360 cameras can shoot a complete 360 scene in one go, but while the quality these can produce can be very good if handled carefully, it doesn't match what’s possible using a regular photographic camera (DSLR or mirrorless body) and a fisheye lens. Shooting and stitching multiple photos into a final composite 360 equirectangular image requires some care and attention, but the results can be head and shoulders above what a dedicated 360 camera can produce.
Fisheye lenses are normally used because they capture a wider angle of view than more traditional rectilinear lenses. The curved line distortions these produce are corrected automatically during the stitch process. For the following steps we suggest either an 8-11mm fisheye with an APS-C (crop) sensor size or a 15-16mm fisheye with a full-frame sensor. Both options will require taking six shots around plus one directly up and another directly down in order to create an ‘equirectangular’ image that contains the complete 360x180 degree scene in a single file. Non-fisheye lenses can be used for 360 photography, these just require more shots to cover a complete 360-by-180-degrees scene. That makes them more challenging to work with, and the final panorama pixel sizes will be much larger than is required for use in Meta Quest headsets.
A panoramic head is important to use. This holds the camera in the right position so that it turns around the optical center of the lens, known as the ‘no parallax point’ or NPP for short, rather than the traditional rotation point of ordinary tripod mounts. This ensures that where one shot overlaps with another for stitching, there will be no problem with things in the foreground appearing to shift relative to things in the background.
It is possible to shoot hand held, using a weighted string hanging from the lens to help turn around one point in space. This tripodless method even has a name, Philopod, and it is invaluable where tripods aren’t allowed. But, just as with using non-fisheye lenses, this is best attempted after gaining experience with the normal process.
Once an equirectangular image has been stitched it can be used in tour-building software such as Pano2VR, 3DVista Virtual Tour Pro or KRPano, in online virtual tour services such as Teliportme, Kuula, 360Cities and many others, and of course in Facebook as a 360 image post. For use in a Meta Quest 2 headset the optimal pixel size is 8192x4096. The maximum size advised for use in a Facebook post is 14000x7000 pixels, but the smaller Meta Quest-optimized 8K size is fine unless opened in large display mode.