Amongst the glut of new 360-degree cameras entering the growing market, the Vuze from HumanEyes promised early on to be one of the most interesting, promising 3D footage – a rarity among 360 cameras – in 4K resolution with a unique design.
Boasting a flat, disc-shaped body design (or, rather, more like a square with rounded off corners), the Vuze features eight cameras spread out evenly in pairs across its four sides.
Each camera pair – eg one side of the camera – is intended to mimic human eyesight, and each individual camera’s Sony image sensor can record UHD 4K video at 30p. The Vuze also contains four built-in microphones for capturing audio.
Unlike many 360 cameras, the Vuze records your footage to a microSD card in an external storage slot on the side of the camera, in between two lenses.
The Vuze also features built-in WiFi, which allows you to control the camera via a dedicated app… but more on that later.
Other features include a standard tripod mount, via which you can screw in a mini tripod or handheld grip, and a VR headset. You can also download free software via which you import, edit and render your 3D 360-degree footage… but, again, more on that later!
What’s interesting about the Vuze camera is its extra dimension. HumanEyes has launched the first 360 camera for consumers that offers 3D functionality. And while some may bristle at the Vuze camera’s $800 price tag, this is really a bargain when you look at how much professional 3D rigs and editing software can cost.
But is it any good? On paper, it has a lot of promise.
Vuze camera review: design and build quality
The Vuze camera arrived in a luxurious box that screams high end, and when I lifted it from its casing I was quite surprised by its weight. Most 360 cameras I’ve used are so light you hardly notice it on your person, but the Vuze has a noticeable girth to it.
That said, it’s solid and robust and one of the most impressively designed cameras I’ve seen. Delightfully minimalist, the Vuze looks a little bit like a flying saucer. On each side is a pair of ‘eyes’, and on one of these sides – the back of the camera – is a compartment tucked away behind a thick rubber door where you will find a micro USB port for charging the Vuze and importing images, and a WiFi button.
On top of the Vuze are just two, simple controls: a power button and a record button. Underneath is the tripod mount.
And that’s it! It’s very simple to operate. Even your elderly father could use it with ease.
The Vuze gives a first impression of high-quality design, and I never had a sense like I do with some 360 cameras that a bump is going to scratch a lens or dent the chassis. There’s a solid density to the Vuze camera that’s reassuring.
One thing I did notice, however, as I used it is that my hands kept coming in contact with the lenses, getting grease and fingerprints on them. It’s a little inevitable that this will happen since they’re situated in a ring around the camera. You could probably hold it with two hands or from the corners, but I gave in to inevitability and carried a lens cloth with me on my shoots.
The Vuze comes in a range of bright colours, as well as black. Mine was yellow.
Vuze camera review: the app
I’m going to cut to the chase: I was so excited to use the Vuze camera, but the app was a total let-down.
To operate the Vuze camera you need to download the company’s app from Play or iTunes. Once installed, you then open the app and press the WiFi button on the side of the Vuze camera. The WiFi indicator will flash blue and eventually become solid blue.
The app will then prompt you to navigate to your WiFi settings where you can connect to the Vuze. The camera’s serial number on the bottom next to the tripod mount is the default password.
In theory you’re all set to go. When your phone is connected to the Vuze camera’s WiFi you should then be able to re-open the app and see some very simple controls – record, photo mode (but more on that later), etc. You can see the app’s interface in the screen grabs above.
However, I found that the app only worked for me about half the time. My phone could establish a WiFi connection with the Vuze camera, but when I opened the app it said there was no connection. When the app didn’t work I was still able to record by pressing the direct control on the top of the Vuze, but then that footage of me pressing the button is in the video.
Sometimes when loading the app and telling me there is no connection, instead of tapping the Go To WiFi Settings button I could tap elsewhere on the screen and the app would load. But then it would also crash when loaded this way.
When the app did work from the start, it proved extremely basic. For starters, the preview. In every other 360 camera I’ve used, the app provides with a preview of your shot which allows you to swipe through all 360 degrees to check your angles. In the Vuze camera app only one of the eight cameras appears to give you a preview. As you can imagine, this gives you a very limited idea of how your footage will look.
Recording via the app is simple enough. You press the record button to start, and again to stop. But, again, playback was an issue. In most other companion apps for 360 cameras that I’ve used, you retain a view of your scene whilst recording. When you press record within the Vuze app, the screen goes to black, as you can see above in my screen capture.
Within the app you can also press PHOTO to switch to still image mode; however, there was a note inside the box when the Vuze was delivered that said the still photo mode is still being refined and not yet working at this time. The note from HumanEyes said they expect the feature to be enabled shortly via firmware.
Otherwise, the in-app controls are very basic. There is no control over exposure settings, you can’t place the centre of the image or playback footage you’ve recorded. These are things I thought were pretty standard in a companion app for 360 cameras, and it feels like this is probably a Version 1 of the app that HumanEyes rushed through development to get the product to market but will need refining via updates.
