Occasionally, we get to test a product with the potential to transform the consumer landscape, to get us to start thinking about something in an entirely new way. The first 360-degree video cameras tried very hard to do this, but they ended up being little more than gimmicks (arguably, many still are today). Even as cameras like the Samsung Gear 360 have taken the format further by improving quality and features, immersive video still feels a bit like a party trick. GoPro’s new Fusion might change this, but the $700 360-degree action cam isn’t really meant for broad consumer applications.
Enter Rylo, a startup founded in part by the man responsible for Instagram’s impressive Hyperlapse video stabilization. It may be the first company to truly bring 360 into the mainstream with the eponymous Rylo camera ($499). It uses spherical video capture not to output a virtual reality experience, but rather to create more interesting fixed-frame videos — that is, standard rectangular content.
Since it’s release, Rylo has received new features, higher resolution recording, and even a desktop editing app. 360 cameras still have some growing up to do, but the Rylo holds a lot of promise and proves that the format is actually worthy of your time. One day, a camera like this may replace all of your consumer video gear, from your action camera to your camcorder.
The non-360 360 camera
A 360 cam that isn’t actually meant to deliver in 360? We know, it sounds crazy — but it may just be crazy enough to be genius.
The Rylo records spherical video just like any other 360 cam. Users are free to share the full spherical video if they like, but the Rylo’s secret is its ability to allow you to “direct” the camera from within its mobile app (iOS and Android) to output professional looking fixed-frame videos. Reframe, create automatic pans, or track objects — all with liquid smooth stabilization — after the shot is made.
In essence, the Rylo is a true set-it-and-forget-it camera, capturing everything around it and giving you the freedom to make creative decisions later. Sure, this is technically possible with any 360 cam and the right editing software, but never has it been so user friendly and approachable — and never have the results looked so good with so little input required.
Design and specifications
The Rylo can easily fit into the palm of your hand, although it’s not meant to be held that way. 360 video works best when you can get the camera away from your body, and fortunately Rylo includes an Everyday Case with the camera, which is essentially a mini selfie stick that helps get your fingers out of the way of the camera’s dual lenses.
One day, a camera like this may replace all of your consumer video gear, from your action camera to your camcorder.
The hardware interface is incredibly simple with just two buttons. One turns on the camera and starts and stops recording, the other switches between still and video modes. Next to the mode button is a small LCD that displays shooting information. There’s no monitor for framing your shot because, well, you don’t really need one. So long as there is a clear line of sight between the camera and your subject, it’s in frame.
This may be a consumer camera, but it is a premium one and it looks and feels the part, with a solid aluminum frame. It is not ruggedized or weatherproof, but an optional Adventure Case is available for $69, which can attach to GoPro mounts.
On the inside, twin sensors capture 5.8K spherical video (with the free firmware updated released on November 8, 2018) or 6K spherical photos. A 16-gigabyte MicroSD card is included — good for about 35 minutes of video — and cards up to 256GB are supported. Standard fixed-frame videos are output at Full HD 1080p resolution, although the number of real pixels that go into composing that image will depend on the angle of view you set when editing, since any “zooming” is digital.
Since the camera is geared for a fully mobile workflow, Rylo has incorporated a technology that is both faster than Wi-Fi and easier to set up than Bluetooth for transferring footage to your phone. It’s called a USB cable. Plug it in, turn on the camera, and the app automatically launches. No passwords, no pairing, and no connection errors and associated headaches (but you do need to remember to bring the cable with you, as there is no wireless connectivity to fall back on).
Directing your masterpiece
The Rylo mobile app serves up three key ingredients when it comes to editing your video: Points, Follow, and FrontBack. These make up the heart of the Rylo experience.
Points lets you point the camera in a specific direction at a specific moment in the timeline. Adding a point is as simple as pressing on the screen and selecting the “look here” option. You can add as many Points as you want — in video editing lingo, they’re like animation keyframes.
Reframe, create automatic pans, or track objects after the shot is made.
The software then automatically pans or tilts from one point the next, creating what appear to be perfectly smooth camera moves. It’s as if you made the shot with the camera on a multi-thousand dollar motion control rig, except that you have the freedom to recompose it after the fact.
