Why I Am Excited About Izea’s VR Influencer Network

I am insanely excited for Izea’s new VR influencer network.

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2015 may have been the year of live streaming but 2016 is shaping up to be the year of VR. Major tech companies like Samsung, Facebook, and others are launching their VR gear and Facebook and Youtube now allow for spherical videos to be uploaded and embedded in their sites for consumers who don’t have equipment yet. What does this all mean? In short, it means there will be more immersive content, better consumer experiences, and new challenges to marketers and content makers.

For us, the jump to VR was a very simple decision. We are professional social media personalities and bloggers. First, staying cutting edge is extremely important. Second, we have been shooting VR since the 1990’s. Yes, it has come a very long way, and yes, I am too embarrassed to show you some of the work we did back then because it is that bad. Let my try to appease you with this Andre Aggassi commercial for the new auto-focus Canon instead.

Yep, that’s the era we were shooting spherical images in. Back then, we had a tripod with a fixed head and we would take about 8 pictures. We had to scan them in with a state of the art scanner that took up half of a desk, and crudely put them together with software from who knows where. The files exported as Quicktime movies and you could put them in a frame on a website that showed up to about 400 pixels wide. Trust me, that was plenty of work for our Intel Pentium Processors back then. It took the better part of a day to make one horrible image so this wasn’t a task that was taken lightly. The images had to be taken perfectly on the tripod because you couldn’t digitally move them around and post-process them meaning that we burned a lot of film because we would accidentally knock the tripod a bit and the images would not line up afterward.

We made these tours because we owned a resort and this content was new and exciting. We were ahead of the curve just having a web page and collecting emails back then. Having a “vr tour” on the site was unheard of and our guests loved it. They shared this with their friends and we undoubtedly made reservations from them.

A lot has changed since then. In 2015, I shot a Canon 70D with a Sigma fisheye. I had a tripod that had two arms that rotated around so that the camera perspective never changed to avoid parallax affect and we could stitch about 32 images together to make a seamless equirectangular image. The more images you used, the larger the files and the more detail that could be used. Plus, it was easy to shoot HDR photography this way as well. A simple program called PTGui would process and stitch all of these images together. The result was extremely high quality spherical images that came out at 50,000+ pixels wide. We shrank these down to about 10,000 pixels when we uploaded them. This was a nice balance between size and quality for an online experience. Several websites support these images now and the total time went from the better part of a day to about 1 hour to make. But the equipment still cost a lot. A camera, lens, pano head, and software was easily over $2,000. Here’s a sample of one I shot last summer:

It’s easy to see how valuable this kind of content can be. You feel like you are in this very location. As a property owner and manager, I have found this content to be extremely valuable. The vast majority of my customers who go through our VR tours will book with me. It’s great content that get’s shared, enjoyed, and help develop trust between my customer and me. 

In 2016, the world changed again. As the equipment for experiencing this tech is becoming affordable, the technology to make it is becoming mainstream. Izea is helping this technology trend by introducing the first VR Influencer network. The day I became aware of the network, I bought my first Rico Theta S, a 360 image and video camera. Granted the Theta can’t compete with the quality of several dSLR images stitched together, but it doesn’t have to. It makes authentic, real content that is raw and honest. Besides some very neat effects a blogger can produce by shooting in the middle of content, the theta is a great way for a brand to show off it’s property or share a larger experience. Even last year, I needed the space and time to set up a tripod, shoot my images, process them, and then embed or share them. Now, with the Theta S, I just pull the camera out of my pocket and snap a quick picture our shoot a quick video. It downloads to my phone and from there goes right to social media. Just as smart phone equipment got better and mainstreamed as a source for photography, cameras like the Theta S will do the same thing for a VR experience. 

Consider this picture with our chickens. It’s a nice enough picture and you see what we are doing, but then watch the panorama below. It gives another level of richness to this post and to that experience. Now, you can see who is there and what it was like being there. It gives me as a blogger a new tool to share my experience with you. 

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The chicks got to play outside today #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

This image is my son Jack helping with my new seedlings. I just couldn’t take this picture without a camera like Theta. My tripod and camera could not ever get that kind of perspective. But look how it helps tell the story of our gardening. This proves what a great tool VR is for sharing your story.

Jackson is helping with our seeds. Get ready garden! #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

I also wanted to show you the video. It is a great example of a way to show movement or a process in your content. Watch how Estella reacts as she bowls across and around you. I am very happy with the Theta for easy use and the still images, but I will be getting a higher resolution image for video when a camera is available.

Estella celebrates a spare!

Posted by Chris Ashbach on Saturday, April 2, 2016

Finally, this. I didn’t even catch this in person until I was playing with my new app. I incidentally took a picture below an ad in the ceiling. See me taking a VR selfie with the Fireball sign? Look up.

Oh no. They have fireball. #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

The bottom line, VR is real content. It’s a new tool for bloggers, brands, and social media personalities to share their stories. To me, the rest of the the world is catching up and with that change into mainstreaming VR content, readers and consumers will have better experiences, be more knowledgeable about their purchases, and everyone is going to win.

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