Nikon’s Keymission 360: What would Canon do?

The Keymission 360, released in October 2016, is Nikon’s waterproof answer to the consumer market for virtual-reality cameras.

Some people say Nikon makes better camera bodies while Canon makes better lenses, and many others swear by one brand over the other. Who cares? As far as DSLRs are concerned, they both make high-quality, professional equipment.

But when it comes to virtual reality, Nikon is closer to the cutting edge. Could that be because Canon has yet to release a 360-degree camera? In this review, we’ll take a look at Nikon’s new 4K-shooting Keymission 360 and weigh its strengths and weaknesses; given the company’s spirited rivalry with its chief competitor, this analysis might give us a hint of what Canon would do.

Hardware: A-

The compact Keymission 360 has only two physical buttons. The image on the left shows the shutter button for stills, and the image in the center shows the start/stop button for videos. The image on the right shows the hatch for the camera’s removable battery, external microSD, airplane-mode switch, and micro-USB and micro-HDMI inputs.

The Keymission 360 has a solid, rugged design, and its external lens elements are replaceable in case one or both are damaged. It’s waterproof up to about 100 feet (30 meters), and it’s also shockproof and “freeze proof.”

It accepts microSD/HC/XC cards, yielding much higher storage capacity than most of the other consumer-grade 360-degree cameras. Even if you do manage to fill up a 64GB or higher card on a shoot, you can just take it out and put another one in.

Opening the Keymission 360’s hatch reveals the camera’s removable battery, external microSD, airplane-mode switch, and USB-charging and HDMI inputs.

Its 1/2.3 CMOS sensor is capable of shooting in 4K resolution, but you have to change the default 1920/24p to 2160/24p through Nikon’s Snapbridge 360/170 app. We’ll talk more about that later.

Its stitching may not be as good as it is on the Ricoh Theta S, but that is to be expected with a much thicker camera. I don’t even think the stitching is all that problematic, but I’m sure future cameras, especially those with more than two lenses, will put it to shame.

The one physical advantage the Theta S has is its elongated frame, which makes it easier to carry. I often feel nervous carrying the Keymission 360 because it’s bulky and I feel like its glass is more exposed.

Canon would likely do little to beat the Keymission 360’s hardware, but it would at least match the camera’s capabilities. It may even go as far to improve stitching and portability, refining some of the less attractive qualities of Nikon’s offering.

Software: D

The worst thing about the Keymission 360 is its Snapbridge 360/170 app for iOS and Android devices. Although it does have WiFi, bluetooth and NFC, connecting the hardware to the app for initial setup is far too complicated.

When I tried to pair the camera with my phone the first time, it would only display the battery life — I couldn’t use the app to control the camera remotely, and I couldn’t modify any of its settings. I honestly can’t explain why, because I followed all of the pairing instructions. It simply wouldn’t work. I needed it for a group project, and my teammates and I decided to use the physical buttons instead. Since we couldn’t preview the shots, a couple of clips turned out a little slanted.

Nikon’s Snapbridge 360/170 app, designed for iOS and Android, is the Keymission 360’s major drawback. Setup is far too complicated, and it doesn’t allow manual control of the camera.

I tried again two weeks later for this review and finally, inexplicably, got the camera connected to the app, but I was underwhelmed.

Transferring images and video is buggy, and many of the app’s features won’t work until you activate the camera by hitting one of its buttons. This, of course, will result in plenty of unnecessary photos or videos and a waste of battery life. Nikon’s $59.95 ML-L6 remote for the Keymission 360 could be an option, but I’m not sure if it will activate the camera remotely. Either way, it would be much better if its firmware were updated to turn it on with the buttons without taking an image or starting a video.

Beyond the battery indicator on the main “connect” menu, the most useful features are setting video resolution to 4K (camera menu/camera settings/shooting options/movies/movie options/2160/24p) and being able to get a preview. To that end, the “remote photography” option under the camera menu takes you to the app’s iOS settings instead of going directly to the WiFi screen, so it adds an unnecessary step to the process when trying to preview your shot. (I’m not sure if it does something similar on Android.)

What’s more, the Keymission 360’s exposure settings are fully automatic, which is a major disadvantage for those who want to capture natural-looking motion with a shutter speed of about 1/50th of a second (at 24 frames per second). The LG 360 is one of the cheaper options on the market and offers fully manual controls, so why can’t the Nikon (or some of the other consumer-grade VR cameras for that matter)? This doesn’t make sense to me.

This is where Canon could truly excel. Its “Camera Connect” and “EOS Remote” apps use a simpler method of connecting via WiFi, but it could also offer more functionality through manual controls and remote activation in an app.

Conclusion: C+

VR selfies are in. Get on it. (Pictured: Myself and the venerable Lee Mengistu. Image taken with the Nikon Keymission 360.)

The Keymission 360 is one of the better virtual-reality cameras for consumers on the market, and it would easily be the best if it had a better app and some manual controls. That said, none of the alternatives is all that great at the moment either because the technology is still rather young.

Connecting the Keymission 360 to Snapbridge 360/170 was a headache, and the app is underwhelming right now. An update could add some better features and more functionality. The only way to activate the camera now is by pressing one of its buttons, resulting in a still or a video recording, so it also could benefit from remote activation, if possible, in a future update.

The image quality is great for what it is, but lower-priced cameras offer comparable image quality with at least some degree of manual control. Stitching is acceptable but not great; the Ricoh Theta S and the LG 360 have a slight advantage because of their thinner profiles, but the difference really isn’t all that noticeable.

Canon is a much larger company than Nikon, but in recent years it has been slow to take on new technology — it’s hard to say if or when it will respond to the 360-camera craze, but Canon would surely take note of the Keymission 360’s shortcomings and give Nikon plenty of incentive to up its game. For now, the Nikon Keymission 360 is available as the vulnerable leader of the VR field for an expensive $499.95.