Camera Reviews: A Tiny 360 Camera for the Masses
Tiny 360 Camera
Capturing the world in 360 has been a thing for years. While companies such as Ricoh and Insta360 have made the process far easier than the days of specialized tripod heads and sophisticated software, it’s still not an easily understood process or format. Vecnos aims to change that with its new IQUI 360 camera.
Vecnos is a company spun off from Ricoh’s Theta division, and so that experience comes to bear in the company’s first camera. The IQUI is a departure from “traditional” 360 cameras that stuff two lenses onto a flat, rectangular body, a la the Insta360 One X2 or Kandao QooCam 8k. Instead, you get a total of four lenses, one pointing directly upward and three around the sides. This pays dividends, in theory, that should allow for decent image quality in a body that’s the size of an average Sharpie marker and weighs just over two ounces.
Image Quality Versus Size
You’ll notice I added the “in theory” qualifier to the last sentence. Vecnos sent me a review unit of the camera to put through its paces, and since this a photography website, I won’t mince words: Image quality isn’t great. It’s pretty good for a 360 camera that’s the size of a marker, but by that, I mean it hits the marks of cameras of yesteryear, such as a Nikon KeyMission 360 or Samsung Gear 360. It’s down on resolution compared to most modern 360 cameras (it shoots 5,760 x 2,880 stills compared to 7,744 x 3,872 on the five-year-old aforementioned Nikon, which was not known for its image quality). Stitch lines are OK, but the detail is lacking, and without manual controls or raw files, it’s hard to really capture exactly what you want. I had to really think about what the light looked like for this shot in Watkins Glen:
And even then, there are still a lot of blown-out highlights and fuzzy stitch lines. There are also some artifacts due to a lens flare near my head. On a cloudy day, the camera does OK, but even here, image quality is noisy, and the camera had trouble with highlights:
For social media or snapshots that will most likely live on a phone, it’s fine, and you can pull some OK stills out of it if needed, such as this family moment at the local library:
Image quality for video is below average, coming in at a maximum of 2,880 x 1,440, which isn’t even enough for 4K 360. Transfer times for these videos were abysmally slow, and clips were limited to 30 seconds with mono audio. A video camera this is not, but you can see for yourself here:
How Does It Handle?
While I sound like I’ve been pretty down on the camera from an image quality standpoint, actually using it is where the camera shines. The team at Vecnos looked at all of the hurdles keeping people from shooting 360 images and tried to make it as frictionless as possible. While one can lament the lack of manual controls or customizability, this is the first 360 camera that feels like it’s begging me to take it out of the pouch and shoot, not unlike a favorite DSLR or mirrorless camera. It’s so incredibly small, and the startup is instantaneous and shooting is effortless.
The only controls on the camera are a video/photo toggle, a shutter button, and a power button. It’s dead simple, and the audible beeps help you know when things start or stop or a photo is taken. I did notice the camera tends to get warm with the extended operation, but it cooled down quickly and didn’t seem to have an adverse effect on operation or image quality.
There’s no memory card slot, just 14.4 GB of built-in memory, which the company says is good for about 1,500 photos or 30 minutes of video at the highest resolution. Videos and photos are automatically deleted off the camera after a transfer to your phone, again in keeping with the simplicity of the device. The camera comes with a pouch, USB-C cable and connector, and a stand that can balance the camera on objects.
The company also just announced a lens cap and tripod mount for the camera if the included stand doesn’t get you enough height. The camera now also comes in four colors: gray, mint, pink, and champagne gold.
When you fire up the companion IQUISPIN app, there’s no manual process to start transferring photos; the camera just starts doing it. With a couple of extra taps, videos (slowly) transfer over as well.
I was going to spend some time complaining about the lack of a self-timer or the vast number of confusing options to create mini social media videos out of 360 stills, but right before press time, Vecnos addressed those two big complaints by adding a self-timer to the app as well as an AI-driven “Magic” video editing option, which can detect faces and cut together a video without the guesswork. Both of these are welcome additions to the app. The company also added a new “beauty” feature to the app, though it’s not a feature I found myself using much.
Aside from slow video transfers, this is the first time in a 360 camera review I’m not bad-mouthing the software. It’s solid, stable, and crash-free (on an iPhone 8 anyway) and just works. While 360 still isn’t quite “easy” to understand in the way a still photo is, this camera and its software make it as easy as possible, turning 360 still photos into useful 2D social media posts. While I’m still a bit uneasy, as always, about a camera that’s so dependent on a smartphone and app to work, there’s really no other way to go about it with this camera, so at least it works well. There’s no option to tether to a computer or use desktop software. I was worried about this, as it might have consumed more battery life, but the camera did just fine with plenty of battery to spare after an entire day of hiking and transferring photos at the same time.
Who Is It For?
This part is tough. While Vecnos’ goal here is to make 360 accessible to the masses, it’s really answering a question that no one’s asking. Most people don’t have an awareness of what 360 imaging is, nor do they care to learn the complexities. They won’t think of this as their “fun social media camera,” which is where Vecnos’ marketing seems to take it.
I’d argue that this kind of camera would be better served for a few other audiences. My first thought was that as a photojournalist, I’d love to have this camera. I’ve tried to make a go of Insta360 and Kandao cameras at protests, and the complexity of setting it up, startup time, and hooking up the often-buggy apps made it a labor-intensive process that took me from my main duty of shooting photos. I mostly stopped bothering.
While I don’t get the bells and whistles with the IQUI that I do with more “hardcore” 360 cameras, the whole camera fits into a pocket, and since 360 is a bonus in most news situations, pulling it out to snap a few shots without having to fuss with the camera or carry the weight is a huge deal. Photojournalists tossing one of these in the camera bag could very easily bring home more assets to tell the story beyond traditional photos.
Dedicated 360 shooters needing a second 360 camera for everyday use could also find the IQUI useful. Much like DSLR users have a second pocket camera, this camera could fill that need for this crowd. I could very much see this being used like the Polaroid test shots in the days of film. Before firing up an 11K Insta360 Titan on a professional job, this camera could capture something quickly to feel out how something will work in 360.
At $299, though, this isn’t an impulse buy. It’s still a hard sell to convince the smartphone crowd that this is the camera they need when they’re already happy with their phones.
Ultimately, The IQUI gets a lot of things right with its design and software. However, its high price and middling image quality keep it from being a “must buy” and more comfortably slots it into proof-of-concept territory.
Vecnos has created something unique and interesting here and achieved its mission of an easy-to-use 360 camera. Really, though, this camera has me wondering what the follow-up will look like. With better image quality and more useful video features, this could become a killer line of 360 cameras.
What I Liked
Beautiful and compact design
App just works
Four lens design
Good battery life
What I Didn’t Like
Image quality is decent for its size, but objectively, it isn’t great
The video feature is not useful or complete
No charger included only the cable
Very dependent on the app, no computer workflow
You can purchase the Vecnos IQUI at this link.