If there’s any issue with the feature, it’s simply that it can sometimes pan the wrong direction from what you want. Say you’d like to make a grand 270-degree sweep, so you drag the frame around 270 degrees and place a Point. Well guess what? When you play back the video, it will pan 90 degrees in the other direction. You can get around this by breaking up your pans into smaller segments, knowing that the app will always take the shortest distance between two points, but it would be nice to be able to simply indicate which direction you want the camera to pan.
The Follow option, as you might guess, will follow an object on screen, keeping it in the center of the frame regardless if it, or the camera, moves.
In practice, we found Follow to work well so long as the camera always had an unimpeded view of the subject. If another object passes in front of it — or if you’re trying to follow, say, a person’s face and they turn around — the app might lose track.
Luckily, playback stops when this happens and you can immediately set another Follow marker to pick up where it left off. The problem with this is that there will be a hard cut, a bit like a jump cut, to the new follow point. It would be nice if the Follow feature made use of the same automatic speed ramping and smoothing of the Points feature, in order to seamlessly connect multiple Follow commands.
The FrontBack feature creates a picture-in-picture or side-by-side display of two different angles. Simply tap the FrontBack bottom to cycle through the display options. This could be great for vacation selfies, or for YouTube tutorial videos, or displaying two sides of a conversation at once.
All of theses features are also available on the MacOS desktop app released alongside the 5.8K firmware update. The app, which we tested in beta, ran well and offers an elegant, easy to understand interface. It makes some options more immediately accessible than on the mobile app, but it also feels less intuitive to pan and scan using a mouse or trackpad rather than a touchscreen. The desktop app is free, so it’s certainly a nice option to have, but the mobile experience remains the key selling point.
Digital Trends reached out to Rylo regarding a Windows version of the app and was told one was in the works, but a release date is still to be determined.
Fast and steady
All of the Rylo’s editing features wouldn’t be half as good if it wasn’t for the underlying stabilization technology. The system works thanks to a built-in gyroscope that measures movement and corrects for it in real time. In a way, this is no different than how Hyperlapse works, by analyzing the data from your phone’s accelerometer.
The Rylo doesn’t fail to impress, but it’s a long way from perfect.
However, the Rylo has a huge advantage over traditional electronic image stabilization thanks to its 360 degrees of coverage. Even very good EIS systems, like that of the GoPro Hero6 Black, have to crop the image first before they can reframe it to compensate for camera shake. But by working within a spherical area, the Rylo’s software can reframe however it needs to without actually cropping. There’s no difference in resolution between having stabilization turned on or off.
As an extreme test, we set the Rylo down on a potter’s wheel and turned it on. Even while spinning in full circles, the camera was able to stay focused on a single point. This particular setup isn’t really useful in the real world, but it helps illustrate how well the EIS system works.
The camera also automatically levels the horizon, although you can adjust this manually (which you may need to do in certain circumstances, such as driving, as lateral acceleration can fool the camera as to what’s actually level).
But the stabilization system isn’t just useful for smoothing out your footsteps or shaky hands. It is good enough to simulate a stable platform for time-lapse sequences. In fact, the Rylo’s Timelapse mode can speed footage up by up to 16 times and it still looks incredibly smooth.
A brilliant idea, an almost brilliant product
As a first-generation product, the Rylo doesn’t fail to impress, but it’s a long way from perfect. We’re a little disappointed that it isn’t ruggedized and that the Adventure Case costs extra, because this could easily be the future of action cameras. The image quality may not match, but the flexibility afforded by capturing a 360-degree view offers so much more in terms of creative opportunities. After shooting with the Rylo, it would be hard to go back to a regular action cam.
Sure, Garmin may have done this first with the Virb 360, and GoPro may yet win the day with the Fusion, but both of those cameras are more expensive and can’t match the pure simplicity of Rylo’s software.
Low-light performance is also not great, although this is certainly not unique to the Rylo.
The Rylo’s other shortcomings can, unfortunately, be blamed on the physical limitations of current technology. Image quality, for example, is merely fine — colors are nice and vibrant, but true resolution is well below what ideal 1080p would be. Even after the 5.8K update, we weren’t particularly impressed with the level of detail in the video. Resolution isn’t the problem here; it’s compression. The footage is so heavily compressed that you’re just not getting much out of all those pixels. Details, particularly in shadows, can get very blocky. These things may not matter when you’re just watching the footage on your phone, but the lack of detail becomes very apparent when editing on the desktop app.
