Technically, it is mirrorless. But Nikon’s ‘secret weapon’ (not the heavily rumoured D5) isn’t a Sony A7 rival, it’s a completely spherical action VR camera that’s more along the lines of a souped up GoPro.

The Keymission 360, which will inevitably be truncated to ‘The Nikon 360’, is designed to take the pain out of VR. So much so, that it’s pitched at the adventure category, who typically pay no more mind to the finer details than what mount is required to rig it on their extreme sports weapon of choice. Even though Nikon has VR up its sleeve, it isn’t entering the adventure category lightly. The Keymission is shockproof from a height of 2m/6.6ft, waterproof to 30m/100ft without a separate housing, dustproof, and able to handle extreme temperatures of -10ºC.

Nikon Keymission 360 1

The small form factor and relative ease (it seems) with which the Keymission 360 can capture fully spherical VR footage opens up a lot of doors beyond adventure. It wouldn’t be unthinkable to see your Facebook feed populated with VR footage from your local news outlet by the end of the year.

YouTube and Facebook already support the playback of VR. Other than the bad network limiting the resolution, demonstrations at the Nikon launch — using a phone dropped into a cardboard viewer, ala Goggle Cardboard — were very responsive. Using YouTube as the playback source, you could pan and tilt in any direction without any lag, and there were no blackout spots anywhere on the  video.

Talking with Masahiko Inoue — who’s lengthy Japanese title can be translated as the guy who dreamt up the Keymission 360 — it will naturally fall under the US$1000 mark, to compete with the likes of the Hero 4 and other action cams. So far, he says, you can only edit and share via Nikon’s proprietary software, which it’s already developed for PC, Mac and smartphone. This also apparently includes vibration reduction in post. Once VR takes hold, hopefully there’ll be broader compatibility with mainstream NLEs and colour graders.

One of the more confusing aspects of the Keymission 360 is the resolution, quoted as 4K UHD. We’re normally used to thinking about 4K in a rectangular format, but this is 4K across the entire panorama, about eight megapixels in all is the rough estimate. It means you’re not going to get 4K in your viewing window, it will be closer to full HD — still not bad.

The final specs, including the h.264 bit rate, probably won’t be available until the product comes to market somewhere between March and May.

Nikon Keymission 360 launch

Throughout the launch, Nikon was spruiking its new always-on Bluetooth connectivity, dubbed Snapbridge. It solves the Nikon rep bugbear of seeing journos take a high-resolution still on their DSLR, then pull out their phone to shoot the same image for social media — quelle horreur! Now all of Nikon’s new cameras automatically interface with your phone for instant sharing. This is also included in the Keymission, but only for stills; transferring video is still a manual operation from the MicroSD.

More to come from CES2016, including further Keymission 360 insights, a look at Nikon’s flagship D5 and the long-awaited D500 APS-C camera.

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