Having used the Kodak SP360 4K cameras for about a year now, I have learned a few tips and tricks to using these cameras to get the best 360° footage underwater that you can from them. Since I am going for full spherical video, I have chosen to use the Kodak Dual Camera Dive Housing, and I have been working with a pair of Kodak SP360 4K cameras mounted basically back to back. I have also purchased a third SP360 4K camera, as well as individual dive housings for each camera (3) to be used with a 3 camera mount, but I haven’t had a chance to test that setup on a dive yet. I am hopeful that the extra camera will provide more overlap to eliminate seams, as I still get seam lines in my best underwater footage with just 2 cameras (above water with 2 cameras I can get a near perfect stitch).
For starters, the software that comes with them for stitching, Pixpro 360 Stitch, is decent for a basic stitch, but lacks in the ability for users to add control points. Professional software like Kolor’s Autopano Video Pro has the ability to fine tune your videos by adding hundreds of control points that help to line up the videos between multiple cameras.
But there is ONE adjustment that I found in the Pixpro 360 stitch software that I have not been able to duplicate in Kolor AVP, an adjustment for “distance” (in other words, the distance between the lenses). I came across this adjustment after reading a post by INSERT NAME HERE from the 360Rumors site, and after applying the adjustment to footage I already had, the results were immediately better. But there is still a size limitation in the Pixpro software of 3840 x 1920, even though you are capable of producing an video that is 4096 x 2048 with the cameras, and if you were using Kolor’s AVP, you can choose this larger size.
Getting a Basic Stitch Underwater
I’m going to go over how to do a basic stitch using two Kodak Pixpro 360 4K cameras and the dual underwater housing, using the included PixPro software to do the stitch.
First, obviously copy the files from the cameras to your PC. Since you will eventually be dealing with many files, and organization is KEY, I would suggest you be meticulous in how you organize your files. I like to create a folder for the date, then inside that folder I create individual folders for takes, and depending on file size, I may then create folders within the takes folder for each camera.
I would suggest something along the lines of this hierarchy:
Creating Your First 360 Video
Assuming you already went out and shot some footage with the camera, go ahead and open the Pixpro software and drag both files into the software. You should have at least 1 file from each camera, sometimes your camera will contain multiple files from multiple takes, or it may even break a very large file into 4 gigabyte segments that you would need to join before you stitch.
For ease of use, lets assume you just shot one video, there would be 1 file on each camera. Once you drag them into the Pixpro software, the software will compare files (making sure the aspect ratio is correct, and the files match in frame rate, size, etc). If the files are a match, it will give you the OK to stitch button. Click OK, and now its time to sync your videos together.
Using Audio Sync
Audio Sync is simple, and I wish it were just a little more accurate. For everyday use its adequate, but I have found I can get better sync if I bring my audio out to other software and figure out the offset. For the purpose at hand, we’ll use the Pixpro Audio Sync, which is really as easy as pushing the button. The software will analyze the audio from both videos and automatically slide them to synchronize the start.
Calibrating Your Overlap
Once you click the calibration button, you will get a sub-screen for calibrating a few items.
As you can see from the two examples above, you have adjustments for either camera (and you DO need to adjust both). If you click on the image, you will see it selected in yellow for the camera you are calibrating. I have found that I use an adjustment on the “Distance” setting, of +1.21 on EACH camera to give me the best underwater stitch. The easiest way to explain the “Distance” setting is it adjusts the distance between the “back center” of each camera if the cameras were placed back to back. To note, I have *only* found this setting in the Pixpro software, and not in other, more high end softwaresuch as Kolor’s Autopano Video Pro 2.6.If you “pan” the video in your preview window to view the stitch line, you can see these adjustments in real time as you move the sliders so you can easier see what setting gives you the best overlap between both cameras. NOTE: You will almost always have a band at your stitch line while stitching underwater, and this is due to the amount of overlap between the videos. Water adds in refraction, and the basic Kodak Dual Underwater Camera Housing doesn’t deal well with this. Essentially you will lose approximately 30° of your Field of View (FOV), making for some very slim overlaps. This is why you will have banding when stitching underwater videos but not above water videos using the basic underwater housing. Specialized housings like the Seadak will correct the FOV, but will set you back about $1400. Hopefully I will have a future review of the Seadak housing, but for now I can only go on what they say is possible.Once you are happy that the overlap between cameras is a good match, click OK to apply the calibration.
Adjusting the Image
To open the effects panel, just click on the “Effect” button near “Export” button on the lower right. This panel contains sliders to adjust Sharpness (need to check the box), Brightness, Contrast, Saturation as well as two options for Blending, Smooth or Sharp. Feel free to adjust these settings to tweak your video. Granted they are very basic, and they don’t provide any control for matching both cameras to each other, but its better than nothing I guess. (On a side note, it would be great if the makers of the Pixpro software gave you the ability to adjust each camera, similar to the calibration screen, to help color grade videos for a better match).
I find that I get better underwater stitches while using the “Smooth” blending method. Above water, I prefer the “Sharp” method only when my tripod is stationary, otherwise using “Smooth” tends to help blur where objects cross the stitch line.
Click “OK” to apply the settings, or “Reset” to reset them to the default.
Exporting Your Video
Once you are ready to export your video, click on the “Export” button on the lower right side. This will bring up one more menu to save your file. Click on “Browse” and select where you want to save the file, and name your file. For output size I always choose the largest possible, 3840 x 1920 being the largest Pixpro will allow. Since all you hear underwater is bubbles, so just pick an audio track, it doesn’t matter which really (or uncheck the box to export a silent video). And finally, if you want the software to automatically upload the video to Facebook or Youtube, put a checkmark in the “Upload to SNS” and fill out the information for your video.
That’s it! You now have a basic 360 stitch, including the metadata needed if you were going to upload it to Facebook or Youtube later (assuming you didn’t already upload it). If you want to edit several clips together, you can now take this stitched video and edit with it. If you have access to Adobe Premiere Pro you can easily edit several clips together, and using a few plugins from Mettle, you can even add titles in your 360° sphere. Please note, this is now a 360 degree video, and you can view it in any number of players. GoPro VR Player and Kolor Eyes are two I use to view files locally (viewing them in something like Windows Media Player or VLC will show you a 2:1 aspect ratio video that looks all distorted). You can add flat videos into your 360, but they will never be 360, they will appear as floating flat screens in your 360 degree universe. I’ll get more in depth on those plugins in a later post.