Action cameras never fail to expose how lacking in action my life is. No one wants to watch a 360-degree view of me eating a pizza on a Saturday night – not when there’s heart-racing POV white-water rafting footage to watch instead. It’s fair to say that Nikon’s new KeyMission 360 camera is aimed at the more adventurous, thrill-seeking consumer.
But while I may not be the type to jump out of a plane just for the thrill, I know a good action camera when I see one, and Nikon’s VR-ready KeyMission 360 has all the hallmarks. It’s waterproof, shockproof and pretty much everything-proof, and it comes with two high-resolution cameras strapped to the sides, offering everything you need to get involved in the virtual-reality revolution.
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Plus, of course, it’s made by Nikon, a camera brand with a long-standing reputation. It all sounds like a recipe for a resounding success that’s well worth your hard-earned cash – right?
Nikon KeyMission 360 review: Price and competition
The KeyMission 360 certainly doesn’t lack competition. The 360-degree camera market has really kicked off in the last year or so, with the likes of Kodak, LG and Ricoh all vying for the crown.
As things stand, the KeyMission’s biggest competition probably comes from Samsung’s Gear 360, a dual-camera device that’s popular among Samsung smartphone owners. It’s pricey at £350, but there is a new, cheaper model on the way.
Nikon’s KeyMission 360, meanwhile, is priced even higher. At £420, it’s one of the more expensive 360-degree cameras out there. Still, this is clearly an enthusiast-level device: the question is whether the extra money is justified by its performance.
Nikon KeyMission 360 review: Design
Design-wise, Nikon’s 360-degree camera is seriously bulky. It’s a chunky square, with a 65 x 61mm footprint, and it weighs a hefty 196g. It isn’t as portable as, say, LG’s 360 Cam or Samsung’s refreshed Gear 360 with their moulded handgrips, and if you want to carry it around with you, you’ll probably want to invest in a tripod or gimbal – neither is included in the box.
On the upside, the Nikon 360 stands up very well against the elements. Waterproof up to a depth of 30m and shockproof against a 2m drop, it’s a seriously robust camera. There’s also a rubber case provided for added protection.
The massive Record button dominates the top edge, along with a battery-level indicator and two status lights that let you know which lens is currently recording. There’s a photo button on one side too, for taking still shots.
The other side houses the 1,050mAh removable battery, and offers a microSD slot, micro-USB port for charging and a micro-HDMI port for displaying your recent footage on an external display. There’s also an airplane mode toggle switch here, too.
There’s no onboard display, as offered by Samsung’s Gear 360, so if you want a proper insight into what you’re shooting, you’ll have to resort to the companion smartphone app. That shouldn’t be too much of an issue – but sadly this is where the KeyMission 360 falls short.
Nikon KeyMission 360 review: App woes
The KeyMission 360 doesn’t work with the normal Nikon SnapBridge app. Rather it uses a specific action-camera app – SnapBridge 360/170 – and this isn’t great. For starters, I experienced frequent Bluetooth connection issues on startup, leading to much cursing as I attempted to pair the devices together.
Once you’ve finally got the two paired, you can delve into camera-specific settings, but don’t get your hopes up: there’s very little on offer. All you can do is set recording and still image resolutions, and turn on wind noise reduction. Seriously, that’s your lot. Oh, and guess what? You’ve lost your connection again. Great.
The app may be a bit pants, but it does at least support most Android and iOS devices. Samsung, if you remember, locked its old Gear 360 to just a select few of its own high-end smartphones.
Nikon KeyMission 360 review: Picture and video quality
While the app is frustrating, the KeyMission 360 is somewhat redeemed by its image quality. It wields two 20-megapixel CMOS sensors with f/2.3 lenses, able to record 30fps video at a resolution of 4,096 x 2,160. That’s a step up from the Gear 360, which maxed out at 3,840 x 1,920.
To test the Nikon 360 in the field, I took it with me on a recent trip to Crete, figuring it would be a good place to capture some impressive scenery. What I didn’t count on was the weather. Pro tip: don’t go to Crete in mid-February if you’re seeking sun.
Even so, video quality was astounding. Plenty of rich, vibrant detail was picked up by both lenses and I managed to take some impressive stills, too. Even wind noise reduction, which is often overbearing, was surprisingly effective. The KeyMission 360’s image quality won’t challenge a decent DSLR, but it’s the best we’ve seen from a 360-degree camera.
Notably, the app excels at smoothly stitching front and rear images together. While Samsung’s Gear 360 struggled at this – often leaving you with a white line at the join – the KeyMission 360 blends the two very cleanly. It’s possibly a touch soft, but not distractingly so.
Nikon KeyMission 360 review: Verdict
Nikon’s first stab at a VR-ready camera is a strong contender, but it doesn’t exactly shake up the market. A lack of detailed manual controls and a finicky app make for a disappointing end game: it feels like an experimental effort rather than a serious foray into the 360-degree camera revolution.
What’s more, the asking price is too high: Samsung’s new and improved Gear 360 camera is just shy of £200, which makes Nikon’s alternative a hard sell. Even so, this is a camera that can brush off the elements, and picture quality is superb; we’ve high hopes for Nikon’s next attempt.