Monday, October 02, 2017
Review: LUCIDCAM -- 180VR CAMERA
A TERRIFIC, CONVENIENT CAMERA
FOR VR PHOTOS AND VIDEOS
The LucidCam is a terrific, convenient camera for VR still and video photography. It produces high quality, state-of-the-art, 180VR format videos and stills. For several reasons, discussed below, this may be the most consumer-friendly VR format.
It costs only $499, making it the least expensive high-quality camera for 3D VR photography. This could be the camera that brings VR camcording to a mass audience.
It uses a pair of fisheye lenses to photograph the front hemisphere in 3D. The camera has front facing stereo microphones.
It weighs only 8 ounces, and is small enough to fit in your pocket.
It shoots mp4 video at either 1920 x 1080 (1K per eye or 2K total), 3000 x 1500 (called 3K) or 3180 x 2160 (4K per eye for an 8K video, called 4K in the App). It shoots with a variable frame rate that averages about 25 to 30 frames per second. The camera also shoots still 3D photos at 2160 x 4320 whichever resolution is set in the App.
Since it is only capturing a hemisphere, the 8K mode is twice the resolution of a camera that is 8K for the entire 360x180 4Pi full sphere. (However, it will be a while before most people have a viewing headset capable of displaying this resolution.)
It has a fixed, rechargeable battery. Photos and videos can be stored in the 24 GB internal memory or in a removable micro SD card.
The LucidCam can connect with Wi-Fi to a smartphone App. The App is used to select the resolution. It can also select whether the camera records with an equirectangular layout or a fisheye layout.
The camera also live streams the video (only the 2K mode, currently) to the smartphone. The App also allows updating the firmware, and provides a window into the battery status and the file storage. It can also be used to share the videos and photos.
The camera has a mini USB port, a mini HDMI port and a slot for a micro SD card of up to 32 MB. (It is probably a good idea to use a fast card: 80 MB/second or faster.) Content on the camera’s internal memory can be copied to a computer with the USB port, and content on the microSD card by putting the micro SD card in the adapter and placing that in the SD card slot of the computer.
The controls for shooting with the camera are very simple: there is a switch on top of the camera to turn on video or stills, and a button to take a still picture or start and stop a video.
I’ve dropped it and it still runs, so it seems pretty sturdy. It is a good idea to keep the camera covered when not being used, and to protect the lenses from dirt and scratches.
At 8K, the quality of the images is better than the current ability of consumer VR display devices to show them; so the videos will hold up well as the display technology continues to improve over time.
Processing and showing the videos is not hard, and we’ll discuss that below, along with shooting suggestions. This is a simple, convenient, solution for shooting state-of-the-art VR videos and photos. And it’s also currently the least expensive 3D VR camera.
SHOT WITH THE LUCIDCAM
HEMISPHERIC VS FULL SPHERICAL VIDEO
+THE 180VR FORMAT
+THE 180VR FORMAT
The LucidCam shoots the front hemisphere (180 x 180) in 3D, producing what are called 180VR videos. It shoots 180 degrees (half a panorama) horizontally and 180 degrees (from straight up to straight down) vertically.
By contrast, a 360 video (2D or 3D) shoots in all directions, all 360 degrees horizontally. A “360 video” will sometimes cut off the top or bottom of the view (or both) and show less than 180 degrees vertically. A full-spherical video that shoots the entire sphere surrounding the camera can also be called a 4Pi video because the surface area of a sphere is A=4πr^2 and 4π is called the solid angle of the surface of the sphere.
While, of course, it does not show everything around the camera, a hemispheric front facing video camera (like the LucidCam) has certain advantages over a full spherical camera.
First, it points directly at the subject of the image. When shooting 360 videos, one of the questions is where to let the main subject(s) be located: (Always in front? Wandering around? Popping up in back? Does the viewer freely discover action anywhere it might be in the circle, even behind the user; or is the user guided by audio or video cues to follow the action of the story?) These new questions about 360 videos and locating the subject are not necessary in 180VR.
Secondly, a full spherical camera with lenses pointing in all directions can be intimidating for subjects, or just passersby, who feel like they are swept up in someone else’s picture. Front facing alleviates some privacy concerns, and even some copyright issues (where a 360 camera can inadvertently pick up copyrighted images that are to the side or back of the camera).
Third, the fact that the image is limited makes it easier to apply some of the traditional camera techniques of cutting (even zooming! – although the LucidCam can only zoom through post-production editing software -- the LucidCam has a fixed F/2.2 aperture -- or by moving the camera closer or further from the subject, the VR180 format may also permit other methods of “zooming” including cutting to shots filmed with other cameras.)
