Most 360 cameras have a price tag larger than their wide-viewing angle, but with some tinkering and programming know-how, you could just build your own for about $50. That is the concept behind an instructional video series from Tinkernut that uses a Raspberry Pi camera, a mirror and some software to craft a cheap 360 camera.
The Raspberry Pi camera module may be designed to teach kids programming, but it is allowing grown-ups to build some pretty wild DIY projects including a digital “Polaroid” instant camera. The Raspberry Pi camera module, which runs for about $25 on Amazon, is the basis for the 360 camera, serving as the camera sensor, lens, and shutter.
The problem is that the Pi’s fixed-focus lens of course does not capture a 360-degree view. To solve that, Tinkernut adapted an iPhone camera accessory that uses a spherical mirror to capture panoramas, trimmed off the iPhone mount and added it to the front of the camera. Tinkernut used a 3D printer to create a mount for the mirror lens and a tripod mount for the back of the camera so that the mirrored lens is pointed at the sky.
While that took care of the hardware, there is quite a bit of programming involved in this particular DIY — including setting up the Pi to use wireless and then telling it to shoot a video.
Since the camera uses a spherical mirror, the DIY rig produces a circular image that looks rather like looking into one of those round mirrors hung in the corner of stores as a cheap surveillance system. That is when the process gets software intensive — Tinkernut uses the Simple CV Computer Vision software and a script to unwind the circular image into a 360 video that is YouTube compatible where users can scroll to look around the video.
Since the video is shot of a mirror and stretched out to 360, the resolution and quality is not the best — but the intention was a cheap DIY, not a stellar 4K cinema camera. Tinkernut released a second video detailing how to adjust the focus of the Wi-Fi for a sharper picture, using a Raspberry Pi compatible webcam to gain more resolution and even creating a remote to trigger the shots.
Pretty? Not exactly, but it is pretty cool.