In my opinion, a 360-degree camera has to be portable, easy to use and affordable, in order for it to be adopted by the masses. The Nano had a unique and innovative design and is the first 360-degree camera to attach to a smartphone. (Since then, some others have also been announced.) By attaching the Nano to a smartphone, it would give smartphone users a familiar touchscreen interface, and could make sharing 360 photos and videos much easier. It was going to be offered at under $200. It seemed to check all the boxes.
But I was not sure what the image quality would be. With such a small camera and at such an affordable price, I thought it would have limited image quality, especially because Insta360 already has a ‘prosumer’ grade camera. If nothing else, Insta360 had an incentive to limit the image quality to avoid cannibalizing sales of its Insta360 4k camera. In fact, Insta360’s representative was asking me if it’s only for personal use. So that diminished my expectations.
Then, finally, we started seeing sample images
, which were better than I expected. It seemed like a decent 360 camera for casual use, which is what I wanted and was hoping for. My initial impressions of the Nano were positive
but I had some complaints. But Insta360 has shown remarkable responsiveness, and seems intent on addressing its customers’ concerns. In just one week, they have already updated the app to make the logo removable. They have also promised updates or accessories to address most of the concerns I raised. Meanwhile, I also discovered some workarounds that improved the Nano’s versatility, as you’ll see below.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
The box looked quite nice. They really paid attention to the presentation. The box included the following:
– Insta360 Nano
– Micro USB to USB cable
– Pouch (cloth, drawstring)
– Google Cardboard viewer
– User Manual, Warranty card, Quick Start Guide (English and simplified Chinese)
I thought the cloth pouch was a nice touch, although for protection, I keep the Nano inside its pouch, and inside an eyeglass hardcase.
Using the box as a Cardboard viewer is clever, although there’s not enough friction in the foam-backed smartphone holder to keep it from sliding off center if you tilt your head too much. However, for users who’ve never tried Cardboard, it’s a convenient way to see for themselves.
There is no included Micro SD card. Without a card, the Nano can still capture photos and videos, but only while connected to your iPhone (and further assuming your iPhone has enough space).
DESCRIPTION / PARTS
The Nano is about the size that I expected from seeing it in photos. Here it is, next to the Ricoh Theta.
|Insta360 Nano next to Ricoh Theta S|
The body is mostly plastic but of a good quality, similar to those used in other point-and-shoot cameras. The weight is about what I expected. It’s neither so light that it feels flimsy, nor does it feel heavy. When mounted on an iPhone, the phone feels noticeably heavier (and a little top heavy), but it’s not so bad that it makes the phone harder to carry.
|Insta360 Nano with iPhone 6, next to Ricoh Theta S|
|Insta360 Nano with iPhone 6, next to Ricoh Theta S|
The lenses are fisheye lenses with a 210-degree view and f/2 aperture (don’t forget to remove the plastic from them). They’re slightly offset from each other.
The Nano’s design is very simple. It has only one button at the back, which works as both a power button and a shutter button.
At the bottom of the camera is a Micro USB port, a Micro SD card slot, and a small hole for resetting the camera using a paper clip or a pin. Note: the Nano can accommodate up to 64GB Micro SD cards.
The battery is built-in and not removable. Charging is via the Micro USB port.
I would have liked to have a way for attaching a wrist strap.
The Insta360 Nano is compatible with the iPhone 6, 6s, 6 plus and 6s plus. It works flawlessly with my iPhone 6.
I also tried using it with the iPhone SE, 5s, and other iPads. The problem is that the Nano is molded specifically for the curved edge of the iPhone 6 family. The flat edge of the iPhone SE or iPhone 5 does not allow it to physically fit with the Nano’s connector. A reader was able to use the Nano with an iPhone 5s using an Apple-certified lightning extender but he had to shave the edge of the lightning extender (to fit the Nano).
Another practical issue is that if your phone uses a case, the Nano probably won’t fit unless you remove the case. (I tried a lightning extender but it didn’t work.)
Insta360 said they will produce an adapter that will allow the Nano to be used with the iPhone 5 series (including the SE). I’m hoping the adapter will also enable it to be used with a smartphone case without having to first remove the case.
Meanwhile, I got a Zugu case
that is easy to remove, while still being protective. I chose the Zugu because the phone screen is recessed 1.5mm, the deepest I’ve found so far for a case that’s easy to remove. If you want maximum protection that is still relatively easy to remove, another possibility is the Otterbox Defender
. The Defender’s outer cover is a softer, pliable material (even softer than that of the Zugu) that makes it easy to remove from the inner frame.
USING THE NANO
You can use the Nano attached to an iPhone, or by itself.
