Zmer One 360 Degree Action Camera – Good Ideas, Horribly Executed
The Zmer Sports Camera looks great on paper. It’s a small action camera capable of filing in 360 degrees! It boasts image stabilization, automatic image stitching, a two hour continuous shooting battery life, and all in glorious 1080p at 30 frames per second. You can even upload the videos to Facebook! At least, that’s how it is supposed to work…
I was very excited to get my hands on the Zmer One. I’ve been wanting a 360 camera for a while now, and had very specific needs in mind for what I wanted to do with one. You see, I run a drone racing group and I thought this would be AWESOME to mount on a drone and go flying. How cool would it be to watch that footage later on a VR headset? Needless to say as soon as it arrived I tore into the package to test it all out.
The packaging for the Zmer One is top notch. A custom black box with bright green highlights and an image of the camera on the front presents a very sleek look. The sides of the top are angled, and the top slides off easily at an angle.Immediately underneath you will find the camera, embedded in black foam rubber. It’s a wonderful presentation and reveal.
Under that layer you will find a small package with the camera manual and information, a wrist strap, a generous 16GB MicroSD memory card, a USB cable, and an AC outlet USB charger similar to those used for smart phones.
Removing the camera from the case, I am pleased with the weight and feel of the camera. It is substantial, but not heavy. The rubberized grip of the handle feels nice, though the plastic in other places feels thin. The front face of the camera appears to be aluminum, while the rest is plastic. There are lenses on either side, as well as what appear to be microphones. A large button on one side is for power, while there are two buttons on the top for shutter/record and WiFi control. There is another button on the handle that can also be used to control the shutter or start/stop recording. A small door on the side of the camera housing can be opened to access the memory card and micro USB port.
In order to make use of the camera you’ll need to download the Zmer app. This is fine if you are in an Apple device, as you can obtain the app directly from the App store. Android users, for some reason, are tasked with navigating a web site in a foreign language to download the app from an unknown and untrusted third party source, side-loading the app, and then manually assigning permissions, The whole experience feels shady and wrong, and I am almost certain some government somewhere now has full access to my phone. This is not how you should do things…
Once I had the app and charged the camera I inserted the MicroSD card and pressed the power button. I was greeted with a small blue light, and a red light on the top that indicated that WiFi was activated and awaiting connections. This turned out not to be the case however, as the SSID never showed up on my Android phone. After a few minutes I rebooted the camera and this time the WiFi came up after about 5 minutes. This would later prove to be the first of several issues.
Using the camera is simple enough, just press a button to take a photo or press and hold to start recording, but the app is near useless. The live video preview would only show me a single frame, and uploading to either Facebook or Twitter was non-functional. It appeared that the app was attempting to upload my video to a third-party website overseas and then providing a link to share on Facebook, except that the video would not upload anywhere. The only thing I could do with the app was transfer my videos to my phone and view them. At least the player worked.
The video quality itself isn’t too bad. In a few shots there was a visible seam, and items too close to the camera can get distorted, but overall it is passable. Sound quality on the other hand is atrocious. There is a digital “gurgling” noise that permeates everything, and even the audio that is recognizable is low quality. It reminds me of early camera phone quality sound. Not that any of that matters – without the ability to share the video easily what is the point?
Yes you can transfer video to your phone, but the App doesn’t store the transferred video in the media folder where you can access it via a video sharing app, and even if you could the videos aren’t tagged with the proper metadata for 360 video. If you attempt to upload one of the videos directly to Facebook you’ll be presented with an unwrapped 1080p video that just looks… strange.
It also turns out that the USB port on the side of the camera is only used for charging. You cannot connect the camera to the PC and transfer your videos. The best I could do so far was to remove the MicroSD card and transfer the media to my desktop, use a free tool available from YouTube to add the proper metadata, and then upload for sharing. Then and only then could my 360 degree video be enjoyed. That is way too much work for a consumer device, especially at this price point. Someone with a little more experience with video may be interested to find that they can edit this video directly in Adobe Premiere, which detects the format correctly, but then someone making use of that level of editing software probably has a higher quality camera.
So what about my goal of mounting the camera on a drone? Well, guess where the battery for this “action camera” is located. Hint: it isn’t in the camera body.
The battery is housed in the handle, which is fine except that it makes the ability to remove the camera from the handle useless. There is no way to get power from the handle to the camera except via the built-in conductive pads. There is a standard tripod mount on the bottom of the camera, but without an external power source it does you no good. You could use a small power pack like those used to recharge mobile phones, but now you’ve got two things to strap to your helmet or wherever. If your product requires a third party product to function as advertised, then your product doesn’t work correctly.
So in the end I now have a handheld-only 360 degree camera that records mediocre video with terrible sound and requires third party desktop applications to enjoy. I honestly cannot recommend this camera to anyone. If Zmer can step up and create a proper app for the English-speaking market that actually works (and is available through less-frightening means) then they may have a future. As it is right now the camera is too expensive considering all of the problems, especially since there are similar products from more reputable companies in the same price range (and cheaper). Unfortunately, in its current state the Zmer One is a zero.