We’re a team of engineers, camera operators, production crew, artists and experts making professional tools for 360 video and virtual reality, while experimenting at the forefront of live 360 video production. Our engineering facilities are located in San Francisco, and our production team is based in LA. All our rigs are hand assembled in Los Angeles, having moved our production base to Southern California in Summer 2016.
We have developed a reputation within the industry for excellence and innovation around professional 360/VR camera equipment, and are recognized experts in designing high-end, professional 360/VR rigs.
Along the way we have also developed a reputation for innovation with live 360 video, an area of the industry we think has a bright future, and have built custom live 360 workflow solutions and produced live 360 streaming events, at the Oscars, for Barry Gibb’s In the Now 360, and SXSW.
We are constantly experimenting, and our goal is to try new things, work out how to make them easier, and share that in the way of innovative and practical products for professionals.
By hand making a limited quantity of products, we offer our customers a degree of exclusivity and customization over more mainstream solutions. We are regularly retained to design custom camera rigs and live stitching solutions for clients, both large and small.
What is the history of 360 Designs?
In general terms our team comes from a production background – television, broadcasting live events and film making. Our founder was a camera operator and VR pioneer during the early 90’s.
The genesis of 360 Designs was a frustration with existing VR cameras, and a desire for much better quality. At NAB 2015, we were at the press conference where Blackmagic announced the Micro cameras, thus ending a 2 year search for a camera head to build professional VR rigs around.
We ordered Blackmagic micro cameras that day, and began work on ‘EYE‘ our ‘high concept’ 42 camera rig, leading to custom rig work for large clients and most recently our Mini EYE™ range of high quality, professional VR cameras.
In June 2016 we relocated our main base of operations from San Francisco to Los Angeles, to be closer to many of our customers. We are currently enjoying the heat!
Do you do production work?
We have a respected crew of 360/VR technicians and creatives, pulling together some of the leading talent and figures in the 360 industry. As manufacturers of the cameras and equipment, we know it well, have equipment on hand, and can provide custom solutions with ease. We are experts and recognized pioneers in live 360 video, providing cameras and live 360 streaming solutions for the Oscars, SXSW and Coachella among others. We have produced live and non-live 360 content for Fortune 500 companies, leading broadcasters, agencies, production companies, internet companies and others. Recent public credits include ABC/Disney’s Dancing with the Stars 360 and Barry Gibb in the Now 360 for Columbia Records.
We often work in partnership with existing production companies on a co-production or hired-specialist basis.
Do you do rentals?
We are starting to do more rentals now that we are based in LA. We generally recommend that we provide a camera with operator the first time around. Generally speaking, overseas rentals or those involving shipment of a rig are quite costly, and can be complex with customs clearances. Nonetheless we recently supplied a rig for a 360 shoot in Saudi Arabia at short notice, which was extremely challenging, so anything is possible. Please contact us to enquire about a rental.
PRE SALE QUESTIONS
Which is better? Mini EYE 3 or 4?
Both cameras produce the same output resolution – 3K using the Micro Cinema Cameras, or 6k using the Micro Studio Cameras. It makes no difference to output resolution how many cameras you have, if you are using the same lenses.
The key difference between the two cameras is the amount of overlap between lenses. You get a large amount of overlap with Mini EYE 4 (600 degrees horizontal coverage), and a smaller overlap with Mini EYE 3 – 450 degrees coverage.
More overlap gives you more options for stitching. You can ‘move a stitch line’ for example over time to keep a subject ‘within one lens’. A minor downside is that you have one more stitch line to deal with, or hide.
Generally speaking we recommend the Mini EYE 3 for event use, where you are typically quick stitching or live stitching a great deal of quantity of content, and its generally very easy to hide 3 stitch lines in any event scene (i.e. away from people).
For applications where you think you will want to do a lot of post production, we generally recommend the Mini EYE 4, for its greater flexibility in post.
One consideration is that if you become a customer of 360 Designs, we can sell you additional rig frames. So if buy a Mini EYE 4 package, you can get a Mini EYE 3 rig frame later on, if your business takes you into live 360 and event production. A number of our customers have chosen this option, which is custom quoted.
In summary, the Mini EYE 4 is generally more flexible than Mini EYE 3 at the cost of an extra stitch line and one more camera to deal with. The two cameras have virtually the same parallax (8.5 inches versus 9.5 inches for Mini EYE 3).
If you are unsure, we generally recommend starting with a Mini EYE 4, unless you know you will mainly be doing quick stitch and live 360 work.