A. With an iPhone
When I inserted the Insta360 Nano for the first time on my phone, it sent me to the App Store to the page for downloading the Nano software. There was a “redeem” button that prompted me to scan a QR code. The App Store couldn’t seem to scan the QR code from the Quick Start guide, so I just downloaded the free app manually from the App Store.
Once the app is installed, the Nano works seamlessly with the iPhone. You just unlock your phone, and plug in the Nano. The Nano automatically turns itself on, with a blue LED light. After a couple of seconds, the blue LED light turns green which means the Nano is ready to shoot. At this point, if you’re in the home screen, the app will launch automatically (you can also launch manually if you prefer). The app will always launch upside down whether or not the Nano is connected. This is a minor inconvenience when you’re just using the app to view photos.
The first time you launch the app, you will be prompted to activate the camera via the Internet. Fortunately, it is a very quick, one-button process that doesn’t require registration, or filling out forms.
The live preview shows both a 360 view that you can swipe, as well as a thumbnail showing the entire equirectangular image. You’ll also see a battery indicator. The live preview works very well, with little lag. However, I noted that both the Nano and my iPhone heat up a lot after viewing a live preview image for a while, but so far they haven’t shut down from overheating, even when I was livestreaming for 20 minutes (both the Nano and the iPhone did get quite hot though).
The shooting controls are rudimentary. You can switch from photo to video, and you can press the onscreen shutter to trigger it. Alternatively, you can press the volume buttons of the iPhone as a shutter, which makes your thumb less apparent in the shot. You can’t adjust exposure, white balance, or anything else.
The app is currently lacking a self-timer. However, Insta360 said that they will update the app in August to add a self-timer function. See also Accessories below.
Shooting video is a little unusual. Instead of just switching to video mode and simply pressing the onscreen shutter, there are two ways to record video. First, you can hold down the shutter button, and it will keep recording as long as you keep holding down the shutter. As soon as you release, it will stop.
Second, if you want to be able to let go of the shutter, you can hold the shutter and swipe up, as though “locking” the shutter in place. It will then continue to record even if you let go of the shutter, until you press the shutter again.
To turn off the Nano, you just remove it from the iPhone. After a couple of seconds, it shuts down automatically. You can also manually turn it off (even while the Nano is connected) by holding down the power/shutter button until the LED flashes rapidly.
B. Without an iPhone
The Nano can also be used independently, without a smartphone. The controls are simple and intuitive:
– To turn the Nano on, you just hold down the power/shutter button.
– To take a photo, you just press the shutter button.
– To take a video, you double click the shutter button (don’t hold it down).
– To stop recording the video, you press the shutter button.
– To turn off the Nano, you hold down the power/shutter button again, until the LED light flashes rapidly. If you let go before the light flashes, then you’ll end up just taking a photo.
Please note, however, that when using the Nano without a smartphone, the automatic vertical orientation does not work.
C. In Real Life
If you don’t normally use a case for your iPhone, attaching the Nano to the iPhone is easy and very convenient. You just take it out of its bag or case, plug it in your phone, and in a few seconds, you’re ready to shoot.
If you have a smartphone case, as I do, it can become a chore, depending on how hard it is to remove your smartphone case. I usually use the Nano by itself (in my case, I am already accustomed to visualizing the result in 360).
I do attach the Nano to the iPhone to view or share my photos, or to capture higher quality shots where I use a tripod and a remote shutter (see Accessories below), or for livestreaming (see Livestreaming below).
Whether attached to a phone or used by itself, the Nano is simple and convenient to use. It’s very dependable and predictable, doing pretty much what it is designed to do, not freezing up or acting strange. The only thing I need to worry about is keeping the lens clean, because it is easy to get fingerprints on it, and the included pouch doesn’t absorb oil. Instead, I use a small Lenspen to absorb the oil and clean the lens.
One advantage of the Nano is that because it is small, people tend to ignore it, even when used with a smartphone. This helps to get a more candid reaction than when using a camera such as the Samsung Gear 360.
In terms of performance, the camera is reasonably responsive:
– Startup time takes about 6.5 seconds (from the time the power button is pressed or the time the Nano is plugged in the iPhone, to the time it is ready for capture).
– Shutdown time: about 2 seconds (from the time the power button is first held down until the Nano shuts off).
– Shutter lag: about 1.45 seconds (from the time you press the shutter to the time of capture). It’s long enough that before I was aware of it, I would usually put the camera down before the shot was taken, resulting in a missed shot. It’s good to count 2 seconds in your head as you hold the camera in position, before putting it down.
