Having used dozens of 360 cameras over the past two years I’ve noticed one common theme, most cameras seem to be great at one thing but lack other important features. For example, many of the 360 cameras known for shooting excellent video end up shooting poor photos, and ones that shoot great photos AND videos have no stabilization.
The Insta360 One is the first 360 camera I’ve used that’s got every feature a 360 camera really needs to have. Does this mean it’s the best 360 camera ever? Unfortunately not. While the One has all the features I want, it doesn’t really excel at any of them. It shoots good photos, good video, has good stabilization, but nothing is industry leading. That’s not really a problem for me though, as the Insta360 One has become the 360 camera I use the most.
I’ve been using the Insta360 One for nearly 5 months, so this is going to be a pretty extensive and detailed review of what you can expect from this jack of all trades 360 camera.
The Insta360 One has almost every feature you could want in a 360 camera, but it doesn't excel at many of them
- 4K video
- Large 24MP Photos
- Free-Capture mode
- Manual Controls
- Low price
- 4K Livestream
- Stabilization doesn't work well
- Slightly flimsy physical connection
- Video struggles in low light
2018 Software Update
Insta360 relaunched the software for the Insta360 One in March 2018, this massively improved the stabilization feature and added new ways to create flat, overcapture video. Here’s a preview of what it looks like:
Whereas before the Insta360 One stabilization wasn’t particularly good at smoothing out vibrations, with this new software (called FlowState), you can now run, cycle, skate and ski with near perfect stabilization.
Insta360 One Review
|Number of Lenses||2 x f/2.2|
|Video Resolution||- 3840*1920@30fps - 2560*1280@60fps - 2048*512@120fps|
|Photo Resolution||24 MP 6912x3456 (insp, jpeg, RAW)|
|Stabilization||6 Axis Image Stabilization|
|Waterproof||IP67 Water Resistant with waterproof case (added extra)|
|Memory||MicroSD up to 128GB|
|Compatibility||iPhone/iPad (Android coming soon)|
|Other Features||Bullet Mode, 360 Time Lapse, Smart Track, Freecapture|
|Where to Buy||Gearbest.com|
What’s in the Box
Nothing too exciting. You’ll find your camera, a USB cable and perhaps most interestingly, what appears to be a fishing wire. More on that later. You’ll also notice that Insta360 provide a small case that you are supposed to keep your camera in. I personally find this case to be pretty useless and I would have preferred the more common soft carry bag.
Insta360 One Design
The Insta360 One has a very ergonomic and flexible design. Not only can you attach the camera directly to your smartphone, but you can also use it independently with a tripod or selfie stick. The camera features two lenses on a short, bulky body. There is a single button for navigation and no screen. The button on the side of the body is the power key as well as the manual shutter, you can also quick press the button two or three times to change from photo, to video or a timed shutter.
The camera is predominantly made from plastic but doesn’t feel cheap. It’s certainly not the most premium feeling camera I’ve ever used, but it feels quite robust and well put together.
One issue I have with the design is how the camera attached to a smartphone. At one side of the camera you’ll find a iPhone connector that pops out, you then simply plug the camera into the charging port. The issues is that the camera doesn’t feel very secure when you move your iPhone. It tends to wobble slightly, but so far it’s never actually fallen off the phone. For android phones there is an adapter that may provide a more secure physical connection.
Insta360 One Video Quality
The Insta360 One can shoot 4K 360 video at 30fps, a pretty standard resolution for modern 360 cameras. What makes the Insta360 more unique is that it can also create normal, non 360 video. I’ll go into this video mode more a bit later, but for now let’s take a look at some 360 video shot with the Insta360 One.
Insta360 One Video Tests:
I’ve tested the Insta360 One is a variety of lighting conditions and I’ve been happy with the results, although the camera does have some obvious limitations. During daylight the camera performs its best work; the 4K video looks reasonably sharp and it picks up a decent amount of detail. I’ve noticed that colors often appear more saturated than they are in reality and the One seems to add a slight warm glow to most videos.
Stitching is pretty accurate and as long as you, and any other objects, are at least a few meters away from the camera you shouldn’t notice a seam line.
In low light conditions the camera struggles and you’ll notice a lot of noise. I wouldn’t recommend the Insta360 One for low light filming, but then again almost all 360 cameras fail in this department too!
Let’s check out a comparison between the Insta360 One and three other 360 cameras that shoot in 4K:
Before I continue I should point out that the One is at least $200 cheaper than any of the other cameras in this comparison. The One holds its own against these much more expensive cameras, but I do think the video quality is probably the weakest overall. In overcast lighting conditions the difference is barely noticeable, but when it comes to picking up finer details, getting colors right and dealing with direct light, the Insta360 struggles. Having said that I’d say the Insta360 One is the best value out of the four cameras I compared here.
Most 360 cameras can shoot in at least 4K resolution now, but each camera produced very different looking video. This is mostly due to the different lenses used within each camera. I have a feeling the Insta360 One uses cheaper lenses to allow it to be sold at the lowest price possible, which explains why it can’t handle tougher lighting situations. I’m not complaining too much though, this is still the best quality 360 video you can get for under $300.
