Early Look, Travel, Video

Hands On with the Bublcam Spherical Digicam

Bubl is a new Toronto-based camera company that wants to set photographers and digital content creators free… Free to capture the whole world around you, rather than what can be seen in a viewfinder.

Meet the Bublcam, a new digital camera at the forefront of spherical photography. It works by stitching together images and videos from four separate lenses / image sensors into one interactive file where you and your friends can turn, crop, zoom, and generally explore an entire photographic environment in real time (or in virtual reality).

Does that make sense? Maybe it’s best to demonstrate.

I recently met Bubl CTO, Sean Ramsay, at a Los Angeles beach to get some hands on time with the Bublcam. The camera itself works with the touch of a button. One touch to turn it on; one to take a photo (after an eight-second delay). Or remote control the device via the free Bubl Xplor App for Andriod and iOS devices. The resulting image (or video file) is transferred to your phone and then, if you choose, up to the cloud (Bulb.io) where your can share with friends and family. On a phone or the web, this is what you’ll see:

Assuming the embedded image is working on your browser — if not, click HERE — you can now spin the image around, zoom in and out on Sean and me (or anything else), and explore the beach.

Fun, right?

Spherical video files are equally interactive, making the Bublcam the ultimate selfie-camera. Yet, unlike traditional selfies, you get the entire surrounding environment as context for your memories AND you don’t have to really aim.

Tech Specs: Inside the Bubl

The Bublcam houses four f/2.0 1.2mm lenses with 190-degree (160-degree used) FOV, mated to four 5-megapixel image sensors. Image files are saved a .jpgs at an approximate 14MP resolution, while 720p HD video can be captured at 30fps and 1080p video records at 15fps. The Bublcam is powered by a 3.7V LiPo battery that takes about two hours to charge via the included mini USB 2.0 cable and power adapter. There is some onboard storage, but you’ll want to add a microSD card (up to 32GB) to store your original files. To playback these files, you’ll need a device running Mac OS X, Windows 7 or 8, iOS 8+, or Android 4.1+. Lastly, the Bubl has a 3.25″ (80mm) diameter and weights 280g.

Bublcam Bubl Xplor App

The App: Navigating the Bubl

Digicams, particularly ones without their own displays, are only as good as their operating systems. As mentioned above, the Bublcam connects to Android and iOS devices via the free Bubl Xplor App and Wi-Fi (802.11n). And, friends, the Bubl Xplor App is so clean it feels like a native iOS or Android App. It’s super easy to switch between photo and video settings, as well as accessing new features like HDR, panoramas, and Time-lapse.

The app is also a fun place to capture a few cropped images, as your smartphone’s screen is running a live feed from the Bublcam. This comes in extra hand when you don’t have eight seconds to wait for the timer to count down (Mr. Ramsay says this eight second delay will become adjustable with a later firmware update).

Bublcam CTO Sean Ramsey

Bubl CTO, Sean Ramsay

VR Functionality: Living in the Bubl

In addition to viewing your spherical imagery online and in your phone, you can also use Bublcam images and videos with a smartphone-compatible 3D VR headset. Simply drop your phone into the headset and your phone’s internal accelerometer is now mapped to the center of this universe. Meaning, you simply turn around and look up and down to explore your own photograph or video… which is a trip.

Mr. Ramsay also demonstrated a Bublcam VR video that involved canoeing across a lake, walking through museums, and even snowboarding down a mountains. What a wonderful experience. It feels like you’re making up the frame of your picture or movie as you go — like directing the movie of someone else’s life.

Assuming Bubl can improve resolution with future models, this is stunning transportive technology. Want to know what Hawaii was like when Aunt Helen went there for vacation? No problem. Fire up your Bublcam videos and look around the volcano or up and down the cascading waterfall.

Bublcam Sean & Michael wave hello crop

Minor Nitpicks

Mr. Ramsay describe the Bubl’s development process of one where the company was way ahead of the curve in respects to this overall technology, but also one where they were a little surprised that image resolution in the market place has improved as quickly as it as. I would say the Bublcam takes solid images for the web and phones, but is not quite big screen ready due to lacking resolution, some image noise, and stitching issues. More megapixels aren’t necessarily the answer, though it would be nice to have more resolution. The world is transitioning into 4K and above — hopefully there’s a way to put larger sensors in this Bublcam for future generations

Also, the image stitching works quite well in evenly light environments, but as we found out while taking a few shots at the beach under the blazing California sun, it was possible overload the top image sensor and, therefore, create noticeable seems in the image stitching, something that can probably be corrected in Photoshop.

My last question is one of price. The Bublcam will set you back $799.00. With four lenses and image sensors, the price point makes sense but, at this range, we’re also used to seeing entry-level ILC and DSLRs, or extremely well-apointed point-and-shoots. Given its ultra-successful Kickstarter campaign, maybe this won’t be much of an issue.

Bubl Pros

  • Great selfies
  • Interactive
  • Slick app design

Bubl Cons

  • Pricing possibly a little high
  • Would like to see a waterproof housing
  • Image Resolution & Better Stitching
Bublcam -- learning the app

Click this image to explore its Bubl photo!

Conclusion: To Bubl or Not To Bubl

The Bublcam is a fun photographic toy at the forefront of spherical photography. The app works great. It’s easy to share images and videos, or crop more traditional images from each. With a few more features — more resolution, better stitching, and GoPro durability — future Bublcams are going to be must have digicams. For now, they’re a lot of fun and some really creative individuals should be able to create some amazing art. While the initial Kickstarter-backed Bublcams shipped this summer, you can place your order now for the next batch, which is currently scheduled to ship December 15th (2015).

Also, check out more Bubl images over HERE.

Thanks to Bubl’s Sean Ramsay for a chance to see the Bublcam in person! We can’t wait to do an in-depth review for this and future generations.

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