– Shot-to-shot time is about 3 seconds (from the time you press the shutter to the time the shutter is ready for the next shot). To be specific, it took me 32 seconds to take 10 photos. This is reasonably fast for a 360-degree camera. This compares favorably with cameras such as the Ricoh Theta S, which takes about 8 seconds to get ready for the next shot. (The Samsung Gear 360 has nearly zero delay between shots, but that’s because its photos or videos are not stitched in-camera.)
Battery life depends on whether you’re using it with the app or not. If you’re using the Nano with the iPhone, the battery drains approximately 1% per 1 minute of live view (or recording video), and the camera becomes very warm. If you’re using the Nano by itself, the battery lasts longer, especially if you’re just taking photos and not videos.
There are several accessories that can make the Nano more versatile.
1. Smartphone holder and selfie stick tripod.
A selfie stick / tripod is a very useful accessory for 360 photos and videos because it can help move your hand away from the camera so that you can avoid the “giant thumbs” look. However, one challenge when using the Nano is that it’s not easy to mount it on a selfie stick, monopod, lightstand or tripod. Insta360 said they will release an adapter with a standard 1/4-20 attachment in August.
Until then, I’ve been able to use it with a selfie stick or monopod by attaching the Nano to an iPhone, then using a smartphone holder. It can be trickier than it seems to use a smartphone holder because the Nano extends to the middle of the phone. The best kind of smartphone holder that I’ve found for the Nano is a smartphone holder with a 1/4-20 tripod insert behind it for vertical orientation. This will position the tripod attachment closer to the middle of the phone for better balance.
Here are a couple of smartphone holders with tripod inserts behind them:
I got the orange one from Daiso, and it’s only $1.50 (with a small tripod). The other one
is branded Vastar, from Amazon and costs more. The Daiso has some advantages: it costs less, and because it’s narrower, it’s easier to position it without pressing the buttons. Indeed, if you don’t mind positioning it lower (and off the center of gravity), it is narrow enough to somewhat allow the phone to be placed with the screen facing out, unobstructed by the smartphone holder, and still avoid pressing down the buttons.
Nonetheless, here are the reasons I prefer the Vastar:
– It’s black. It less conspicuous in the shot.
– It has a much tighter grip on the phone because of a stronger spring.
– It has a raised lip to prevent the phone from being falling off the open side.
– It has ribs to increase friction and make it harder for the phone to slide off.
2. Remote shutter with Bluetooth remote or earpods.
Although the Nano doesn’t have a self-timer yet, you can still trigger the shutter remotely for photos using an ordinary Bluetooth remote shutter, as long as the Nano is connected to your iPhone. This works for photos but not videos, but that’s ok because on videos, I can always trim the beginning of the video where I’m pressing a button.
If you don’t have a Bluetooth remote with you, you can also use the volume controls on earbuds as a wired remote (for best results, you should pass the wire along the side of the phone).
3. Waterproof pouch
You can use the Nano underwater by using a waterproof smartphone pouch.
4. Helmet mount
Insta360 said they will have an adapter that allows the Nano to be used on helmets.
Their promo video showed a preview of the attachment.
VIEWING AND EDITING PHOTOS AND VIDEOS
After you take photos or videos, you can view them on the app in several ways:
– fisheye view (a 360 view that has a fisheye effect; best for looking at photos of people or nature)
– a rectilinear view (a 360 view with straight lines, similar to a rectilinear wide angle; best for photos of architecture and objects)
– little planet view (this view can also be inverted to a rabbit hole view or adjusted in any other way).
– you can also select whether to view with the regular display, or the VR (Google Cardboard) view.
– You can also switch between swiping your finger or navigating with your phone’s gyro for a ‘magic window’ / VR window view.
You can also toggle horizon correction or off, in real time. That’s a seriously cool feature I have never seen before. A couple of notes: 1. Vertical orientation is only for photos, and only if you used the Nano with the iPhone, as opposed to shooting with the Nano by itself. 2. This toggle does not affect the separate toggle for horizon correction during exporting – see below under sharing.
The viewer in the app works very well, with no lag, and thus far it hasn’t crashed yet (unlike the crash-prone Theta+ app). I also appreciate the number of ways the image can be viewed. On other apps, you get either a fisheye view (e.g. Ricoh Theta’s app) or rectilinear view (e.g. Spinnable app or Kuula.co) but seldom both.
One unusual aspect of the Nano is that there is no exposure metadata. The aperture is fixed at f/2 so that’s known. But I don’t know the shutter speed or ISO for any photo or video. Also, for some reason the metadata identifies the camera as a “Ricoh Theta S”. I suspect Insta360 did this to help let Facebook recognize the photo as a 360 photo.
If you take photos while the Nano is connected to the phone, the app will store a copy of the photo in the cache. If you took photos without being connected to the phone, the photo will not be automatically copied to the cache until you manually sync the photos or if you turn on the “Auto Sync” option.
