I realised virtual reality was going to be huge two years ago when I brought a Samsung VR Gear loaded with some basic loops of 360-degree video along to a family Christmas in New York. I managed to force the headset onto my eldest, most tech-phobic daughter. “It’s going to be rubbish and I hate it already,” she said, as I wedged it onto her.
The two-minute film I showed her was of a walk on a beach in the Philippines. “Oh,” she said, and watched in silence. She then took the headset off, and announced, rather crossly, “Well, I suppose I never have to go there now because I’ve seen it.”
Of course, VR has come on since then; now we have the amazing HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift and Sony PlayStation VR – and game-based content aplenty. But to take maximum advantage of this extraordinary new medium, I think you need to shoot your own video. Early attempts, involving plywood spheres dotted with GoPro cameras, were really for experts. Then some phone attachments came out, which weren’t great. The Insta360 Nano attachment for iPhones I reviewed in November is good, but I have been waiting for one of the big professional photographic manufacturers to enter the fray.
Congratulations, then, to Nikon for its KeyMission 360, a tough, easy-to-use VR camera with serious optics, able to take full-sphere 360-degree footage, perform all the behind-the-scenes software gymnastics and present files that are ready to view on real VR headsets, as well as those cardboard ones that use a smartphone as the video player. Although if you are anxious to experience VR within minutes of opening the box, the KeyMission 360 comes with its own cardboard headset – which must be the first time a Nikon has had a cardboard accessory.
This wonderful machine has two 8.2mm-equivalent f2.0 lenses with a 21-megapixel sensor for each. The results are breathtaking. I hung the camera I was testing from a DJI drone and flew it over the Thames and back. The footage was awesome, if bumpy: watching it back made me feel as if I were hanging from a helicopter. Since the KeyMission 360 is waterproof to 30m, you could try a similar stunt to create diving videos (although the view does get distorted by the optics of water). Or you could strap one to a skydiver and experience jumping out of an aeroplane without having to do it yourself.