The Insta360 One is part of a small group of 360 cameras that can also create non-360 video using software within the app. Insta360 calls it freecapture and it essentially allows you to become a director and choose where you want to frame your shot after you’ve already shot it. You can then export the video as a flat 1080p.
Here’s an example of a freecapture video I shot using the Insta360 One:
I believe this is going to be the main use of 360 cameras in the future, as it essentially means you never have to move your camera while recording and you’ll never miss an interesting moment!
Freecapture is achieved by using the Insta360 App on your smartphone. As you play the video you use your phone to look around the video and record where you want to view. You can also zoom in and out and even follow a specific object automatically using a feature called smart track.
While it’s great that the Insta360 One has this feature, the end result is not perfect. This type of video required very good stabilization, which in theory the Insta360 One should posses with it’s 6 Axis Gyroscope, however the video has more than a few bumps and vibrations which negatively effects the experience.
Insta360 One Photo Quality
The Insta360 One can shoot 24 megapixel images, which is among the highest of all consumer 360 cameras. This puts it in a great position of being one of the only 360 camera capable of shooting both good 360 video and photos.
In reality the photos shot by the Insta360 One turn out pretty well, but with the same limitations as the video. Photo’s seem to also have a slightly warm glow to them, and in low light noise is pretty obvious. Never the less the high resolution means that the images are very sharp and in general look great.
Below is a photo comparison between four 360 cameras including the Insta360 One. You can decide for yourself how it compares, but I think the Insta360 was one of the top two in terms of overall quality.
The 360 camera with more features than you can shake a stick at! Excellent value for money.
Software and App
I tend to think technology is not made successful by hardware, but by the software that controls it. In this case the software just scrapes through as acceptable, but there are a few major issues that frustrate the experience when using the camera.
Let’s start with the App. The Insta360 One App is now available for Android and iOS (but remember you’ll need to buy a $20 adapter to use with android), and will launch when you plug the camera into your phone.
I’ve found the connection to be mostly stable, however sometimes the camera can randomly disconnect and I need to unplug and plug it back in again to make it work. The first screen you’ll see is a kind of social network run my Insta360 that allows you to share your images and videos.
It’s not immediately apparent where to actually get access to use the camera, but you’ll have to select the “Album” tab and then press the camera icon. I think the app should launch straight into the camera, as 99% of the time that’s what I want to use
From here you can preview your shot, add a filter or change some manual settings. You can actually go fully manual and control almost every aspect of the shot. One very cool feature for those who like to tinker with their photos in post production, is the cameras ability to shoot in RAW DNG format. This creates images that are much better suited to heavy editing and in the right hands will end up looking far better than a standard JPEG
The other use for the Insta360 One app is the freecapture feature I discussed earlier. This allows you to pick the best parts of your 360 video and turn in into a flat HD video. You can do this via the freecapture screen which looks like this:
This controls are fairly self explanatory and it will take you around 10 minutes to know what’s what. The video is recorded when you hold down the red button and move your phone. This works most of the time, but too often the app fails to record, or jumps to a random point in the video, or just does nothing. It’s not the most user friendly experience but after a few attempts it can produce some cool video.
The Insta360 Studio is a desktop version of the app that allows you to stitch your footage without the use of a phone. You’ll also be able to add stabilization and a few other effects, but you won’t have access to as many features as the app. The desktop software actually works very well and is the best piece of software I’ve used from Insta360. I wish they included all the features from the App on this desktop suite, as I’d prefer to not really use my smartphone at all.
Stabilization: One of the lauded features of the Insta360 One is the 6 Axis stabilization which is supposed to create perfectly smooth video. While the stabilization feature does indeed help to smooth out bumps and vibrations, it has its limits. Compared to the Rylo it’s inferior and not up to the task of challenging environments, like when attached to a bike!
Bullet time: This is a slow motion video mode that involves swinging your camera around your head like a helicopter and recording in 360. This is the result according to Insta360:
In reality I’ve never seen a bullet time video that looked good (apart from the marketing videos from Insta360!). Mostly because slow motion in 360 is going to be very pixelated due to the resolution limit. I’ve personally never even attempted to make a bullet time video, mostly because I don’t fancy swinging a camera around my head with a fishing wire. I mean seriously?
Livestreaming: The Insta360 One can livestream in 4K at the touch of a button. This is one of a few 360 cameras that can livestream without being plugged into a desktop. You can livestream anywhere you can find signal, but beware the heavy data costs of doing so.
Insta360 One Review Summary
The Insta360 One is an inexpensive 360 camera that can do the same things as competitors twice its price. It doesn’t do them as well, but it does them none the less. If you want a 360 camera that can shoot both good video and photo’s (and you don’t want to spend more than $300) then the Insta360 One is a solid choice. I get the feeling Insta360 threw everything but the kitchen sink into this camera, whereas if they had focused on perfecting the software then this could have been the no 1 360 camera right now.
Do I recommend you buy the Insta360 One? If you can handle the occasional frustration, and are happy the the style of the videos and photos, then yes. It’s a fun device that will suite those who like vlogging and creating for their own personal network. It’s not a camera suited to professional work, with the exception of the RAW photo mode which could be handy for virtual tours.