Canadian 360-degree camera ‘breaks the frame’ of typical point-and-shoot video
Toronto-based Bubl hopes to ride the growth in virtual reality video and immersive photography.
TORONTO — Snapping the perfect photo of an unforgettable moment can be a challenge when you’re an amateur photographer, but Sean Ramsay says his new camera will forever change how we think about taking pictures.
The Toronto-based developer has created Bublcam, a baseball-sized camera that uses 360-degree image capture technology to put you back in the middle of life’s biggest events, whether it’s a family wedding or a little league baseball game.
“We use a camera to capture those moments that mean a lot to us,” the founder of Bubl Technology said from the company’s headquarters in Toronto. “The best way we can share that information is by capturing every possible angle.”
While Ramsay says the Bublcam won’t replace traditional point-and-shoot cameras any time soon, he’s optimistic about how it could influence the fast-developing world of virtual reality, which after years of being little more than a dream is finally starting to make progress into the consumer market.
Bublcam takes both pictures and video in a spherical range — from the sky to the ground, which creates a new experience for photographers who feel constrained by panoramic shots.
“It’s the idea of being inside a moment where you could investigate it over time,” he said. “If you want to recreate a moment where people feel like they’re really there, this is the best way to do that.”
Video captured by a Bublcam is almost overwhelming at first glance because each shot has practically the same amount of detail as a real-life moment.
The four lenses grab images and lace them together for the viewer to create a realistic version of a natural environment. Once it’s loaded onto a computer, you can scroll across the moving image with your mouse, quite like exploring the virtual world on Google Maps.
Eventually, the goal is to expand those interactive videos and still images into the future of virtual world technology by making the Bublcam compatible with VR headsets. Virtual reality is seen as the next frontier for many technology companies, and the potential hasn’t been lost on major photography companies either.
International brands like Kodak have recently launched their own variations of 360-degree cameras while smaller players like 360fly hope to release their own variations of the technology this year.
While Bublcam is still in a beta phase, the camera began shipping its first units a few weeks ago. Each camera sells for US$799 through the company’s website though Ramsay said he believes there are opportunities to truly break into the mainstream consumer market if he can get the price closer to $499 per unit.
The concept for a 360-degree camera began to percolate while Ramsay was working at a digital media studio in Toronto. He was tasked to create an advertising campaign for the 2009 Toyota Matrix that let customers virtually inspect the car from every angle.
“I got really intrigued with the idea of 360-degree videos and environments,” he remembers.
Ramsay thought his idea for a new type of camera would resonate with others and took their idea to Kickstarter, alongside co-founder Dan Mills, in hopes the crowdfunding website would help make it a reality. The project managed to raise $346,000.
Word of the camera quickly travelled to Google executives who contacted Ramsay to discuss how Bublcam could help create virtual maps for the insides of buildings, like restaurants and museums.
At this point, the future of Bubl counts on the idea catching on with even more supporters. Until Ramsay can lower the cost of manufacturing Bubl, he’s squarely focused on appealing to businesses who can install the camera in their boardrooms for conference calls or live stream from remote locations.
Real estate agents have expressed interest in using Bublcam for 360-degree tours of homes, Ramsay said. He also sees potential in other industries that use detailed maps of spaces, like mining and utilities companies, or transit lines that want to map out subway tunnels.
But some technology experts are skeptical about whether 360-camera technology will ever grow beyond a niche business.
“This is for the kind of person who will slap a GoPro on his helmet and go skydiving,” said Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst. “For the vast majority of consumers it’s too niche a product.”
Ramsay is confident that Bublcam will find its place in the consumer market by appealing to people who want to see all of the details.
“We can now pay attention to those moments that we really like and draw more attention to the ones we didn’t even know were there,” he said.
© 2015 The Canadian Press