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360 camera basics: HDR 360 photos without ghosting

HDR 360 photos without ghosting
HDR 360 photos without ghosting

There are now a few 360 cameras that can take bracketed exposures.  Here’s how to turn them into an HDR 360 photo without ghosting.

In this tutorial, I’m going to use the Insta360 One X (reviewed here), a 360 camera with HDR and bracketing features.  However, you can use the same techniques here with other 360 cameras that are capable of bracketing such as the Xiaomi Mi Sphere (reviewed here).

When you take an HDR photo with the One X, it takes three exposures, and you set the exposure interval, up to 4EV apart.  The smartphone app will recognize the bracketed shot as a single HDR photo and can stitch and fuse them into a single HDR photo.  The results can be good, but in extreme lighting conditions, the HDR effect looks artificial:

Insta360 One X in-app HDR vs. Photomatix HDR
Insta360 One X in-app HDR vs. Photomatix HDR

To get better quality HDR, you should use dedicated HDR software.  One of the most popular software for HDR is Photomatix Pro (15% off with coupon code: 360rumors).  Here is a sample HDR 360 photo fused with Photomatix:

The first time you try Photomatix, you may find that the resulting HDR looks like it has doubled images or ghosting (look at the background):

HDR with ghosting in the background
HDR with ghosting in the background

Ghosting occurs when the images that comprise the HDR are subtly different. In the case of the One X, the three HDR shots are taken in quick succession to minimize ghosting, but to avoid this, you need to do use techniques.  First, you need to use a tripod. But even if you use a tripod, you may still find ghosting, which leads us to the second technique.

Second, the trick is to turn off any type of automatic leveling or stabilization during stitching.  If you took the HDR photo on a tripod, then you shouldn’t need stabilization anyway.  On the Insta360 Studio Beta stitching software for the One X, you should uncheck “FlowState” (Insta360’s term for stabilization) when you export the photos.   (If your tripod wasn’t vertical, don’t worry — you can straighten the 360 photo later after it’s been fused into an HDR 360 photo — see below.)

After the photos are stitched, you can load them into Photomatix.  In Photomatix, do not use any auto align or any of the ghosting removal options.  You’ll find that the fused image has no ghosting issues:

HDR without ghosting
HDR without ghosting

If you do find that the fused HDR 360 photo does need to be straightened or leveled, you can do that on the desktop with Exif Fixer (Windows and Mac) or on a smartphone with Edit360 (Android and iOS).

BTW you can get free email notifications about posts such as this, by clicking here. Meanwhile, I’m still editing my comparison between the Insta360 One X and the GoPro Fusion (reviewed here), which I guarantee will have an unprecedented level of detail.  If all goes according to plan, this may even change reviews on YouTube forever.  I hope to finish by tonight, although with the US elections tomorrow, I may postpone the video to Wednesday.

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Mic Ty

3 Comments

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  • Doesn’t the Insta360 Pro have HDR? I a pretty sure I saw this option in the iPhone app when I had the camera although I don’t recall being able to set the f-stops?

    • Hi Tim. Yes Insta360 Pro has HDR in the desktop stitching software. You can use this same technique with the Insta360 Pro even though in this example, I was using the One X.