You can always add on a Mini EYE 3 rig frame later on… Note that it’s a little harder to go the other way (adding a Mini EYE 4 frame to a Mini EYE 3 rig). That’s because you need to upgrade the J-Box and get an extra camera cable to handle the extra camera.
Should I get the Micro Cinema Cameras or Micro Studio Cameras?
This is our second most popular question at 360 Designs.
Basically the Micro Cinema Camera is an HD camera, with internal recording. The Micro Studio Camera is a 4k camera, with no internal recording.
In summary, for most people getting started with the Blackmagic’s we recommend the Micro Cinema Cameras, unless you are specifically doing live 360 streaming work, or you have a particular known and understood need for higher resolution (eg. 4k-6k stitched output, significant use on HMD’s). The 3k stitched output resolution of the Micro Cinema Cameras is ideal for YouTube 360 and Facebook 360, which is where the vast majority of views are happening for 360, and the convenience of this camera with internal recording, and its cinematic feel and somewhat increased dynamic range, offer a compelling proposition. You can grade the picture to high heaven, the pixels are large and nice, and the camera has improved low light capability (1-2 stops). The picture it produces can have a very cinematic feel.
The two advantages of the Micro Studio Camera are that it offers higher resolution (6k stitched output), thanks to its 4k sensor, and locking mini SDI connections which are perfect for live 360 use. There is no internal recording which is an issue, although it is now very common to use 4k recorders, one per camera, to record the uncompressed 4k SDI output of these cameras in a 360 or VR rig. Suitable devices are the Video Devices PIX-E5, Atomos Shogun, Convergent Design Odyssey, and Blackmagic Hyperdeck Studio if you need rack mounted operation (e.g. studio or live event setting).
The recorders can be located a long way away if desired, as SDI cables work over much longer distances than HDMI. The latest version of the Convergent Design range (Apollo), offers dual 4k recording on a single device, thus halving the number of recorders needed for a Mini EYE 4 for example. Some experience with camera rigging helps here, although the new production versions of our Mini EYE 3 and 4 cameras have cheese plate style mounting holes around their base, which allow for direct mounting the recorders below the rig, with use of a Oben ball head (requires short hex bolt) or 7″ magic arm for example. If mounting below the cameras, consider the smaller size of the PIX-E5, versus the larger Shogun, or consider two Odyssey’s for a Mini EYE 4 rig.
One consideration is that you can start with a set of micro cinema cameras and add the reasonably-priced micro studio cameras to your shooting kit later on. In practical terms we are finding that we are using the cameras interchangeably for different projects. Everything in our rigs is modular and interchangeable.
Are your Mini EYE rigs fully spherical?
Absolutely. The lenses provide approx. 190 degrees field of view and thus ‘see behind’ themselves, they ‘cross over’ each other at top and bottom. For both the Mini EYE 3 and Mini EYE 4 this makes the coverage fully spherical, sometimes called 360 x 180 equirectangular, although we prefer to call it 360 x 360 coverage. To be clear, there is no zenith or nadir hole with our cameras.
What comes in the package?
Our cameras ship ‘ready to shoot’ and ‘flight ready’. What this means is that aside from media and possibly batteries, we ship each rig as if you were about to go out on a shoot, or get on a plane. The camera comes in a single carry-on style Pelican case, with roll wheels and a handle. For your convenience we hold onto the stuff you don’t want, like all the boxes, poly bags and bits and pieces the components arrive in, that you don’t need, or are likely to use. This also saves on shipping and the environment. If you ever want these items, we hold on to them for 12 months, and will ship them to you if needed.
In general terms our camera packages include:
- Professional 360 rig frame
- All cameras and lenses (professionally calibrated and tested)
- J-Box (for power and genlock supply – convenient cable management)
- Genlock kit
- Custom cables for everything
- AC adapter and battery cord (to add the professional battery of your choice)
For full details, please see the individual product pages.
What else might I need?
As mentioned we provide a very full package, and there is little you need to complete it. Here is our recommended list of add-on items you may want to consider…
- SD cards (for the Micro Cinema Cameras =). We recommend San Disk Extreme Pro – typically 256 and 512 GB are the ones we use the most
- External recorders (if using the 4K Micro Studio Cameras). We like the Video Devices PIX-E5 and have had success with the Atomos Shogun for portable recorders. For remote recording (over SDI or Fiber) and for production set ups, we are using multiple Blackmagic Hyperdeck Studio Pro’s. Lately we have come to like and appreciate the Convergent Design Apollo.
- A system battery (any 12-15v 4-pin XLR professional broadcast battery can be used). We recommend Anton Bauer Gold Mount 90’s, mounted to a quick mount plate, mounted to a cheese plate, which in turn mounts to the base of…
- … a monopod. We like the Nodal Ninja travel pole with this base and legs and 3 added weights. We often mount the J-Box / battery to the base for added stability.
