The Insta360 ONE 360 Camera: A Comprehensive Review
Just as I was leaving for Les Deux Alpes for a week of training to further hone my speed flying (and avoid the UK summer…), a curious box arrived at work which spelled the arrival of my ONE 360 camera, direct from the Insta360 HQ in Shenzhen. Having just received some kit from Slick, and a bundle of memory cards, hard drives and a new Boya shotgun mic, I was a little reluctant to take yet another device with me which would require more settings to be memorised and another handful of files to process when I returned. This was perhaps a little sceptical, and since Insta360 had just sent me a £320 camera for free, in my bag it went along with a highly modified user manual (I tore out the 15 languages I didn’t need and just kept the English section to read on the short flight to Lyon).
Almost disappointingly, I finished the manual before the plane took off, so I sat looking out the window with an uncharged 360 camera and a tattered manual in a sort of Brexit dystopia fashion.
Anyway, I learned very quickly that there are four fundamental things to note with the Insta360 ONE:
Keep it charged (duh!) – I actually mention this because the battery life is amazing – much longer than my GoPro Hero 5
Clean the lenses before every use – this is a big one, because any smudges or dust seem to be amplified much more than they would on a normal camera
Check the SD card. They only take certain cards (UHS-I, exFAT (FAT64) format Micro SD card up to 128G), however I’ve also found that even if you have the right card, you probably need to use the phone app to format the SD card whilst it’s still in the ONE to ensure it works
Finally, remember the settings for the button. The LED will tell you which mode the camera is on, but make sure you know how to actually take a video (2 clicks).
Attachments and Mounting
The Insta360 ONE is designed to be connected to an iPhone, but I only use it as a standalone camera. It works perfectly for this role, and can be mounted just like a GoPro (it even comes with attachments which link directly to GoPro mounts). The only thing to note is that it’s tall and slim. Unlike GoPro’s which are shorter but fatter, the centre of gravity for the ONE is a little higher meaning you need to make sure the mounting is secure before doing any form of violent movements. As an example, I mounted the ONE as a knee cam, but the camera tore open the Velcro of the mount and the camera fell off as I was running. This was surprising as my Hero 5 Session which is much heavier stays on perfectly, but it’s just important to note the ONE has a slightly greater torque than the stubbier GoPro’s. Fortunately the mount fell off at the beginning of my run, and after adjustments, the camera didn’t come off again for the next 6 days of speed flying. One thing to note is that if you use a selfie stick, you need to mount the ONE in parallel with the pole (i.e. straight on top) If the camera is mounted at an angle, the selfie stick or any other mounting device will be visible, but if possible, take advantage of the fact that anything directly under the camera is invisible.
Filming with the Insta360 ONE
A top tip is to remember you’re actually wearing a 360 camera, which in reality means try to completely forget you’re wearing a camera. I often found when I mounted the ONE as a helmet camera that I was still pointing my head like I would with a GoPro just to get the shot, but in reality, you can look wherever you want an not miss a single moment, so try to forget about the filming. This ease of use is possible thanks to the fantastic Insta360 Studio which I think is a real step up from what competitors offer, and probably the main reason to get an Insta360 ONE above most other 360 cameras.
I think the obvious comparison here is to the GoPro Fusion. And unlike the GoPro Hero series vs. any other action camera, I don’t think the choice is as clear cut as ‘get a GoPro unless you can’t afford to’. In short, the Fusion gives a slightly better image quality (but don’t expect Hero 6 4k quality) and you don’t need an external waterproof case unlike the ONE, but I do think this is where the advantages start to peter out. On both cameras, the audio is terrible (when compared to film quality audio capture (you just can’t manufacture that quality of audio capture for these small cameras yet). Where I think the Insta360 one has an advantage though is that for the price (around half the price of a Fusion), you get a solid image quality which is perfectly adequate for action sports, particularly when in good lighting, and when you’ve finally finished filming, you either have the option of HD export directly via and iPhone, or, you have the option of the Insta360 Studio desktop programme which I think is where the ONE truly excels. The fatal flaw with the Fusion is the huge file sizes, to adequately edit Fusion files, you need terabytes of free hard drive space, and a processor speed provided by the latest computers such as the Gen 6 iMac to effectively edit the 5k image down to a traditional 16:9 image through Overcapture. Insta360’s Studio on the other hand works perfectly well on a low spec laptop. It’s output is a 4k image which can then be effectively taken down to a 16:9 image and made buttery smooth through FlowState stabilisation.
