Testing the new Google Jump 360-degree camera

By Trenton Daniel

We got our hands on Google’s 360-degree video camera during the political conventions this summer, filming the delegates and protestors surrounding them. Here’s our review.

When we were invited by Google to experiment with a state-of-the-art 360-degree video camera at the Republican and Democratic national conventions, I leapt at the chance.

The camera in question, called Google Jump, allows viewers to experience a seamless panorama in every direction. It features perfect depth of imagery – near things look near, far things look far. In other words, it aims to make viewers feel as though they’re physically present on the scene.

Ready or not, 360-degree video is the future of journalism, a nascent technology rife with exciting potential. Of course, along with that comes a host of opportunities and challenges, as we encountered in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

A range of 360-degree video cameras are for sale on the market, with varying quality. But the Jump camera is something entirely new and different. With 16 GoPro cameras arranged in a ring and synced to act as one camera, the device offers unmatched depth and stereoscopic virtual reality video.

The contraption physically resembles Seattle’s Space Needle, resting on its tripod with red flashing lights. Put another way, it’s a drone with a short leash.

So the rig is an odd-looking thing. It doesn’t exactly receive security clearance with ease. In Cleveland, police wanted to open the Pelican case and peer inside; I had to tell the officers they were looking at a camera. Also in Cleveland, a police officer videotaped me as I set up the camera and turned it on. He may not have realized that he was under similar surveillance.

One inadvertent outcome is this: The rig provides a bit of a workout. The battery alone weighs 24 pounds, and this doesn’t include the Pelican case and tripod.

On day two of the RNC, exhausted from lugging the gear around downtown Cleveland, I ordered a hand truck. This was to lighten the load, but the cumbersome nature still presents something of a dilemma. If the goal of shooting virtual reality and 360-degree video is to create immersive experiences, what does this say if it’s seemingly impossible to bring the camera to the heart of the story?

(Note to self: While future technology improvements may make the rig easier to use and move, shooting with the Jump today remains a two-person operation.)

Given the bulk and heft of the gear, it helps to plan out the shooting. Actually, it’s almost necessary. In Cleveland and Philadelphia, days were devoted exclusively to interviewing and filming delegates and protestors.

Despite the planning, it’s not clear what sort of raw drama will unfold before the camera. Regardless, shooting 360-video gives viewers an intimate look at a major news event. Like the political conventions, it was truly exciting.

Trenton Daniel

Trenton is a journalist at The Associated Press, based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @trentondaniel.

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