- If you are mounting recorders off the bottom of the rig frame (with Micro Studio Cameras) a useful accessory is this Oben ball mount
- A battery powered HDMI monitor (for changing camera settings and setting exposure). We like the Atomos Shogun (also has 4K recording) as this offers good waveform and exposure analysis tools. For a cheaper option, you can use a generic HDMI monitor. We recommended upgraded Wattson batteries in both cases.
What lens do you use?
Finding the right lens on the Blackmagic cameras for VR is really hard. We conducted 3 months of testing, going through more than 50 lens combinations, to arrive at the best lens option for VR with the Blackmagic micro cameras. We bought a lot of lenses that… didn’t work!
Basically we invested considerable time and resources to this effort.
We are keen to provide the value of that research effort first and foremost to our customers, and as a small (but growing) company, we consider this valuable information which we are not willing to share.
The lens provides 190 degrees FOV, comes from a highly respected and well known lens manufacturing source, is focus adjustable (but not really needed), has manual iris, and has an F stop < 2.
We take this very capable, compact, fast and sharp lens, adapt it specifically for the Blackmagic cameras, and then professionally calibrate it and match it to the specific cameras we are sending you. The whole system is fully tested and working before shipping to you.
We also provide included custom lens barrels, exclusive to 360 Designs, which slip over the lens and aesthetically improve its appearance.
Can I use your Mini EYE rigs for drone, aerial or ‘action’ use?
We are developing a new, modular, add-on safety mount system that will be a drop-in replacement for the mounts which ship with the camera. This will add redundancy to the existing mount system.
Our Mini EYE rigs are thus not currently recommended where the camera is likely to receive ‘significant shocks’. Our patent-pending rear battery mount system, while highly convenient, may fail in such circumstances. Please use your common sense when mounting the Mini EYE cameras until this new system becomes available.
How do your Mini EYE rigs compare to Nokia Ozo?
The Nokia Ozo provides limited stereo (3D) in front of and to the sides of the camera (but not behind). Beyond this, we believe our Mini EYE cameras are generally superior, and provide a better picture, for around 1/4 of the cost. They are also modular of course, meaning you can use the components for other things, and interchange them between different rigs. You thus secure your investment for when the ‘next’ camera arrives. We also believe the workflow with ProRes is much easier as it does not require extremely lengthy rendering.
How do your Mini EYE rigs compare to GoPro Omni?
We are not fans of GoPro’s for professional use, primarily due to unreliability issues (overheating), the use of micro SD cards, the use of HDMI as opposed to SDI, and the H.264 compression that they use with 8 bit color. You can’t really grade the footage, and they don’t work well in LED or low light. We would recommend visiting our friends at Freedom 360, who pioneered these rigs, and some may say had an idea borrowed from them.
Does the Mini EYE™ 4 J-Box work with Mini EYE™ 3?
Yes. You can run a Mini EYE 3 camera off the Mini EYE 4 J-Box, although notably not the other way round.
Are your cameras suitable for use by consumers?
We do not believe our cameras are suited for consumers, or those with limited production experience. Our cameras are designed for use by professionals or those with prior cinematographic, broadcast or photographic experience. A solo operator would have to be very comfortable with professional camera operation, and would need to learn stitching which has a significant learning curve. An exception would be if you are using the camera for ‘quick-stitching’ or live stitching only. In this case you could follow the YouTube tutorials we provide, and not have to learn about ‘fine stitching’.
Do you have test footage? What about unstitched samples?
We have a company dropbox where we provide our latest demo reel along with screenshots, unstitched footage, and notes about which camera shot which part.
We also recommend Disney/ABC’s Dancing with the Stars 360 footage to see what can be achieved using Mini EYE 4, along with the Micro Cinema Cameras, and with great production.
For a sample of live 360 footage, check out Barry Gibb In the Now 360, which used a Mini EYE 3 with Micro Studio Cameras for the main camera.
Do you supply (stitching) software? What is the stitching workflow?
Our cameras stitch in the same way as other 360 cameras on the market, using commercial video stitching software like Autopano Video Pro, Videostitch Studio, or basic options like PT Gui or Hugin. Those with a compositing or VFX background will want to consider Blackmagic Fusion, After Effects or Nuke.
If you’ve not stitched before, and/or you do not have a stitcher on your team, be advised that ‘perfect stitching’ requires a great deal of stitching experience, although those from a VFX background generally find it easier, and can transition more quickly. Rotoscoping for example is a common requirement for ‘perfect stitching’.
