You may have heard of a product called the “invisible selfie stick” which, when used with a 360-degree camera, doesn’t appear in the footage at all, creating the impression of a low-flying drone. But how does it work?
How 360 Degree Cameras Work
The invisible selfie stick is sold by Insta360, one of the major 360-degree camera manufacturers. If you attach it to one of the listed Insta360 camera models, then it really is invisible in the resulting footage.
Insta360 Invisible Selfie Stick
This selfie stick disappears in the footage or photos from the Insta360 cameras it's designed to work with, although if your 360-camera is thick enough, it should work with any brand of 360-degree camera.
Insta360’s marketing material says this is thanks to “advanced algorithms”, but if you understand the basics of how 360-degree cameras work, it’s clear that this isn’t really the whole story.
A typical 360-degree camera is essentially two cameras back-to-back. Each camera has a special spherical lens that allows it to capture a 180-degree photo. The photos from both cameras are then stitched together using the software. There are 360-degree cameras that use more than two lenses, but most models meant for average consumers have this design.
The Invisible Selfie Stick Is an Optical Trick
The invisible selfie stick trick takes advantage of a small flaw in the design of many 360-degree cameras. There’s a blind spot created by the thickness of the camera body. This creates a small zone where neither of the cameras can see anything, and it’s more pronounced the closer to the camera body you get.
The invisible selfie stick is narrow enough to fit into that zone neither of the cameras can see, with further invisibility provided by the overlap in the stitch line between the two camera fields. You can actually see some distortion in the hand of the user holding the stick, where these fields meet.
This blind spot extends all around the stitch line, and if it wasn’t for it, we’d also see the camera body itself in the picture! We don’t see this blind spot in 360-degree photos and videos because objects far enough away from the camera appear in both camera fields, making it easy to create a cohesive image. Objects that are too close to the camera will look like someone’s taken a slice out of them.
Any Selfie Stick Can Be Invisible
As long as your selfie stick is thin enough and is exactly in line with the length of the camera body, you’ll get the invisible selfie stick effect. We’ve used the Insta360 stick with other brands of cameras, and the result is the same. In this photo, we’re using a Ricoh Theta Z1, and as you can see, the stick isn’t visible.
That’s not saying there’s no special algorithmic sauce that helps the effect be more seamless, just that most heavy lifting is done by an intrinsic feature of a common camera body design.
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