Today’s smartphones have succeeded in making amateur photographers of most of us. But as smartphone photography became ubiquitous, a more intriguing version of instant photography came into vogue — the 360-degree spherical panorama. A 360-degree photo lets you observe a scene in any direction from a single point of view and smartphone apps make it incredibly easy to accomplish — you don’t have to do anything except use a dedicated app and move your smartphone around to capture and view a scene.
With standard panoramas, you shoot while revolving around your own axis, but the up and down parts are not included. When you shoot a 360-degree spherical image, you capture every point around you in all directions, side to side and up and down. Sometimes 360-degree images are referred to as 3D or VR, though with 3D, the camera also captures depth information, which is used to create 3D models that let you move through environments. Since you can view 360-degree images and spherical panoramas through VR headsets, from Google Cardboard to the HTC Vive Pro, referring to them as VR is not too much of a stretch. These 360-degree images are also viewed as panoramas where you simply spin the phone all around you or slide your finger on the touch screen to view a quasi immersive scene.
Before the iPhone, the only way you could capture a genuine spherical panorama was to use a special camera designed for the task and employ stitching software to bind multiple shots together — and you can still do that. But today’s photo apps make it possible not only to shoot 360-degree images, videos, and panos, but to instantly share them privately or via social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube. Here are some of the best 360-degree camera apps available for iOS and Android.
When you’re in the middle of nowhere and you need to show the world what it looks like, the free Google Street View app, with its built-in 360-degree camera, is where it’s at. The app is a viewer that lets you see public 360-degree panos from photographers all over the world, but the best part is that you can create spherical images of your own to share on Google Maps. Create 360-degree photos using your phone’s camera (or a certified Street View Ready camera), then position them and add connections on the map with the Street View app. Just choose the Camera and the interface will guide you through the recommended series of shots to create your pano. Then, using the app’s built-in GPS, you can pinpoint your exact location. You will have to upload with Wi-Fi so if you’re not in a place with a hotspot or at home, your images stay private until you can upload them.
With either your iPhone or Android smartphone, Panorama 360 lets you capture the view around you. The app stitches shots quickly and lets you view in its own 360-degree viewer. The app also supports Google Street View photos and iPhone panos and includes automatic geotagging. After reviewing your shot, you can upload your panos to share with your friends and family or embed them in your website or blog. You can also directly upload images to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. The app also connects you with other users for sharing their collections and you can view panos via a 3D viewer or as flat images. An in-app purchase of $3 gives you an HD option for high resolution panoramas.
With Google’s free Cardboard Camera, you can capture and share 3D VR photos designed for viewing in Google’s companion Cardboard App and compatible headsets. It’s extremely easy to use; just open the app, and at the bottom right, tap Take Picture, then tap Record. With your arms outstretched, hold the device in portrait mode and move slowly in a circle to the left or right. The camera stops recording automatically when you complete a full 360-degree turn. Then, tap Done. That’s it. These photos offer more accurate distance and object perspective so that nearby objects actually look nearby and objects farther away maintain a realistic and proportional distance. To experience the app’s VR output, place your phone into a Google Cardboard viewer.
The iOS-only 360 Panorama app transforms your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad into a 360-degree camera. Using it involves panning the camera and watching as your images are quickly assembled and stitched together. Every pano is GPS tagged, complete with a compass heading. You can share your immersive 360 views with anyone you want because panos can be viewed literally anywhere — on a computer or device with no app needed. You can also share your 360-degree images on your Facebook wall, via Twitter or email, or store them in a photo album — directly from the app. Here’s an example of a 360-degree view.
Photaf, an Android only app, is often marketed to real estate professionals because it lets you easily create seamless 360 panoramic photos using your camera’s orientation sensor to detect the exact angle of each picture. The app features 360-degree panorama creation, automatic image stitching, and Facebook sharing. Just launch the app and start moving your phone around to see the complete panoramic view by using the phone’s compass or the touch screen. The Pro version costs $4 and lets you upload images to the company’s website and view them from your computer. It also provides HD, live wallpaper creations, and is ad-free.
FOV, a free iOS-only app formerly known as Photonomie, lets you shoot interactive images quickly by moving your phone in all directions to shoot a guided sequence. The company has implemented the Wide Color display, a deeper color rendition for image enhancement. You can create an FOV picture anywhere, with native stitching, without an internet connection. When you get back online, you can share your image via iMessages, Messenger, WhatsApp, or on Facebook.
So here’s a novel concept: With Spincle, you capture a 360-degree pano that combines both static images and video to output in a video format. Capturing 360 video involves spinning your phone around, pausing to record motion, and then moving your phone again until you’re done. The app captures hundreds of image frames with real-time image stitching to combine all frames in high resolution. The free app stitches both static and video material together and supports multiple animations in a 360-degree loop as well as stereoscopic 3D. When you’re done, you can share your creation on the social network of your choosing or watch it in VR on your headset.
This iOS-only camera app costs $3 and it lets you import panorama images and shoot full 360-degree cylindrical images. Simply take a few shots of your desired panorama and let the built-in stitching take care of the rest. View photos with device motion and tilt your device to see the image move in real time. Oh, and Warp automatically detects all panoramas from your camera roll, letting you view and share them.