Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere 3.5K panoramic camera, also known as the Xiaomi 360 camera, or Mijia 360 camera, has had many improvements since it was first released. Here is an updated review of the Xiaomi 360 camera, which has become one of my favorite 360 cameras for its excellent image quality and incredible image stabilization.
Updated: November 13, 2017. Added optical flow stitching software and update on drifting issue.
Originally published: June 12, 2017.
Also check out the Ultimate Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere FAQ, wiki and resource page.
Table of contents:
– Recent improvements
What’s in the box?
Key specifications and features
Optical flow stitching
Sample photos and videos
Strengths and weaknesses
The Xiaomi Mi Sphere is an excellent 360 camera that has the highest image quality for photos up to around $1,000 (for photo quality, I would say there is no better all-in-one 360 camera unless you are willing to buy a Panono), and the highest video quality up to around $300 or less. On top of that, its image stabilization really works very well. It had several drawbacks when it was first launched, but many of those have been addressed, so that it now has only a few remaining weaknesses.
Here is the video review:
From the time I posted this 360 video sample and review, there have been many improvements to the Xiaomi 360 camera:
– It now has a simple but effective PC app. This addresses what had been the two most significant complaints against the Mi Sphere – its compatibility and workflow. With the PC app, you can now batch stitch photos and videos at full resolution, with or without stabilization, as long as you have a Windows PC. There is no Mac app yet.
– Phone compatibility has also improved. Now on my iPhone 6, I can stitch full resolution videos with stabilization (previously, the maximum resolution on iPhone had been 2304 x 1152).
– Photo quality has improved. In particular, straight lines are now completely straight (there had been some slight waviness in straight lines when it was first released).
– Video quality has improved. First, the waviness in stabilized 360 videos is now pretty much gone. Second, you can now select whether to apply the stabilization effect, either in the app or in the PC app (by toggling off “gyro calibration”).
In addition to these improvements, there are several new features (see below). With these improvements and features, Xiaomi Mi Sphere reinforces its position as the best all-in-one 360 consumer camera for photos (under $1,000) and as one of the best affordable 360 consumer cameras for videos.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
The Xiaomi Mi Sphere includes:
– the camera
– a mini tripod / handle
– a Micro USB cable
– a water resistant pouch
The Xiaomi is very well made, with a sleek matte black outer finish with hidden LED indicators (like the Theta). The frame is metal, which makes the Xiaomi feel solid but also helps to radiate heat (the metal can get hot during use).
There are three versions of the Mi Sphere, all of which have identical hardware and have the same functions, except as noted for the Madventure (see below):
– domestic version: this has Chinese packaging and instructions
– international version: this has English packaging and instructions
– Madventure 360: this is a new camera with the same hardware as the Mi Sphere, but has an orange (instead of black) body, and comes with the dedicated selfie stick, and a GoPro to 1/4-20 adapter, in addition to the other accessories. The video resolution is also higher – 3840 x 1920, although I’ve been told that this higher resolution will also be coming to the Mi Sphere via firmware update.
XIAOMI 360 CAMERA KEY SPECIFICATIONS AND FEATURES
|Lens type||Two 190-degree fisheye lenses|
|Photo resolution||6912 x 3456 (23.88 mp*)|
|Video resolution:||3456 x 1728 @ 30fps (40mbps or 55 mbps)|
2304 x 1152 @ 60fps
2048 x 512 @ 120fps (Bullet time)
|ISO||50 to 1600|
|Shutter speed||1/6400 to 32 seconds|
|Image stabilization||6-axis, built-in (phone not needed)|
|Waterproof?||IP67 water resistance|
|Storage||removable Micro SD up to 128GB|
*The actual exported video resolution depends on your phone. For phones with a Snapdragon 625 or better processor, you can export at the full resolution. For other phones, the exported resolution will be limited to 2304 x 1156 or in some cases, 1920 x 960. You may want to test it out on your phone first. You can try these unstitched files (see below under “sharing” for links to the iOS and Android versions).
1. Raw+JPEG. Mi Sphere can now shoot in Raw format for maximum image quality and latitude in postprocessing adjustments (especially color temperature). It uses Adobe DNG raw, which means its Raw files will be readable by virtually any video editor with raw editing capability.
The DNG files are double circular fisheye images, each around 45mb. As of November 6, 2017, the images cannot yet be stitched by the smartphone app or PC app. Instead the DNG files must first be adjusted then converted to JPG. A third party software such as Hugin or Yoichi Hirota’s app (see below) can be used to stitch the double circular fisheye file.
