Virtual reality as fiction has long fascinated people. Tron, Star Trek‘s Holodeck, and the Matrix are three big examples. The notion that this immersive kind of filmmaking is now available to consumers at entry-level DSLR prices and much lower is simply amazing.
There are three ways to consume 360 or VR footage. The least immersive way is to view the footage as if you would a normal film, seeing everything all at once, generally this appears as a circular image on a black background. Another way is to rotate (or pan) around a normal video in a web browser (or using a remote). The best way is to watch the video with 3D or VR headsets. This lets you feel like you’re in a different place and time. In any case, all of these ways offer a true look at moments in time in a way that would be impossible for consumers to match even a decade ago.
Now, they are available at low prices that many can afford. Note that for all of these cameras besides the Ricoh cameras and the 360Fly, you will have to purchase external memory cards, but these do not increase the price significantly.
Here’s ten of our favorite VR and 360 cameras at affordable prices that give you the most bang for your buck.
1. Ricoh Theta SC 360
The successor to the Ricoh Theta S, the SC is a more affordable edition with virtually all of the same features. The price is lower (from $299.99 to $259.66) but there is only one real limitation which is that the max video length on the SC is five minutes. On the Ricoh Theta S, the videos can be 25 minutes long.
The Ricoh is considered the gold standard for affordable 360 cameras. They boast robust apps for outputting your videos to social networks, have exposure controls, time-lapse functionality, and a bright F2.0 lens. The Ricoh Theta SC also has a new and improved user interface, making the whole kit and caboodle easier to operate. The one major limit for both cameras is that they have only internal memory, up to 8GB. There’s no using other cards or anything like that; eight is all one gets!
Note that Ricoh apps are not the best; this is a better camera for people with a PC or Mac editing solution.
- Reasonably-priced, easiest to use 360 camera
- You don’t need to buy a memory card, the Theta SC comes with 8GB of built-in memory
- Sharing photos and videos is easy with use of Ricoh apps
- Max video length is five minutes meaning it’s only for short videos
- Some users complain that 360 videos are hard to take because one’s arm is always in the shot
- Image quality isn’t particularly high compared to say, D-SLRs of a similar price
2. Samsung Gear 360
Samsung’s answer to 360 video is not only cheap, it’s pretty dang good. Praised by pro photogs for its ease of use and good photo quality, if you’re looking to capture photos “in the round,” this little camera offers convenience, ease and even water-resistance. It uses Micro SD cards so you won’t be bound to internal memory limitations like with the Ricoh Theta SC.
While it doesn’t provide the clarity that a dedicated DSLR and rotator set-up can, it sure is a lot easier and more portable. Note that the apps for this camera are best on Samsung Galaxy devices NOT Android in general, and not iOS. This camera is ideal if you have a Samsung Galaxy or a Windows PC.
Price: $209.95 (40 percent off MSRP)
- Easy, light, and has decent video and good image quality
- Splash and water-resistant meaning you don’t have to worry putting this near a pool
- Sharing is easy with built-in support for Galaxy smartphones and PCs
- Some users had issues with the camera communicating with their Android device
- A few users found battery life to be poor
- As the camera overheats, the lens is pushed out of focus; this affected the footage quality of some users
- No software is included for Mac or iOS users
- Some users complain that camera is built to “trap” one into Samsung ecosystem
3. LG G5 Friends 360 CAM
The LG G5 Friends Cam might be the perfect camera for you if your priority is video and you are not often near a computer. While it takes inferior pictures compared to the Ricoh Theta SC and inferior video to the Gear 360, the fact is that it doesn’t matter how good your footage quality is when it’s difficult to share. Many have praised its ease of sharing and the quality of its apps. The Ricoh Theta SC takes better stills and it is a preferable choice if you’re often near a computer. Likewise, the Gear 360 takes better footage, but is really only a viable, reliable option if you have a Samsung Galaxy.
The LG G5 has some drawbacks including visible image stitching, poor lowlight quality, and somewhat clunky controls (it can be difficult to see when you’re recording video, for instance), but in the end, at a cheaper price point and with increased share-ability, this VR camera offers one a lot of bang for their buck.
- Shoots better video than the Ricoh Theta SC
- Easy to carry in a pocket, unlike the Ricoh Theta SC
- LG Apps have more options than Ricoh Theta apps
- Expandable memory using microSD cards
- This camera works better with Androids of all kinds
- Works with Mac OSX
- Poor lowlight quality
- Shoots inferior pictures to the Ricoh Theta SC
- Some of the controls are clunky
4. Outerdo Sport Camera
For those with a low budget, the Outerdo Sport Camera offers a GoPro-like durability with 360 features, but not amazing image quality. It can react to motion or sound to record, and it is waterproof. This isn’t the best camera to show off the beauty and immersion of 360, but it’s a great camera if you don’t need high quality footage, but want some of the perks of an action camera.
Users praise the app as being decently easy to crop, share, and manipulate videos, but some users found it hard to get video out of the device and into Facebook or YouTube. Overall, this is a budget camera that is versatile. It may be the right choice if you need waterproofing and motion detection and don’t need sharp picture, but still want that 360 look.