The 3D 180VR image is immersive and realistic. Even though the format does not include the entire panorama, a seated user turning their head still sees a 3D scene covering their entire field of view (FOV), so it is still realistic and immersive.
Many people who view the video on YouTube or other sites may not be using a VR headset. When the video is being viewed in 2D (rather than in a 3D headset), if the main subject of the action being photographed is basically in front of the camera, then 180VR format generally looks better in 2D than the 360 video format.
Of course, if some of the important subject matter can be anywhere, front or back, then the 360 video format is necessary. If you need to shoot full spherical 3D videos, three LucidCam cameras can be connected in a triangular, six-lens rig that can be used to make 3D 360 full spherical VR videos. (I have not tried this option.)
The LucidCam is a first-generation product and it does have some problems. These are mostly annoyances that can be dealt with. Moreover, even with the current hardware, the supporting software is continually changing and improving.
The frame rate for the LucidCam videos is variable; different portions of the video may have different frame rates – this allows for the maximum flexibility in real time recording. However, Premiere Pro (and the current version of the LucidCam YouTube Converter), require a fixed frame rate in order to preserve the syncing of the audio to the video. The raw video can be processed with “Handbrake” to yield a fixed frame rate, but this outputs only 2160 x 1080 videos, even if the original video was 8K. FFMPEG or other converters may be able to convert variable to fixed frame rate for the 8K videos without losing resolution. (It should be noted that 8K resolutions is beyond the display capability of most VR display devices today.)
It sometimes requires several tries (or practice) to get the Wi-Fi connection established between the camera and the smartphone. Additionally, the button for starting Wi-Fi is very close to the shutter control. It is easy to shoot several random pictures or turn the video on by accident while trying to just press the Wi-Fi button.
The indicator lights are hard to see when shooting in broad daylight. It is sometimes necessary to cup your hands around the lights to block the sunlight in order to determine the status. Using the smartphone can sometimes avoid the need for looking at the lights. However, sometimes it is difficult to handle both the camera and the smart phone at the same time.
Holding the camera
Because the camera is small and captures the full hemisphere, fingers holding the camera can easily be captured in the image, (and a stray finger on just one side really trashes the 3D effect). It is necessary either to be very careful hand holding the camera, or use a selfie stick extending backwards from the camera so it is not in the image, or use a tripod.
LucidCam is quite good at providing personal support at firstname.lastname@example.org[*]. But it would be helpful to have a LucidCam forum to discuss “everything about LucidCam”, to have LucidCam staff providing and logging answers to questions as they arise, so many support questions will be already answered online, plus having other LucidCam users to help out and network with. More online tutorials will be helpful too. (We have some on the way from QPORIT, as well.)
Using the LucidCam is very easy. Turn on the camera to Picture or Video, press the shutter button for stills or to turn video on and off. Copy the result to the computer or the smartphone. A little processing, and you can share it.
It is not a good idea to let the camera wobble, or move randomly. Also, set it level to the horizon.
Be careful: avoid ledges and cliffs, cars, tripping hazards, and biting hazards (insects or bigger animals). Also, avoid copyright infringement; and get releases (when you need them) before you shoot.
For best results, keep your fingers out of the way: use a selfie stick or tripod to support the camera.
Speak clearly and naturally but reasonably loudly; make sure unwanted sounds (airplanes, music in the background, other people talking) are soft.
Often, keeping the camera at eye level with the subject is the ideal placement. With a single subject, keeping the camera at roughly an arm’s length works well. Since the camera has a fisheye lens, objects get much smaller very quickly as they get further away. (A herd of deer, for example, at the other end of a field may look like squirrels with short tails.)
Moderately long takes – longer than you would use with a standard movie camera – are recommended. Letting the user settle into experiencing the scene at their own pace helps the LucidCam provide the user the feeling of immersion and presence, the two most extraordinary aspects of Virtual Reality video.
Among the many fabulous uses of the camera are: recording life’s memories, and making creative fiction and non-fiction movies (which become more real and alive by using the exciting, realistic, and immersive presence of 3D images and a very wide field of view). Experiment with new applications!
Enjoy the LucidCam!
LUCIDCAM ON FACEBOOK
LUCIDCAM APP ON GOOGLE PLAYSTORE
[*] These links seem to be functioning as this article is being prepared for publication. The state of change and of hacking being what it is these days, everything online is subject to change or to hacking. Links are provided “as is”, with no guarantees. Treat every link with care and a protection plan.