To use this mode, go to Settings in the app (upper left corner of the shooting screen), and in photo resolution, choose “6912 x 3456 (Raw).”
Mi Sphere is not the first consumer 360 camera to have DNG raw mode, but it is the first and thus far the only 360 camera to my awareness that can shoot in Raw+JPEG. In other words, if you shoot in Raw, you will also get a JPEG file. Note also that the setting is ‘sticky,’ in other words, when you select Raw (actually, Raw+JPEG), the camera will remember the setting and use it even after the camera is turned off and restarted, whether or not the app is being used.
2. Bracketing (3-shot bracket, 0.5EV or 1EV apart). One new option under photo capture is bracketing. The Mi Sphere can take a 3-shot bracket, either 0.5EV apart, or 1EV apart. This can be useful for HDR.
Bracketing appears as one of the options above the shutter in the shooting screen.
3. Bullet time. This is essentially the same feature with Insta360 ONE, i.e., you can turn the camera around you (e.g., with a selfie stick or monopod) while recording at 120fps with stabilization. The effect is to create a super slow motion video of the camera revolving around you, similar to the bullet dodging scenes of the Matrix. The video will be recorded at 2048 x 512 @ 120fps, which enables you to show a hemispherical view in bullet time, which can be cropped to 16:9, 4:3, or 1:1 using third party software. There is also a screen-recording feature in the app to enable you to reframe the hemispherical view as a 16:9 video.
4. Slow motion. You can shoot video in slow motion. This is an option above the shutter when in video mode.
5. Intervalometer. In addition to a dedicated time lapse mode, Mi Sphere has a true intervalometer, which means it will take a photo at specified intervals. The interval can be from 2 seconds to 5 minutes. This option appears above the shutter in the photo shooting mode. If you need to shoot in short intervals, please turn off the Raw capture mode.
Tip: The intervalometer can work without being connected to the phone. This is useful for taking photos from a drone, for example — it will continue to take photos even after it no longer has a connection to the phone. Here’s how to do it: after you launch the app and connect with the Xiaomi, tap on “intervalometer” above the shutter, select the desired interval, and press the shutter to begin taking photos. Now turn off your phone’s wi-fi. Although the camera won’t have a connection to the phone, it will continue to take photos. To resume the connection, turn on your phone’s Wi-Fi again.
6. GPS location tagging. You can add a geolocation tag to your photos. This is useful for mapping apps such as Street View for example. To use this feature, turn on GPS tagging under the Settings (upper right corner of the shooting screen).
7. Custom live preview. Mi Sphere is one of the few 360 cameras that enables you to customize the live preview. You can change from a fisheye view (straight lines look curved), to rectilinear view (straight lines look straight), to tiny planet view, to equirectangular view (showing the entire panorama). This makes it easier to compose with the Mi Sphere based on your intended final result. To change the setting, go to Settings (upper right corner of the shooting screen). The projection type is one of the options near the bottom.
8. High-bitrate video mode. For maximum video quality, there is a new high-bitrate video mode. You can select this in the Settings under video resolution. Please note that the app cannot view the high-bitrate mode. Instead, the app will only show the normal bitrate. But if you load the high-bitrate file in the PC app, you’ll be able to stitch it as a high-bitrate video.
XIAOMI MI SPHERE TUTORIAL
Here is a video tutorial on how to use the Xiaomi app. This tutorial does not yet include the new features, which appear as options above the shutter (see above).
Shooting without a phone
There are three buttons: power, wi-fi and shutter. The power button doubles as a mode switch.
– Hold down the power button to turn it on. Startup time is quite fast – only a couple of seconds. The high-pitched beeping from the camera helps you to know that the camera is on even in bright sunlight when it is hard to see the LED light.
– Tap the power button to switch between photo or video as needed.
– Press the shutter button to take a photo or video. In photo mode, there is about a 1- or 2-second delay from the time you press the shutter to the time the photo is taken. This gives you enough time to move your hand away from the camera so that your won’t appear oversized in the 360 photo.
– In photo mode, hold down the shutter button until it beeps to use the self-timer mode. The duration of the self-timer can be set using the app. Note: the app lets you choose auto, 3 secs, or 10 secs. It seems that the actual self-timer is around half of the chosen value.
– In video mode, hold down the shutter button until it beeps to use the short video mode . In this mode, the camera will take a short video clip and automatically stop recording. The duration of the short video can be 10, 20 or 30 seconds, which you specify in the app.