Price: $99.89 (55 percent off MSRP)
- Water-resistant casing
- Loop-recording means you can use it as a dashcam or to wait to capture the perfect moment
- LCD screen lets you see what you’re recording
- Motion and sound detection feature means you can catch intruders and like villains
- No support or instructions
- Does not shoot below the lens, some feels this hampers immersion
- Image and video quality is only passable
5. Ricoh Theta S
The Ricoh Theta S is one of the first 360 VR cameras and there’s really only one reason to buy it: you need long continuous videos. With a recording limit of up to 25 minutes, this VR camera is perfect for recording long, seamless videos.
Beyond that, there’s no reason to purchase this camera over its successor, the Ricoh Theta SC. The cameras are almost identical otherwise. The Ricohs are easy-to-use, though pair best with computers, Windows or Mac. They are not necessarily ideal for mobile sharing.
Price: $299.99 (14 percent off MSRP)
- Easy to use with access to a PC
- Video length is up to 25 minutes
- Some of the best video quality for this price range
- No memory card required. The camera includes 8GB of internal memory
- No external memory means you’re limited to the 8GB of on-board storage
- Apps don’t make sharing that easy, footage is most easily handled on PC or Mac
- Difficult to carry in one’s pocket due to exposed lens
6. Insta360 Nano
The Insta360 Nano offers it users a slew of great features with some minor trade-offs. Still, at $200 it’s a great deal. For one, it’s only for iOS devices. Sorry, Android users. It’s praised for its simple and clean integration to Facebook and Youtube. This seems like the most convenient way to take 360 pics and instantly get them up on Facebook since the camera is part of your phone.
Users also praise the camera’s great build quality (made of aluminum). Some issues that will be minor for most users include noticeable stitching, no manual controls, optimal fit on 6S+ and 6+ models, and the fact that the app runs upside down (makes sense when the camera is in, but not otherwise). For those looking for maximally easy and convenient and have an iOS device, the Insta360 is probably the way to go.
- Uses iPhone’s memory, but can also be expanded with SD card slot
- Real time and live sharing with Facebook and WeChat
- Great build quality, product is made of aluminum
- Decent resolution
- No technical or manual controls for exposure or shutter speed
- Images aren’t all that sharp
- Can overheat iPhone
- Video quality is better on other devices
7. 360fly 360° 4K Video Camera
The 360Fly VR video camera offers some unique advantages. One big one: clear 360 photographs with no visible stitching. If this is your MO, then this is the camera for you. While the price is high, one thing that mitigates this is that the camera has huge internal memory (64GB) meaning you won’t need to purchase any additional storage. Another big perk: this camera is waterproof and shockproof, so you won’t need to worry about durability.
For stills, this camera seems hard to beat, but for video it has some real limitations. Users complain that converting the footage is time-consuming, and that recording randomly stops. Processing videos using the 360Fly apps is slow and cumbersome. Many report bugs in the software, but it is compatible with Windows and Mac OSX.
Price: $499.99 (20 percent off MSRP)
- Shoots 4K video and large seamless still images
- 64GB of internal memory means you don’t need to purchase extra storage
- Wide variety of setting available in app
- Desktop software works with Windows and Mac OSX
- Poor battery life
- Memory storage cannot be expanded
- Poor image and video quality in low light
- Apps can be buggy and all files require cumbersome conversion
8. Floureon Cube 360
For the budget-minded looking only to see how 360 videos work on their own device, this may be the camera for you. While it is very limited in its functionality, at this price point, one can’t ask for more. This tiny cube camera allows one to shoot 360 video, but you can only rotate within the video on your phone’s app. It seems that at this point, exporting to Facebook or YouTube is not possible. Some users complained that the app can be unreliable, but it is available for iOS and Android.
For someone on the go, who needs a tiny camera, and has a small budget, this may be the camera for you.
- Shoots 360 video at dirt cheap price
- Durable build quality
- Extremely small size
- True 360 video is only visible in app
- Shoots only short videos with a max length of 15 seconds
- Poor video and image quality
- App can be crashy and is necessary to view VR style videos
9. 360 Degree Camera by Geektopia
This may very well be the ideal camera for YouTubers. Boasting direct upload to YouTube in 360, it’s the easiest one in the bunch to get that job done. That said, this camera isn’t particularly outstanding in any other way besides flexibility, since it works with both iOS and Android phones. The picture quality is only decent, and the sharpness is low. Still, if you’re looking to show off your 360 skills on YouTube and don’t need a particularly fancy way to do that, this is the camera to beat in terms of price and simplicity.
- Easiest camera to upload to YouTube
- iOS and Android compatible apps
- Fun to play with at a low price
- Picture quality is only decent
- Some users complain of issues with Wi-Fi
- Instructions are lacking
10. SEREE S4-BK
The Seree S4-BK offers pretty standard VR camera features, but this is definitely the way to go if you don’t need great picture quality, but want a VR camera that’s guaranteed to last; this particular model is back by a one year manufacturers warranty.
Reviewers agree that it can make content worth sharing, but not much beyond that. The camera does not shoot true 4K, but it does offer a variety of time lapse options, takes looping video, and has battery life of up to two hours. This is a good VR camera for a kid or someone who is known to break things, but doesn’t have the utmost priority of having great picture quality. It also has action camera features like being able to mount it to a bike or a helmet.
- Passable image quality, but not 4K
- Takes different kinds of time lapses
- Durable and has one year manufacturers warranty
- Memory is expandable as it uses MicroSD cards
- Image and picture quality are merely passable
- Not particularly easy to upload to Facebook or YouTube
- Some say the iOS and Android app, XDV360, is buggy
Want to see even more options? Browse more top-rated virtual reality cameras on Amazon.