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Rylo’s 360-degree camera is a tiny package with a lot of promise and cool tricks

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Rylo camera reviewBusiness Insider

One of the big new trends in cameras is those that can take 360-degree videos or pictures.

But Rylo, a San Francisco startup that’s recently released its own such camera, thinks what’s more important than being able to take images and video in a full circle is what you can do with them afterward.

In tandem with its camera, the company has developed a smartphone app that’s designed to let users quickly take the 360-degree videos they shoot and turn them into polished, professional-looking clips.

The software automatically steadies shaky video and allows users to track a particular person or object in a scene even as that person — or the camera itself — is moving. The software is also designed to let users easily create both split-screen videos and tracking shots that smoothly pan from one vantage point to another.

Designed by a team of engineers that came from Instagram and Apple, Rylo’s camera and software have a lot of potential. Unfortunately, they don’t quite live up to their promise.  

Here’s a look at the new Rylo camera:

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Rylo’s camera is a small, action-cam style device.

At 2.85 inches by 1.45 inches by 1.7 inches, it’s about the size of two flash drives back to back.

The camera feels solid.

Its anodized aluminum case and high-impact plastic sides give it a sturdy feel. But at only 3.8 ounces, it’s lightweight.

It’s easy to use.

The Rylo 360-degree camera only has three buttons. You use the one on top to turn it on or off, start and stop recording video, and take photos. You use the one on the back, which is next to its screen, to switch between video recording and picture taking modes.

By pressing its third button, which is on the bottom of the device, you can access its removable battery and microSD card.

Rylo’s device can shoot video and take pictures in a full sphere.

Rylo's device can shoot video and take pictures in a full sphere.

Rylo’s 360-degree cameraTroy Wolverton/Business Insider

The device has a camera on its front side and another on its back, and both cameras have a greater than 180-degree angle of view. Together, they allow the camera to capture videos and images in a full sphere around it, both side to side and up and down.

Such videos are becoming more popular. Both Facebook and YouTube can play 360-degree videos and you can view them inside virtual-reality headsets. That said, the videos you make with Rylo won’t appear in 3D if you view them in a VR headset, as these videos aren’t stereoscopic. You’ll still be able to watch the videos, though.

It does a pretty good job taking video in daylight.

This is a video of me walking down a street in San Francisco on an overcast morning.

The camera is not great in low-light settings.

Here’s a video I captured at night, walking out of a dimly-lit bar in San Francisco out onto the street. As you can see, the Rylo camera could barely capture anything inside the bar. It did better outside, but the images were really grainy and the colors were off.

The camera effectively shoots low-resolution images.

The Rylo device shoots 4K video (3840 x 2160 pixels) and 6K (6000 x 3000 pixel) photographs. Nominally, those are ultra-high resolution.

But the 4K videos and 6K images include the entire, combined 360-degree spherical view of the device’s two lenses. What that means is that if you focus on any particular part of a video or picture, the images within it are likely to be pixelated or blurry, because there just aren’t very many pixels covering those particular areas.

The photo above is a cropped out portion of a 360-degree image of my office during the day. As you can see, nothing in the photo is particularly sharp. By contrast to Rylo’s camera, when you take a regular photo or a 4K video with your smartphone camera, its field of view is much narrower. Each pixel covers a much smaller area than with Rylo’s camera, allowing it to yield sharper images.

The lenses offer a super-wide angle view.

The Rylo camera has two 7mm equivalent lenses — the smaller the number, the wider the field of view.

By contrast, the regular camera on the latest iPhones has a 28mm equivalent lens, and the telephoto lens on those phones is a 56mm equivalent.

The lenses’ wide field of view allows the Rylo camera to see a full 360 degrees with only two of them. The drawback of that approach is that objects that are relatively close can appear distant. The table in this photo, for example, was actually only about 15 to 20 feet away.

The Rylo 360-degree camera includes a case that doubles as a grip.

The case makes it much easier to handle and use the Rylo camera — and it’s versatile, too. You can unscrew the knob on the bottom of the handle to attach the grip to a standard camera mount, such as that on a tripod. You can also separate the handle from the case to a mount you might have on your bicycle, say. 