Shooting with a phone is useful because: 1) you can use the live preview to help judge the exposure and composition; 2) you can use the phone as a remote shutter; and 3) on the phone, you have access to all of the available controls and features.
Here is a link to the iOS app
Here is a link to the Android app. If you want to access a newer Android app version, you can check the version on the Mi Store. Installing the Mi Store will require manual authorization. After download, you should see the APK in the app called “My files”. That’s the installation file. Double tap it. It will tell you that it’s blocked. Then tap on settings to authorize unknown apps (you can specify to do it “only for this time”). It will then install for you.
To shoot with the phone:
– launch the app.
– On your camera, press the WiFi button. It will start blinking, which means it’s ready to pair.
– On the main screen of the app, tap on the camera icon at the bottom.
– On the next screen, select your camera.
– Use your phone’s Wi-Fi settings to connect to the Xiaomi’s Wi-Fi signal, which will start with “MJXJ…” The default password is 12345678. You can change this but if you ever forget, hold down the wi-fi button for 5 seconds until it beeps to reset the Wi-Fi password.
– When the Xiaomi is connected, you’ll hear a beep on the Xiaomi. In my experience, the Xiaomi has connected every single time. It has never given me trouble, unlike the Theta or Keymission.
Once the phone is connected, go back to the app. You should see the live preview screen. Or on Android, you may have to press the Back button.
You’re ready to take a photo or video.
|Xiaomi can take photos even in very low light thanks to a shutter speed as slow as 32 seconds.|
MI SPHERE WORKFLOW – SHARING PHOTOS AND VIDEOS
The Xiaomi does not stitch photos or videos in-camera (at least not with the release version of the app as of November 6, 2017), but you can see a fully stitched preview on your smartphone app. If you access the files directly from the memory card, they will appear as double circular fisheye files. To stitch the files, you need to use the app for smartphone or PC. (As of November 6, 2017, there is no Mac software yet.).
When viewing photos from the app, they are downloaded and stitched right away (it takes a few seconds). The stitched photos appear in your phone’s Gallery app with 360 metadata (on iPhone, they are in a hidden directory, until you select the photo and export it, in which case it will appear in the Camera Roll).
The stitched photo can be viewed in several projections: fisheye, rectilinear, equirectangular, or tiny planet. You can then export the custom projection as a separate file.
You can view videos from the app but they will not be downloaded to your phone until you select Download. Even after downloading, they are not stitched until you select a video and export it. Once the video is downloaded, they will appear in the Local tab of the app’s gallery, where you can see all the photos and videos that have been downloaded to your phone.
From there, you can stitch the video by exporting it. When you export the video, you can select whether to apply stabilization by tapping on the three dots on the bottom right to bring up the options, then toggling the “Gyro Correction” option. Then tap on Export to stitch the video and export it.
|A screengrab from a Xiaomi video shows that it has very good detail.|
Xiaomi 360 Camera Desktop stitching:
NEW!!! Here is a link to the PC app.
Xiaomi now has a desktop stitching program, currently available only for Windows, but a Mac version is in the works. The desktop app, confusingly called “MijiaCamera” but also called “Mi Sphere Camera,” can stitch both photos and videos, and can batch process multiple files (even a mix of photos and videos). As of November 6, 2017, the stabilization function now works as well as it does in the app, and can be toggled on or off.
Optical Flow Stitching with Yoichi Hirota’s Mi Sphere Converter app for Android
The Mi Sphere’s stitching is already fairly good to begin with thanks to the very short distance between its lenses, but when it first launched, there was some doubling, and in addition, some straight lines could appear wavy. Both of these issues have already been addressed in all versions of its software — Android, iOS, and Windows. (I’m using app version 1.8.4.)
Nonetheless, there are slight imperfections at the zenith or sometimes nadir. Now, even these minor issues can be resolved with Yoichi Hirota’s Mi Sphere Converter. Mr. Hirota is the developer of Theta Converter and edit360, both of which are apps for straightening the horizon of a 360 photo. Mi Sphere Converter uses optical flow for seamless stitching.
Here is a sample 360 photo that illustrates the issue with the in-app stitching.
The stitching is almost perfect. However, if you look at the zenith, you can see there is a bit of warping in the ceiling.
Here is the same photo, stitched in Mi Sphere Converter:
Here are the zeniths compared side by side (look at the bar in the middle).
You can see that the Mi Sphere v 1.8.4 stitching has slight warping, whereas the stitching with Mi Sphere Converter is flawless. It also seems that the tone curve on the Mi Sphere Converter is a bit less conservative, thus preserving more of the original data.