To summarise my thoughts on the comparison, with Insta360 ONE, you capture exactly the same image as the Fusion, at 90% of the quality, but you save 50 or 60% of the time in editing allowing you to spend more time behind the camera and less time behind a computer. GoPro’s offering is sure to improve and bring this time commitment down, but at the same time, I also see Insta360 really upping their quality game and retaining their ease of processing which is the real cost benefit when considering action sports cameras.
As mentioned, filming with the ONE is easy; you press the only button on the camera twice, then forget it’s on. Once you’re sitting back at your computer, you’ll need a programme called Insta360 Studio (download here) which can edit any 360 video files. My work flow is to stabilise the footage, then edit the viewpoints, then edit that final video in DaVinci Resolve for audio, colour and timeline correction.
To breakdown the post processing steps further, here is my workflow:
Open Insta360 Studio and load the 360 cam .inst file
*Important*, open Free Capture (the editing suite in Insta360 Studio) check ‘FlowState Stabilisation’, set the render quality to ‘Superb’, then export the file
Now you’ll have an mp4 which you can work on. Import the .mp4 you just created and start editing the view points. The screen shot above is my attempt at doing exactly that – adding view points to the footage which are shown as key frame points (yellow and grey diamonds) with the parameters for each key frame shown in the bottom left of the screen.
Once happy, simply export the final output
It really is as easy as the above 4 steps. The longest part is step 2, where you need to wait for the programme to export the raw files as stabilised .mp4’s. Here, I like to batch-load all my raw files and then process them overnight.
I work with videos of around 5 minutes in length and find the file sizes very manageable (always less than 2GB for a raw 360 file which makes editing so easy).
In Insta360 Studio, editing the video viewpoints is incredibly easy. There are only a few buttons to use and no need for any shortcuts to remember. You simply set the start point, add in keyframe points (as you would in a video editor), and then set the view point (either sphere, tiny planet, perspective or traditional). The edit settings for all these viewpoints are all very fluid and easy to change by simply scrolling or changing the angle/zoom values. Once you’re happy with the view point, you add a keyframe. That locks the view for that particular frame, and allows you to move forward in the video. After watching some more footage, you may want to change the view. Simply add a new keyframe and set the view point. When you now watch the video back, your viewpoints will automatically change as you move past each keyframe. It’s all very intuitive and crucially, very fast. I can now edit a video in a matter of minutes as opposed to spending hours getting the right shot. Finally, you can change the way each change of viewpoint happens by clicking the lines between each keyframe and using the edit options to fade or jump to the next viewpoint.
It really is as easy as a single paragraph to explain the entire operation of Insta360 Studio. Once your happy with the edit, you can simply export and do as you wish with the final output. I typically colour correct in DaVinci Resolve, and since I’m flying and the audio is generally unusable, I either try to stabilise it as best I can or add a typical action sport soundtrack to really enhance the experience. And experience is really the key with 360 cameras – making a moment as experiential as possible for everyone watching the finished piece.
From what I know about the GoPro app equivalent for Fusion, Insta360 Studio is super impressive thanks to its ease of use. That’s the thing that really stands out for me. The software knows you’re not going to use it for anything other than processing a 360 video, so there are no useless colour editing functions, just a very minimalistic package for the time conscious editor. And after all, the less time you have to spend editing, the more content you can make, the more you can be out there capturing footage and the more fun you can have, particularly if you happen to own a speed wing and be next to a 3,000m mountain!