In addition to this “everyday” case, Rylo is offering a waterproof  “adventure” case. It sells that case separately for $69.

The memory card that comes in the box is limited in terms of how much 360-degree video it can store.

Rylo ships its camera with a 16GB microSD card. The company says that will hold about 35 minutes worth of 360-degree videos.

Rylo supplied reviewers with a 64GB card, and the device will support cards that hold as much as 256GB of data. But you’ll have to purchase one a larger memory card separately.

The battery also has a limited duration per charge.

Rylo says the battery will allow you to shoot continuously for about 60 minutes. However, you may not get it to last that long.

After about a minute on non-use, the camera will go into a standby mode. It might look like it’s turned off, but it unfortunately still drains power. It won’t turn off completely until it’s gone 10 minutes without being used.

In my tests, the standby time seemed to significantly cut into the amount of time I could record video.

You can’t preview your videos.

Rylo’s camera has a small screen. But it only displays basic information, such as what percentage charge you have left on your battery and whether you are in video recording or picture-taking mode. You can’t use the screen to see what you are recording or have recorded.

You also can’t preview videos on your smartphone. The Rylo camera doesn’t have a WiFi or other wireless radio, so it can’t beam videos from it to another device.

To upload videos, you’ll need to use a cable.

The Rylo camera doesn’t include a WiFi or some other wireless radio, so to transfer videos from the device to your phone, you’ll need to use a cable. Rylo includes one that allows you to connect the micro-USB port on the camera to the Lightning port on an iPhone.

You view and edit videos in Rylo’s app.

When you connect the camera to your phone, your phone will launch Rylo’s app, assuming you’ve already installed it. After you transfer videos to the app, you can watch them, edit them, save them to your phone’s camera roll, or share them directly to Facebook or Instagram. The advantage of this approach is its convenience: You typically have your phone with you at all times.

Right now, the app is only available for iPhones. Rylo plans to offer an Android-compatible camera and app early next year.

The app automatically stabilizes videos.

Rylo’s system automatically takes all the shaking out of your videos. Even if you took them while riding a mountain bike down a rocky trail, they will seem ultra-smooth. If you choose, though, you can turn off the stabilization feature, as in the video above.

By default, the system also ensures your videos appear right-side up and level with the ground, no matter how you hold the camera. In fact, the company says videos will appear to have been shot with the camera in one position even if it was actually spinning in the air while filming. 

Rylo’s app helps you focus viewers on what you want them to see.

The defining feature of 360-degree videos — that they give you a spherical view — can be both a blessing and a curse. It can show things other videos simply can’t, but the feature can also make it difficult for creators to direct viewers’ attention to particular areas of a scene and for viewers to figure out what they should be watching.

Rylo’s software was designed to solve these problems by allowing you to focus a video on a particular person or object. For example, if you took a video while riding a mountain bike and following a friend down a trail, you could direct the video to just follow your friend. Even as the trail twisted and turned, the viewer’s attention would be directed at your friend.

Rylo’s software also lets you point viewers to multiple things in a video, so if you take a video of yourself walking down a street, the video could start off directing viewers to the sidewalk ahead of you, then could shift their attention to the storefront across the street, and then pan back to direct them to the view behind you. Creating those focal points is as easy as pressing on the screen while reviewing a video: The software will present these options to have the viewer “look here” or have the video “follow this.” If you add multiple “look here” points in a video, the software will automatically have the video smoothly pan from one to another.

Unfortunately, in my testing, both the “follow this” and “look here” features had trouble doing what they promised. Both tended to lose focus on what they were supposed to be following.

When I used “follow this,” the video would frequently lose track of the person when that person moved and start following another object or person. When I used “look here,” the video would gradually drift away from the object or person I tagged. In some videos I edited, I ended up having to direct the app to “look here” at the same place multiple times just to keep the videos focused on a particular spot.

Still, the Rylo app also allows you to add other cool effects.

Still, the Rylo app also allows you to add other cool effects.

Rylo’s app offers an easy-to-use split-screen featureTroy Wolverton

In the Rylo app, you can easily create a split-screen view where you can see two things happening at the same time. For example, you could have a split-screen video showing your friend going down a trail on his mountain bike and your own face as you followed behind him.

