If you’re thinking about buying the Motorola Moto 360 Camera ($299.99), we’re going to make a couple of assumptions. One, you own, or are buying, a smartphone with Moto Mod support, which is required to use the device, and two, you really, really want a 360-degree camera. It offers some advantages over the Samsung Gear 360 in that video is pre-stitched, so you can share or edit it instantly, but it’s priced higher, and its form factor makes it most practical for selfie video. We’re still recommending the Gear 360 for for its versatility and quality, even though Motorola owners will have to edit footage on a computer.
Design and Features
The Moto 360 snaps onto the back of any Motorola phone with Moto Mod support, such as the Moto Z2 Force Edition we used for testing. It adds roughly an eighth of an inch to the phone’s depth, weighs about three ounces, boasts a textured white finish, and has a cutout so you don’t lose use of your phone’s built-in camera while it’s attached.
It attaches to your phone like other add-on Mods. First remove whatever back you have installed, line up the electrical contacts on the phone and module, and the two will snap together magnetically. To use it, just launch the camera app as normal, the same way you do with the Hasselblad True Zoom add-on. You can launch the app from the home screen, or by holding down the single button on the rear of the 360 Camera, marked by the Motorola logo.
The camera portion juts out at the top, giving your phone a vague periscope look. Dual lenses capture the entire world around it, with a stitching algorithm that almost (but doesn’t quite) makes the phone disappear entirely from video. A slip-on rubber lens cap is included to protect it when not in use.
Shooting video at 4K quality with full 360-degree coverage is the camera’s marquee feature, but that’s not all that it does. It can also capture still images, both in 360 degrees or in a wide panoramic view, and it can live stream video to popular social media channels. Live streaming support is not enabled at this time, so we weren’t able to test it.
The module doesn’t work independently of your phone. It doesn’t have its own battery or memory, so it must be attached in order to function. It uses the same camera app as your main camera—you can switch between the two with ease—and if you turn on Professional mode you get access to white balance, shutter speed, ISO, and EV control.
Video and Image Quality
If you’re not intimately familiar with the 360-degree camera world, you need to understand something: 360 4K is not the same quality as the 4K you get with 16:9 video. The reason is simple; you’re taking the same number of pixels and stretching them out across a sphere, rather than confining them into a small space. You’re also limited to ultra-wide lenses, needed to cover the entire world, so distant objects aren’t going to look crystal clear.
The Moto 360 captures footage at 3,840 by 1,920 pixels at a fixed 24fps frame rate. You don’t have the option to push it to 30fps, and 60fps isn’t something we’ve seen in any spherical camera. I happen to like the cinematic look that you get from 24fps, but your mileage may vary. This is especially true if you’re a fan of viewing 360 footage in a headset rather than on a screen, as the lower frame rate can contribute to the queasiness that some feel when donning a VR headset.
It’s definitely not the best quality 360-degree footage we’ve seen overall, but it’s better than other cameras that attach directly to your phone. For comparison, the Insta360 Air is very inexpensive but captures soft 1080p footage, and the Giroptic iO, which somehow costs nearly as much as the Moto 360, is also limited to 1080p capture.
Video is compressed in MP4 format at a 50Mbps bit rate. You can see clear details on subjects close to the lens, but there are some issues with the video. Distant objects are softer than what we see with the Nikon KeyMission 360, which sells for $500 and matches the Moto in resolution, but has larger physical lenses and sensors, and shoots at a higher 75Mbps compression rate.
It’s not just some softness in the distance—there are other problems with the video. I noticed a difference in exposure between the two lenses in our test footage, which makes the seam lines very visible. There’s also some purple color fringing in high-contrast areas of the frame toward the edges of lens coverage, but it’s fairly minor.
Audio quality is pretty decent. I recorded footage on our office roof deck on a day with some mild breeze and there was some audible wind noise, but it didn’t overpower the sound of my voice. Indoors, where you aren’t dealing with wind, audio is clearer.
Photos are fairly high resolution, about 19.5MP in size. Details up close are strong, but some of the problems we see in the 4K video are exacerbated by the extra resolution. The purple fringing is very evident, as is the seam between the two lenses. Our test shot included the midday sun, a shadowed area, and brightly lit buildings. I’m seeing more noise in the portion of the building to my right in our test shot, captured by the Moto 360’s rear-facing lens, which leads me to believe that the two portions of the image were captured at different ISO sensitivity settings.
In addition to 360-degree photos, you can capture a wide panoramic shot with either the front or rear lens. Quality is poor, however. The resolution is just 3.3MP, at a wide 2:1 aspect ratio, and there’s significant barrel distortion visible. It’s pretty clear that the Moto 360 is just cropping out a portion of its full-resolution capture mode to create the panoramic shot.
By its very design, the Motorola Moto 360 Camera is a niche product. It only works with certain phones, and is only appealing to early adopters who want to jump into the nascent 360-degree video and photography space. My problems with the device are twofold, and have nothing to do with it being niche. At $300 it’s a pretty significant purchase, and it doesn’t back up that price with class-leading performance. The Samsung Gear 360 is priced at $230 (and regularly sells for less), and while you can’t control it with a Motorola smartphone, it delivers better video quality if you’re willing to live with a macOS or Windows workflow. For more money, the Nikon KeyMission 360 is a better choice if you’re serious about 360-degree video, as it outputs stitched footage that’s ready to edit, and is rugged and waterproof to boot.