Another benefit of the Mi Sphere Converter is that you can adjust or straighten the horizon at the same time while stitching the photo, similar to Theta Converter.
Finally, the Mi Sphere Converter is an affordable and relatively easy-to-use alternative to stitching Raw images from the Mi Sphere (after the Raw shots are converted into JPG).
The downside of the Mi Sphere Converter is that it adds steps to your workflow. It is also somewhat tedious to setup.
– You have to create a calibration file for each camera because every camera is unique.
– Using Mi Sphere Converter requires the original double fisheye images. However, normally, these are not transferred to the phone. Instead, the Mi Sphere app stitches the photos at the same time they are downloaded.
MI SPHERE IMAGE QUALITY
I compared the Xiaomi to its most direct competitors:
– the Insta360 Air for Android, which is the most affordable stabilized 360 camera (requires phone)
– the Insta360 Nano for iPhone, the first stabilized 360 camera (requires phone)
– 2016 Samsung Gear 360, currently the most affordable 4K 360 camera (requires Samsung S6 or above)
– 2017 Samsung Gear 370, which has about the same price as the Xiaomi.
– Ricoh Theta S. Not really a direct competitor (except for 360 photos) but it’s a common camera used for comparison.
I’ve also added a previous comparison with the Nikon Keymission 360 and Kodak PIXPRO SP360 4K Dual Pro. I also have a detailed comparison with the Insta360 ONE here.
Now you can also use the Ultimate 360 Camera Comparison page to compare the Xiaomi against other 360 cameras for photos and videos.
Here are full resolution samples from the Xiaomi, Insta360 Air, Insta360 Nano, Ricoh Theta S, original Samsung Gear 360 and Samsung Gear 360 2017.
Here are 1:1 crops:
|2017 Samsung Gear 360|
|Ricoh Theta S|
|2016 Samsung Gear 360|
|Xiaomi Mi Sphere|
In this group, the Xiaomi 360 camera has the highest image overall image quality, with even more detail than the 30mp original Gear 360. It had the best detail and best dynamic range in these samples. Its colors appear a little flat compared to the 2016 Gear 360, but that can be easily adjusted in post.
The Xiaomi does suffer from purple fringing near the stitch line, but that is relatively easy to correct in postprocessing. Stitching is also not perfect. There is a little bit of doubling at the stitch line.
The Xiaomi’s color and detail is sufficiently high that a cropped non-360 photo can appear about as detailed and rich as a photo from a non-360 camera, allowing it to perform capably even as a non-360 camera:
Here is the 360 version:
Moreover, in addition to its excellent photo quality, the Xiaomi offers full manual control with a shutter speed as slow as 32 seconds, and ISO as low as 50, which makes it possible to use it for long exposures. As of Octoer 2017, the app now allows you to select manual shutter speeds less than 1 second, up to as fast as 1/6400.
I was surprised to find that Xiaomi 360 camera also has the best video quality among 360 cameras up to around $300, despite having a lower nominal resolution than other cameras such as the original Gear 360 and 2017 Gear 360.
|This is not a photo. It’s a framegrab from a video (in tiny planet view).|
Here is a playlist with comparisons against the Insta360 Air, Insta360 Nano, 2016 Gear 360 and 2017 Gear 360. (I also brought the Theta but the video file was truncated to just one second for some reason. Maybe my Theta was jealous. In any case, trust me the Xiaomi 360 camera’s video is way better than the Theta’s.)
Here are 100% crops:
|original 2016 Samsung Gear 360|
|2017 Samsung Gear 360|
You can see that despite the lower 3.5K resolution of the Xiaomi 360 camera, it has the most detail, as seen in the texture of the fireplace. The Xiaomi 360 camera also appears to have the best dynamic range, as shown by the detail in the backlit door. For these reasons, I concluded the Xiaomi 360 camera has the best video quality.
Here is another playlist I posted previously, comparing the Xiaomi 360 camera to the Nikon Keymission 360 and Kodak SP360 4K Dual Pro:
XIAOMI MIJIA 360 CAMERA SAMPLE PHOTOS AND VIDEOS
Sample photos here:
Sample videos here:
+ Excellent photo quality
+ Excellent video quality
+ Excellent photo controls (full manual exposure, shutter priority, ISO priority, ISO as low as 50, shutter speed as slow as 32 seconds).