We are often asked what is the minimum stitching distance of our rigs? There is no easy answer for this as the question itself depends on the subject matter. One answer could be ‘zero’, as it is relatively trivial to position a subject right in front of the lens, and focus to the lens glass itself. In reality, where you have things going on around the camera, and lots of movement, we suggest trying to keep subjects more than 5 feet away, with 8 feet a target. This will not solve all parallax issues, but will make things easier in post production. Simple physics dictate that our rigs will not have the same close-quarter capability of a (physically smaller) back-to-back GoPro rig, and we encourage our customers to think of the Blackmagic rigs as ‘medium to long range rigs’, with the capability to handle shorter distances if you are able to plan your content and shots in advance, or have a great stitcher on team. Planning your content for 360 can make a huge difference to your (post production) costs, and is where a highly experienced 360 camera operator or VR supervisor, and a stitcher you consult beforehand, can be extremely useful and good value for money.
Please note we provide a fine stitching service to a range of clients, and are fortunate to have some of the best stitchers in the world working for our team. You can have them working for your team too, with prices starting from $1,000/day. Please enquire for details.
What do I need to do live 360 stitching/streaming?
Live 360 streaming is ideally suited for our Mini EYE 3 camera in particular – it’s what it was made for.
We now offer a complete, professional grade, live 360 VR workflow – that is incredibly easy to use, infinitely flexible, and offers by far the highest quality 360 image quality on the market (significantly better than Ozo).
The opportunities for live 360 video are immense, so now is a great time to get involved!
For a single camera live 360 stream you need:
- Mini EYE 3 (with Micro Studio Cameras – recommended)
- StitchBox™ – our new pro-grade 4k live stitching appliance – includes a full license for Vahana
- A 4k live streaming encoder. We now offer MixBox™ – a 2-in-1 product including a 4k hardware encoder (typically $40k+ alone e.g. Elemental) and full live 4k production studio software
We are happy to advise our customers on best practices and do lots of custom work. We now have a live streaming broadcast quality VR drone for example (first in the world).
We also offer a complete outsourced live 360 production service that can drop in or augment your own productions on an as-needed basis (white label).
As recognized leaders in the live 360 industry, we have supplied live 360 streaming equipment and production for the the Oscars, SXSW and Barry Gibb in 360 among others.
We work as fully outsourced live 360 providers, or in conjunction with other production companies.
Please contact us for more details.
Can I buy just the rig frame?
In general we discourage this for first time buyers for two reasons – our prices for the cameras are the same as you would get elsewhere (e.g. B&H), so you won’t save money by buying elsewhere, but also we professionally calibrate each lens to each camera before assembly of your rig. Interchanging fixed-focus ultra-wide angle lenses between cameras, can lead to a soft lens, due to tiny manufacturing differences between the cameras and lenses. We are extremely experienced with these lenses and once calibrated to your specific cameras, we recommend keeping the lenses attached to their respective cameras, or re-calibration may be required. For customers, we teach you how to calibrate the lenses if needed (although generally it isn’t).
All this said, we understand that some people may have already bought Blackmagic micro cameras and on occasion we can provide a custom, no-camera quote for our customers. We are generally more receptive to the idea if you are otherwise buying a reasonable amount of kit from us – e.g ‘everything but the cameras’, or additional rig frames etc.
Once you are a customer we are happy to sell individual rig frames as needed.
Can I buy just the lens?
Not at this time, sorry.
How does the rig work in practical terms?
Our rigs are professional rigs designed for professional camera operators. At the very least you should be familiar with setting manual exposure, manual white balance, ProRes and RAW codecs, SDI connections for video, genlock, shutter angle, ISO, etc, and production workflows.
A single, industry standard 4-pin XLR connector provides power, either from an external professional battery pack (not supplied – user preference), or the included high power AC adapter.
The power feeds our J-Box, which is a custom breakout box designed for 3 or 4 Blackmagic cameras.
The J-Box is typically positioned at the base of a monopod holding the camera, and from there… 3 (or 4) studio grade rubber cables run up to the cameras, and connect using locking expansion port connectors (aka DB-HD15).
At the other end of the camera cable is a 3 pin XLR connector, that plugs into the J-Box, and can thus be extended using standard microphone cables. The size of the cables we supply is 6 feet – an ideal size for a monopod at adult height.
With our rigs, we always include a complete professional genlock solution. On larger custom rigs this is built into a larger custom J-Box, and for our Mini EYE cameras we supply a separate, discreet Blackmagic Sync Generator, along with pro-grade locking BNC cables, that sits alongside or is mounted to the back of the J-Box. Basically the sync generator feeds the genlock signals into the J-Box via industry standard BNC connectors, and this is then distributed up to the cameras via the XLR camera cables. Using the genlock box is optional.