The app also lets you quickly create time-lapse videos, so instead of having to turn on some time-lapse mode in the camera, you just adjust the 360-degree videos in the app after you’ve already shot them. You can easily adjust the speed of the videos from 2-16 times real-time speed.

The Rylo app includes some other basic editing features.

The app also allows you to trim the videos or crop the images. You can also manually tilt your videos so that the ground is a diagonal, say, or they’re upside down.

But the app has some serious shortcomings:

•  It doesn’t let you create multiple versions of the same video inside the app. So, if you want to create different cuts of the same video, you’ll have to remove all the previous tweaks you’ve made to it first. Fortunately, you can do that fairly easily, with a couple of taps. 

•  What’s more, the app doesn’t offer much beyond basic editing features. You can’t adjust the sound levels within your videos, add in different sound tracks, or fade from one video into another inside the app. Nor can you use it adjust the exposure of your images or to add titles to your videos.

•  Additionally, Rylo only offers a smartphone app. It doesn’t offer any kind of PC program. So, if you want to do any kind of in-depth editing, you’ll likely find yourself going through a multi-stage process, adjusting your videos first in Rylo’s app and then transferring them to another app to do more fine tuning there.

The sharing feature is missing one big option.

Rylo’s app lets you save your videos to your camera roll and to quickly post them to Facebook and Instagram. You can also save them to Dropbox and other cloud-storage services, send them to friends via email, or beam them to your computer using Apple’s AirDrop feature.

But Rylo doesn’t offer the option to instantly share your videos to YouTube. That’s unfortunate, because along with Facebook, YouTube is one of the most prominent places to share and watch 360-degree videos.

Indeed, posting 360 videos made on Rylo to YouTube was actually kind of a cumbersome process. I first uploaded them to my Mac. Then I had to use an app I downloaded from Google to tag them as “spherical videos.” Finally, I had to log into my YouTube account in my web browser and upload the videos there. It then took a good 30 minutes or so for YouTube to recognize them as spherical videos and display them as such.

One cool feature points to Rylo’s most promising use.

In the app’s sharing feature, you have the option to save your work not only as spherical videos but as standard, flat, high-definition ones, like the ones you’d watch on your regular TV. Combined with the editing features found in the app, that option opens up some really cool possibilities for Rylo’s camera.

Budding filmmakers could potentially use the Rylo camera and software to create movies with effects that previously would have required multiple cameras, complex camera rigs, or expensive editing equipment. Take the split-screen view, for example. In the past, creating that kind of shot would have required syncing up videos on two different cameras. With Rylo, you can do it all with video from just one camera, and a couple of taps in an app.

Similarly, creating a video that smoothly panned from one vantage point to another while the camera was in motion would have required a pricey drone camera system or a professional camera equipment. But Rylo allows you to make a similar shot with a few taps in its app.

In the video above, I used the “look here” feature several times to have the video pan from one view to another. It’s not Oscar-worthy material, to be sure, but it took all of about five minutes to do and gives a sense of the possibilities. And if I wanted to, I could re-edit the video to have it pan a different way or to create a split-screen view instead. 

Overall, Rylo’s system offers more promise than polish.

Overall, Rylo's system offers more promise than polish.

Rylo

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.

Unfortunately, the “follow this” and “look here” features don’t work as well as promised. And because the app’s other editing functions are fairly basic, the process of taking and sharing videos often isn’t as easy as the company suggests. You’ll likely need to polish them or do other tweaking elsewhere. 

The quality of the video you shoot with the Rylo device is also disappointing. It doesn’t perform will in dim light, and even well-lit scenes can appear pixelated or grainy if you focus on any particular area of them. I might be able to overlook such shortcomings if Rylo’s device were an inexpensive device. But it’s priced at $500. It’s $200 less than GoPro’s comparable Fusion camera, but it’s not exactly an impulse buy.

Here’s hoping Rylo quickly upgrades its app and offers a second-generation, higher-resolution camera that performs better in low light, because I think the company’s got a good idea here. It just hasn’t yet turned it into a great product.

Rylo’s camera is available on its own site and through Amazon.

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