We’ve been awash in 360-degree cameras for a few years now, and for the most part, the fad hasn’t caught on. So you’ll be forgiven for initially turning your nose up at the sight of yet another dual-lens 360-degree camera: the Rylo ($499). But here’s the thing: It’s not actually a 360-degree camera. Well, it is, and it isn’t. You can capture videos in 360 degrees, but the real genius of the Rylo is that you can use that 360-degree capability to create stabilized conventional videos that you can manipulate after you shoot, selecting camera direction and following subjects in the editing process, all from your iPhone. (Android compatibility coming early next year.) That makes this thing a game-changer in a way conventional 360 cameras simply are not.
Verdict: Easily the best application of 360-degree video tech yet, but the next generation of the app will have to work harder to explain the concept.
The Good: The Rylo uses its 360-degree format to produce high-quality stabilized video, even when presented as a standard rectangular 1080p clip. Also, the Everyday Case mount that holds the camera is compatible with GoPro mounts, so it’ll be easy to source a wide variety of mount options — and if you’re already an action-cam enthusiast, you might already have that stuff.
Who It’s For: People who want to shoot compelling videos, but who think 360 is a bit too weird.
Watch Out For: The editing app. Though actually using the camera is the easiest thing in the world — turn it on, and hit play — editing the videos on the iPhone does tend to take some patience, and a slight rewiring of your brain to “get” how it works.
Alternatives: None that do quite what this thing does in terms of smoothly changing camera angles and direction — though, a GoPro on the company’s hand-held stabilizer mount is certainly no slouch.
Review: The Rylo is the easiest action camera I’ve ever used. You simply charge it up, turn it on, and start recording. It’s truly that simple. No settings to mess with, no multiple buttons to memorize. The small LCD screen shows simply your remaining battery charge and how many minutes of video you can record on the inserted micro-SD card. The reason it’s so simple is that the camera does one thing — record 360-degree video in full 4K. The magic happens after you’ve made your recording. See, with Rylo, the app does the heavy-lifting, not the camera.
It’s not surprising that this is an app-centric device, given that the company’s two co-founders, Alex Karpenko and Chris Cunningham, are former Instagram executives. It’s also not surprising that the app is powerful and smart. It works like this: You capture your footage — whether cycling, driving, running, or just filming a dynamic environment from a stationary perspective, such as at a party or concert — via the dual 208-degree lenses, without paying much attention to framing or having to hold the camera steady. (Though you do want to pay attention to where the camera is positioned, so you have good views, and thus good source material.) Then plug the camera into the iPhone with the included cable. The app can then offload the images to the phone at a reasonably brisk pace — and certainly faster than the wi-fi connections cameras seem to love, but which make video transfers unbearably slow.
But while the capturing and processing of the video is easy and intuitive, the editing isn’t enough of that—which is disappointing given the pedigree of the company’s founders. The problem is that the app tries too hard to be simple and “intuitive” when the editing philosophy driving the system is actually fairly advanced.
Next, you open the video and use the tools to adjust the image quality — a surprising and welcome capability, offering brightness, contrast, and shadow enhancement, among other tweaks — and choose how you want the final video to look. You can tap on a moving object to have the camera track it in the final edit, or have the camera maintain a steady gaze in one spot as the movement goes around it. You can include a picture-in-picture from other perspectives and adjust the speed for a time-lapse effect. Then you can choose whether you want the video outputted as a full 360 or a conventional high-def clip. It saves the clip to your smartphone’s album, and you can share it or import the HD version into iMovie for further editing.
But while the capturing and processing of the video is easy and intuitive, the editing isn’t enough of that—which is disappointing given the pedigree of the company’s founders. The problem is that the app tries too hard to be simple and “intuitive” when the editing philosophy driving the system is actually fairly advanced. In the case of the video I focused on while evaluating the camera — the undercarriage footage from the jacked-up Mercedes 4×4 offroader, with the Rylo, mounted on an 8-inch flexible GoPro mount — it was difficult to grasp how the perspective would change as the action progressed, or how, precisely, the video would transition from one place I told it to focus on to the next. I would point it at, say, a tree between the wheels and tell it to “look here” but instead of maintaining its gaze between the wheels, it would follow that point in space, thus changing as the truck went through turns and such.
Sometimes this worked out great, with a natural, though unintentional, gliding movement as the truck turned; other times the result was awkward and yielded less-than-ideal perspectives. Once you get the hang of it, though, you’ll start to more readily grasp how and where to place your focus points. Until then, though, your best bet is to start simply, with uncomplicated scenarios such as driving or biking in a straight line and focusing on a point in the scenery as it passes you by. Also, the company needs to better explain the theory of how the editing works, so people grasp that they’re pointing at a spot in a sphere that it will latch onto, not a specific perspective they want to maintain.
But the proof is in the pudding, and the very first video I tried to capture with the Rylo came out looking pretty cool, frankly, with stabilization that kept the horizon rock-steady as the truck bounced around the virtual focus point. The effect is brilliant and holds lots of potential for other applications. As I get better with it — and find even more creative ways to use the camera — the results should only get better and better.
What Others Are Saying:
• “Much about the Rylo system is impressive. The camera is lightweight and appears to be well-made. The automatic stabilization feature works great. That it’s able to create spherical videos with few noticeable seams with just two cameras is pretty amazing. Additionally, Rylo’s app offers some exciting possibilities for video makers. The ability to easily create split-screen videos and pan from one vantage point to another are really cool.” — Troy Wolverton, Business Insider
• “Rylo’s problems feel fairly standard for a brand-new product from a brand-new company. It’s an early-adopter plaything, certainly not ready to be trusted as the only source for your most precious memories. I’m reluctant to recommend it over a device like the GoPro Hero6, which is less ambitious but more reliable. In a year or so, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rylo in a class by itself.” — David Pierce, Wired
Camera: Two 208-degree fisheye lenses, f/2.8
Photo resolution: 6000 x 3000
Video resolution: 3840 x 2160
Storage: Removable micro SD up to 256GB
Weight: 3.84 ounces