A typical Setup
- Mini EYE mounted to top of a monopod
- J-Box, Battery and genlock box mounted to base of monopod
- 3 or 4 cables running up the monopod from the J-Box to the camera
With the Micro Cinema Cameras, this is thus a completely self-contained rig.
Camera settings are typically handled via a battery powered HDMI monitor or monitor/recorder like an Atomos Shogun, which you plug into each camera to adjust settings like shutter, white balance, recording codec, ISO.
Having genlock available ensures that all your cameras are synched at a frame level, which is not the same as synchronizing the start and stopping of the cameras, but is of benefit to stitching fast moving action and thus desired. This does makes it easier to sync the start and stopping of your footage within your stitching software however.
When you are ready to record, you typically press each record button on the cameras, one after the other, unless you have one of our custom remote solutions. Good practice is a synchronization step such as a clapperboard or shake of the camera. You can also use an electronic clapperboard with built-in timecode for visual on-camera reference which works well, such as those from Denecke.
We have announced a new camera control system specifically for the Blackmagic cameras and 360 camera rigs called Belafonte which offers perfectly synched recordings and single button start/stop via an iPhone app. At time of writing this is in late stage development and is available for pre-order.
One excellent characteristic of the Blackmagic cameras is that they handle power cycling as you’d hope. Simply disconnect or reconnect the system battery and the cameras come on by themselves and are immediately ready to shoot again, retaining all settings. This means in practice you can extend the useful battery life of the rig substantially without a bunch of resets and button presses.
Why should we buy your rig?
We are professional camera operators and have designed our cameras with professional camera operators in mind. We are bringing to market new products in future that will be compatible with our Mini EYE rigs, and we are looking to build an ecosystem of compatible, flexible professional VR rig components, so it is easy to expand and improve your kit over time. We are standardizing all our mounts for example, and plan to keep those unchanged. Everything is modular and interchangeable. You can flip the camera mounts upside down for example if you want to, if you don’t like the cable entry positions. We try to think of things that make a camera operator and production team’s job easier, and add a sprinkle of panache, hopefully.
ORDERS AND RETURNS
How do I place an Order?
We take orders online, or via custom quotation. Contact us if you need a special quote.
Please note that if a deposit is offered on a pre-order product, you are committing to purchase that product and thus the deposit is non-refundable.
When will I get my order?
Orders are dealt with on a first-come, first served basis, from the time we receive payment (or in the case of cameras – a deposit). Occasionally we can offer a rush service, for an additional fee. If there is a guideline timeframe on the individual product page, this is typically accurate. If there is no guideline given, we ship most items within 1-2 weeks. For the latest info on shipping times, contact us.
Which countries do you ship to?
We ship worldwide on most items, although some items may have restrictions on online ordering but may be possible to order offline. Due to the high ticket price on some items, customs clearance can be quite complex to certain countries and we reserve the right to cancel and refund any order if we deem the customs clearance will be too complex. We will always contact you beforehand to explore all options, which may include a handling fee for the additional paperwork, or retaining a specialist customs broker in your country.
Why do you only offer Fedex? Can we use a different courier?
For the time being we have standardized on Fedex for all deliveries. We have found Fedex to be the most reliable option for shipping high value items, domestically and internationally, and dealing with customs issues.
If you absolutely must use a different courier or shipper, please contact us and we will do our best to accommodate. We will not do this for low value shipments however.
How Can I Cancel Or Change My Order?
All our sales are final, and thus cannot generally be cancelled.
If you need to change an order, contact us quoting your your order number and we will do our best to assist.
What warranty do you offer?
We offer a 12 month warranty on all 360 Designs components – rig frame, custom cables, J-Box. Other components are covered by their individual manufacturers. We will replace or repair broken 360 Designs parts upon return to us, that have failed during normal use.
Our Platinum service, where offered, includes rapid no quibble replacement on these items, as well as executive level phone support.
What kind of support do you offer?
We find that in general our customers need very little in the way of support. Our customers tend to be professionals and our products are not intended for use by non-professionals.
We respond to support questions by email, and response times vary depending on demand.
We provide a series of stitching tutorials on our YouTube channel, this FAQ is regularly updated, and there is a wealth of info and tips on the individual product pages.
We don’t formally offer phone support but we can often be reached by phone and we won’t hang up on you. Generally the best time to reach us is afternoon Pacific Time.
If you require enterprise grade support, we offer a Platinum service including executive level phone support and faster response times. Please contact us for details.