+ Excellent auto white balance; natural-looking colors
+ Adobe DNG Raw + JPEG
+ bullet time mode
+ built-in exposure bracketing
+ GPS mode (when used with the phone app)
+ Image stabilization (see below).
+ Exposure settings are sticky. The settings you specify will be retained even after the camera is turned off. This means that you don’t need to keep your smartphone on.
+ Decent battery life when fully charged. I’ve been able to record as long as 95 minutes nonstop in full resolution.
+ Resistance to overheating. The Xiaomi 360 camera can be connected to USB while recording. With a USB charger connected, I’ve been able to record for 1 hour 45 minutes nonstop in full resolution.
+ IP67 water resistance. It’s not water proof, but it will probably survive rain or being splashed by water.
+ Fast startup and shutdown. It’s ready to shoot in just a few seconds.
+ Reliable and long distance Wi-Fi connection. I’ve been able to connect to the Xiaomi 360 camera every single time I’ve tried. This is in sharp contrast to the Theta which sometimes connects and sometimes doesn’t, or the Nikon Keymission 360, which has an even more unreliable Wi-Fi connection. Moreover, the Wi-Fi has very long range. According to my friend and tech vlogger Pepe Vazquez, he has been able to connect as far as 50 meters (!).
The most important feature is image stabilization. Besides making the video much more watchable, stabilization allows you to make the camera appear invisible by making it possible to position the Xiaomi 360 camera inline with a slim selfie stick, and hold it at any angle (see around 2:13 of this video). Neither the camera nor the selfie stick will be visible. This invisibility creates the illusion of an invisible cameraman capturing a third person perspective in 360.
– Smartphone compatibility. Yes it does work with iOS and Android, but you can only export videos at full resolution with a phone that has a Snapdragon 625 sensor or better. Here is a list of compatible phones. However, if you have a PC, you can use the desktop app to stitch at full resolution.
– Battery is not removable.
– Quirky stabilization. There are several issues related to stabilization:
— You may find that your video has no stabilization. I found that this happens if you record too soon after turning on the camera. Solution: Instead, wait a few seconds (3 seconds or so) after turning on the camera before you start recording.
— Some videos might be stabilized but tilted. It appears that regardless of the camera’s angle, the angle when you start recording will often be designated as ‘up’. For example, if your camera is horizontal, the horizontal position will be designated as ‘up,’ resulting in a stabilized but horizontal video. Solution: Be sure the camera is vertical before you start recording, and keep it vertical for at least a couple of seconds.
— Drifting: resolved. There’s no more drifting. Previously, if you stabilize the Mi Sphere’s video using its gyro-based stabilization, then the video will drift after couple of minutes. In version 1.8.3 and above, there is no drifting. Just in case, you can use this technique to correct for drifting.
As I mentioned in the previous section, there are a few image quality issues: some purple fringing near the stitch line, and there is sometimes a slight difference in color temperature between the two lenses. Note: as of November 2017, the heat wave effect no longer appears to be an issue.
|“Invisible” third person view camera made possible by the Xiaomi’s stabilization|
If you want a 360 camera with excellent photos and videos, then in my opinion, Xiaomi 360 Camera is the best camera up to around $300, as long as you are willing to put up with its quirks. It has the best photo AND video quality I’ve found for 360 cameras under $300, and and has amazing image stabilization.
The Xiaomi 360 camera is also the best camera if your priority is 360 photos, because of its image quality and its excellent photo controls. The only all-in-one 360 camera I know that has better photo quality is Panono. Another option to get better quality is a panoramic tripod with a GoPro (Panohero H5B or Pano5+1 mk II) or DSLR / mirrorless camera, but they can’t capture spontaneous moments.
If you would like to buy the Xiaomi 360 camera, it is available from GearBest, which ships to around 260+ countries all over the world. They are also pretty fast and I receive my orders from them in just one week. Here is a list of discount codes for the Mi Sphere.
Here is the Ultimate Resource Page for the Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere 360 camera, including a FAQ, tutorials, recommended accessories, and other information.
If your priority is live streaming, Xiaomi unfortunately has no live streaming capability. I would instead recommend Insta360 Air for Android or Insta360 Nano for iPhone, both of which have live streaming with stabilization.
If your priority is to get the best 360 camera for 360 video regardless of price, I think that is currently the Garmin Virb 360 (which I will review as soon as I receive my order), which has many advanced features in addition to having a higher resolution video (4K stitched in-camera, or up to 5.7K stitched with a third party program). Another possibility is Yi 360 VR, which is due to be released soon and will have 5.7K video for $399, but as far as I know, it is not stabilized.