One of the best ways to get involved in virtual reality is to produce your own images. The Google Cardboard Camera App is free, and although it has limitations, it’s a fun app that gives a tantalizing hint of the future.
Download the app from the Google store onto your smartphone. Be aware that the app won’t work with all smartphones. My phone is a Samsung S5, and it loaded fine.
Taking a shot is easy. I stood in my family room, and the app guided me to slowly rotate the camera. A few times it told me to slow down.
That’s it. My very first try worked out great. Remember the app also records sound, so keep your yapper shut or choose an appropriate soundtrack.
Next, I went to a nearby park and recorded some beautiful natural landscapes. When viewed later, the ambient sounds of birds and water made the still photo come alive. It’s an exciting experience and provides an extra oomph to vacation and travel photos. The sound of water and the movement of your body around the space actually allows you to perceive “motion” in the 360 degree environment, even though it’s a still photo.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The app is great in terms of exposure. It required no adjustments from me, and both interior and exterior scenes were beautifully lit. Colors were rich and vibrant.
One small flaw is a blind area on the top and bottom of the visual field. Next time I’ll hold the camera tighter to my body to reduce this, but this is definitely one of the technological weaknesses at this time. You want to look up and down, but the areas are blurred.
The biggest weakness frankly perplexes me. Unfortunately, there is no way to share the photo. When you see how cool this is, the first thing you want to do is share. Obviously it’d be easy for Google to add this on a future update, and I certainly hope they do. I’m also hopeful that other developers are working on innovative camera apps with more features. Compared to what the future holds, this app is basic, but it amused me for hours.
The experience of viewing the VR image of my family room was strange. The first time I looked at the completed image I was in the master bathroom because my phone was charging. I knew I was in the bathroom, but I felt like I was in the family room. It was one of those weird instances of me arguing with my brain and losing.
Think of your favorite childhood home. Imagine you could view every room of that house with a VR viewer. It’s nostalgia squared.
Also, imagine how comforting it’d be for someone living in a nursing home to experience a tour of a former home, perhaps with a favorite song or two as the soundtrack.
Or imagine you’re working on your family tree, and you learn there is VR footage of an ancestor’s home. Wouldn’t you want to walk through it?
Although we have maps, photographs, and drawings, the VR experience makes every place more real. You feel a tangible connection with the actual space. As the technology evolves, people will ultimately create millions of VR images. The end result will be a bonanza for historians, designers, educators, filmmakers, and many other industries. It will change everything.