At CES 2015, among the other announcements, Nikon announced their first action camera. But not a typical action camera, no. A self contained 360-degree action camera. Now, what do i mean by self contained? Let's talk about 360 video a moment, as i have some experience in this arena.
360, venturing from commercial, to consumer
I have worked with the type of 360 rigs used in street-view type photography/videography (no, sorry, not for google). Suffice it to say, the rigs are large, and the workflow for turning it into a usable/interactive 360 degree video is nothing short of complicated. But as many things do, they shrink into consumer-sized variants that are turn-key easy to use.
Nikon takes a good looking step
I like what' they've done here, they went with a simple, two camera brick with presumably fisheye lenses, and also presumably it does all the alignment/stitching of the two automatically. I say presumably because they have not yet released the specs of the device. From what i know about 360 stitching, you need some overlap between the multiple cameras(typically), so i would gather the two cameras are something in the area of a 200 or more degree field of view. You can easily see the stitched edges of the screen from the title/thumbnail image in the sample video. Needless to say, it's not perfect, and hopefully they improve it before shipping.
It's also clearly marked as having 4k resolution. The tricky thing here, is that likely means that the 4k resolution is for the entire 360 field. This means that whatever field you are looking at at any particular time, will not be 4k(speculation at this point), and depending on how it's implemented, would be somewhere in the area of 720 to 1080 in resolution. Looking at the current samples, it looks even less than that, but as we all know with early manufacturer samples, things can be far from properly represented. One of the samples i viewed showed a TON of macroblocking, indicating a very poor render, so whatever is going on over there at Nikon, we'll have to wait till real world examples hit the web to see just how capable it is.
Size and build
The device itself is in the ballpark of a typical Gopro, and claims a fair bit of waterproof-ness, and drop/shock resistance. It will be curious to see if they offer any sort of case for it, ala gopro, but from the CES coverage, all i can spot is a rubberized attachment. I also sure hope the glass they use on the lenses is super duper hard, because they dominate the front and back, just asking to be scratched. Another question is how well it does underwater with those curved lenses. Before the flat lens'ed gopros, you had some pretty blurry underwater footage due to curved lenses.
Tricky 360 challenges
As you play with the current samples, you'll likely see one big quirk: How to keep the horizon level/keep looking strait instead of crooked. This stems from a camera that's mounted off-level, and i'm very interested to see what if any solutions Nikon has implemented to help with this. For one, they could use a gyroscope to determine its orientation and perhaps have an 'auto-level' preference/setting in playback.
Could gopro be on the same path?
I think it's a certainty that gopro is at least looking into this market. Along with VR/FPV becoming more prevalent, i think it's a strong likeliness that 360 video will become in some degree, popularized.
But, can you even use it?
Actually, yes! It may not be in wide use, but youtube already supports 360 degree video, you can click and drag interactively to look around a video. It's very neat!
What's even cooler, is that youtube is adaptive to screen orientation. Meaning you can view the 360 video in full screen either in vertical or horizontal. It doesn't seem to work on my phone, but i'm one of the few nerds with one of my desktop screens in Tall orientation. Dare i say that viewing a 360 degree video in vertical mode is more interesting than in standard horizontal.
Use of content?
VR in the form of google cardboard is showing up more and more. If you have no idea what that means, basically you can buy an inexpensive headgear mount which accepts your cellphone and turns it into a surprisingly good VR system.(depends on the phone for sure) But other than the initial cool factor of looking around a scene in 360, what's to stick?
I sometimes shoot events such as weddings, could i imagine a use for 360 video for people who could not attend an even to be able to experience it in VR? Sure. Do i believe it will be a frequent request? No.
I shoot a lot of stock for sale, but i have not yet seen 360 enter that market. I can't at this time forsee it doing so. Every implementation of 360 I've seen thus far has been either made for a specific purpose such as by a company for another company for advertising. Or, for personal use, which simply ends up on youtube for friends and family.
This is where i think it may have some stick, because unlike 3D, it adds a pretty impactful element to the experience(can you tell i don't like 3d?) I have gone on an amazing hike a few times in Zion national park called Angel's Landing, where you go up a knife edge with long drops on either side, and to be able to capture that in 360 would be pretty darn amazing to display in interactive 360 online or better yet: VR headset.
Price and availability
Question marks all around. But something in the $500 range within the next few months is likely.