There are a few controls, though. When you tap to go into the camera settings you can adjust the bitrate and Anti-Flicker, as well as get updates on your battery power and available memory.
Vuze camera review: using the software
As I mentioned above, you cannot play back your footage from the Vuze within the companion app. To view what you’ve shot you need to download the free editing software from the HumanEyes website. However, this proved a little problematic for me.
The HumanEyes VR software is only compatible with PCs running Windows 8.1 or 10. As a Mac user, this was a bit of an obstacle, but not insurmountable. PCs are ubiquitous enough that I was able to source one from a friend; however, it was running Windows 7. So I then upgraded – with permission! – the friend’s PC to Windows 10.
This enabled me to get partway through the installation process when I hit another roadblock: I got a notification that installation couldn’t complete until I updated my graphics card drivers to comply with OpenCL 1.2. Now, I know little about PCs and graphics cards, but eventually after Googling the issue and reading some user forum posts I was able to find and download the drivers I needed to fully install the software and view my footage.
The thing is, it just shouldn’t be that hard. It took a few days to get to that point. And even with the software installed, taking the Vuze camera on a day trip to the beach in Devon, I had to wait until that evening to see what I’d shot. If it looked bad or the angle was wrong, I didn’t really have a chance to re-shoot.
On the other hand, the software is pretty good. It’s simple to use, keeping in line with the ethos of the camera, yet affords a lot of flexibility. So while I may have been captured up close pressing buttons in those instances when the app didn’t work, I could edit those bits out by simply dragging a slider.
The software consists of three panels: Import, Preview & Edit, Render. In Import you download your footage from the Vuze camera.
In Preview & Edit you get to watch your footage either in stereo or from a Left or Right Eye perspective. Available editing tools include Trim, Flip 180, Choose Center, Cut Field of View, Change Patch Image and Advanced Tools, which offers refined stitching (frame by frame), Blending Levels and Color Correction.
As you edit a clip you can save it as a project and return to it at a later time. When you’re finished, click on the Render panel and select your project. Rendering time takes about 30 minutes for a 45sec clip.
Vuze camera review: performance
On one hand the Vuze camera is one of the simplest 360 cameras I’ve used; yet on the other it fails to get some of the simplest things right.
When you press the power button on the Vuze the indicator flashes blue for about 6secs and then the camera starts up. Six seconds is a long time in photography, but to be honest this didn’t really affect my shoots much. With a 360 camera you’re not really capturing one decisive moment, but rather all of them.
Facebook’s and YouTube’s compression doesn’t really do it justice, but the Vuze’s resolution and colour rendition is actually very good. The tones in the clips I uploaded to YouTube look a bit flatter than they do when I watch them in QuickTime.
And therein lies the rub with reviewing this nascent technology: it’s hard to share an accurate view of how good it is when our companion technology hasn’t yet caught up. My Mac struggles to play 4K clips, and social media dampens down their clarity to be able to pump it out to so many news feeds.
That said, the Vuze camera falls down in some areas where traditional cameras shine. Capturing subjects up close, for instance. I noticed quite a few stitching areas in scenes where I or another focal point was situation close to the camera. Now, you can refine the stitching within the software, but you have to do it frame-by-frame. And the adjustments weren’t always successful.
Also, if you watch the clip above of me at Westward Ho! beach in North Devon, England, you’ll notice that as I walk around the camera little slivers of me disappear. There are very slight dead zones where one camera’s field of view drops off before the other adjacent lens picks you up.
As for the Vuze camera’s Sony sensors, they did a pretty good job of shooting in mixed lighting. I found a nice amount of detail in shadow and highlight areas. Overall, I thought it handled exposures pretty well.
Vuze camera review: verdict
Have you ever had that experience where you feel like you probably met the right person to spend your life with, but you were simply at different points in your life so thus unable to really click? I think that’s been my experience with the Vuze camera.
From its design and features, it looks like it should be the perfect 360 camera, but if I’m honest it feels a bit like an unfinished product. The lack of a playback option in the app is probably the biggest drawback in terms of workflow. When I’m out in the woods or in the centre of London shooting 360 videos, I want to review them there and then to make sure I captured it as I wanted.
Having to wait to view my footage until I’m back home at a computer using the Vuze software kind of evokes the worst part of shooting film 20-some years ago. And if that doesn’t limit your use of the Vuze camera, the fact that the software is only compatible with PCs using Windows 8.1 or 10 will hold you back further. These were real limitations, I must admit.
That said, the good news is that these are all things HumanEyes can fix relatively easily. In other words, they’re not problems with the Vuze camera itself. I’ve no doubt the company will roll out its Vuze software for Mac sometime soon, and likewise I expect the app to be updated with more versatility. When they are, the Vuze could be something really special.
The Vuze camera is dead easy to use, and beautifully designed in a stylish, robust body. Once HumanEyes can sort out some of the limitations with the Vuze camera’s app and support systems, it could have a real winner on its hands. In the meantime, $800 feels a little bit steep for a camera that feels a bit like an unfinished product.