As a dual-lens 360 camera, there is also a fairly prominent stitching line between the two hemispheres. It is certainly not the worst we have seen, and you may not even notice it in some situations, but it can be a problem in others. Because of this, you should still put some thought into how you angle the camera, keeping one of the lenses pointed at your subject. If important parts of the scene get caught between the two lenses, they will be marred by distortion.
Low-light performance is also not great, although this is certainly not unique to the Rylo. Any small-sensor camera simply needs a lot of light to produce clean results. Outside in daylight, it’s no problem, but indoors or at night, there is plenty of noise.
Dynamic range is another sore point, and while this is also inherent of all small sensors, it’s a bit worse off in the world of 360 video. With the camera mounted on a dashboard, we found it properly exposed for the outdoor-facing view, meaning everything inside the car was far too dark. Outside on a bright day, it exposed for the sky, causing the foreground to be too dark.
The big issue here is that you may not even use the portion of the frame that is properly exposed — it might not be included in the final video at all. Rylo previously updated its app with a new “tune” feature that lets you adjust exposure and contrast (to some extent) in post, but this can’t make up for simply not capturing the proper exposure in the first place. We’re glad to see the company responded so quickly to feedback and issued the update, but this may not be a problem that software alone can solve.
As far as user friendliness is concerned, the Rylo app is the best mobile 360 video software we’ve ever used, but it, too, has room for improvement. While Points, Follow, and FrontBack are all great ways to modify your footage, there is no way to set keyframes for zooming. It would be nice to be able to set dramatic slow zooms to draw the viewer into the scene, or instant rack zooms to accentuate fast action. The latest version of the app introduced the tiny “tiny planet” perspective, but without the ability to automate zooming out to it and back again, it’s of little use.
The software includes some basic editing functions, like trim and crop, but there is currently no way to combine multiple clips together. You’ll need to export your clips and jump over to another application to do that, but then all of your 360-degree decisions are baked in and you won’t be able to change them without going back into Rylo and saving a new version of the clip. Loading multiple clips at once may put too much strain on the memory limits of today’s smartphones, but we hope Rylo can come up with a solution to this in the future.
Rylo offers a one-year warranty.Our Take
While it’s easy to call for more features, we may be getting slightly ahead of ourselves. The Rylo is foremost a consumer video camera designed to make shooting, editing, and sharing quick clips as easy as possible. And in that, it succeeds 100 percent.
In 2017, we called the Giroptic iO (now no longer available) the best application of consumer 360 video tech we’d yet seen, but the Rylo has clearly surpassed it (although, the cameras have different goals). The Rylo doesn’t do absolutely everything, but it presents a very refined approach to what it does offer. It is truly a useful 360 cam, and very much not a gimmick.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t see an opportunity for it to be even better. We are pleased to see that Rylo has been quick in adding new features to the camera via free firmware and app updates, even well into its life. It may take another generation of hardware — and a technological leap in small sensor performance — before the Rylo can truly replace your action camera and camcorder, but there’s a glimmer of that future in the current product.
Is there a better alternative?
The aforementioned GoPro Fusion and Garmin Virb 360 are the closest competitors, but both are more expensive and target a somewhat different user. However, it would not be difficult for copycat products to spring up quickly and take on the Rylo directly. One of the issues with Rylo’s software-first approach is that other manufactures can quickly imitate it; there is nothing that stands out about Rylo’s hardware, its prowess is in the app. Would you buy it today if you knew a less expensive imitation would be available tomorrow? We can’t say for sure if that will happen, but the thought may be worth considering before you buy. (Nearly a year in, the Rylo is still holding its own in this space.)
How long will it last?
As we’ve now seen over the first year of its life, Rylo has kept its camera fresh with firmware and app updates. We expect it will have a decent amount of life ahead of it. That said, 360 cameras and coming and going all the time as the industry continues to try to figure itself out. We expect the Rylo has at least a year of life in it, but after that, it’s anybody’s guess.
Should you buy it?
We say yes. This is not a perfect camera and it can’t yet replace your GoPro, but it is still the most interesting and fun to use 360 camera we’ve tried. Like other 360 cams, it may still be somewhat of a party trick, but it’s a refined and elegant one that you’ll actually want to use more than once.
Update: On November 8, 2018, Rylo released new firmware which increases recording resolution to 5.8K. A MacOS desktop app is also now available. This review has been updated with our hands-on experience with these new features.