Videos are not saved to the cache. To view or share videos, the Nano has to be connected to your phone. While photos or videos are in the SD card or in the cache, they remain in a proprietary format (.INSP for photos and .INSV for videos). Files remain in these proprietary formats until they are exported to JPG or MP4 to your Camera Roll, from within the app,
I like the fact that the app has a button for clearing the cache. On some 360 apps I’ve used, the cache kept growing into gigabytes, and I had to delete and reinstall the app to regain the space.
In the original version of the Nano app, all photos and videos were watermarked with the Insta360 Nano logo. However, in version 1.2 of the app, the logo is now optional, and if you do include it, it can also be changed from a black logo to a white logo, or to the Insta360 mascot. The logo can be useful for hiding the tripod, or giant thumbs/fingers.
The Nano app is available only for iOS. It’s currently not possible to use the Nano with an Android phone, even if your Android phone has a Micro SD card slot. The issue is that the Nano saves photos and videos in a proprietary format (.INSP for photos and .INSV for videos). There is a free app called the Insta360 Player which is available for Android (and iOS, Windows, and Mac), which can read the INSP and INSV format, but cannot export the photo or video to jpg or mp4 respectively. (But see editing below.)
With v 1.2 of the Nano app, you can change the perspective of the photo or video (e.g. little planet or rabbit hole), then take a snapshot of the current perspective to export it to your camera roll. The snapshot function works for videos as well, although it will only export a still of the video as a JPG.
|snapshot from Nano app; edited in Google Photos|
Other than the snapshot feature, the Nano app does not have built-in tools for adjusting photos or videos. To edit photos and videos on your phone, you need to export them to the Camera Roll then use a third party app to edit them.
You can also edit on your desktop using the free Insta360 Studio
software (Windows or Mac) to convert the photos from INSP and INSV to JPG and MP4, then use third party software to edit them. You can also use Insta360 Studio to transform videos from one perspective to another.
SHARING PHOTOS AND VIDEOS
The key benefit of the Nano is that it makes it easy to share photos and videos, at least in theory. In that regard, it works very well for YouTube. For other platforms, sharing is slightly more convenient than other 360 cameras.
Videos can be shared to Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter or YouTube.
YouTube: I’m glad YouTube sharing on the Nano works as easily as I would like. No mess, no fuss. Just hit the share button, add a description, then allow the app to do all the work of compressing, uploading. A few minutes later, your 360-degree video is ready on YouTube. (As with any other 360 upload to YouTube, the video will first be shown in low resolution 360p, but if you wait a while, it will be shown in its full resolution).
Facebook: Sharing a video to Facebook takes an extra step. When you tap on share to Facebook, it will export the video to your Camera Roll, then it will prompt you to post the video to Facebook yourself.
Facebook Messenger: when you share to Facebook Messenger, the app uploads the video to the Insta360 cloud then posts a link in Messenger. It’s a convenient one-step process, but the uploaded video is limited to 720p.
Twitter: I have not yet been able to successfully share videos to Twitter. I get the error “unauthorized sharing platform.” I suspect that it also uploads the video to the Insta360 cloud, but Twitter blocks the link.
From the app, you can share photos to Facebook, Facebook Messenger or Twitter*. With all of these, it will upload the photo to Insta360’s cloud service, and what you would share on Facebook or Twitter is a thumbnail with a link to the 360 image on the Insta360 cloud. (Strangely, there’s no way to upload to the Insta360 cloud except if you upload the image to Facebook or Twitter.)
That would kind of work (the Ricoh Theta uses the same approach), but when you click on the link, you’ll be sent to a page that looks like an advertisement for the Nano:
I thought at first that I clicked on the wrong link, but nope. Where’s the 360 image? Well, it’s right there on the screen of the “iPhone”. It’s an interactive 360 image, which is a clever idea (you can even click on the virtual “buttons” to switch to VR view), but this blatantly self-serving presentation is embarrassing, to be honest – not something I’d want to share with my Facebook friends. Here’s a sample
. It is possible to right click the screen and select fullscreen view
, devoid of ads. However, it would have been much better if that was the default option. Even a small logo in the corner would have been ok.
Fortunately, you can share to Facebook with Facebook’s native 360 photo viewing mode. To do that, you need to export the 360 photo to the camera roll as an equirectangular image (see Exporting below) then post that equirectangular image to Facebook. If you do that, Facebook automatically recognizes the image as a 360 photo.
*Note: I have not yet been able to successfully share photos to Twitter. I get the error “unauthorized sharing platform.”
Exporting for other apps
For sharing on other apps or sites such as Spinnable or Kuula, you need to export the photo or video to the Camera Roll. When you take photos or videos with the Nano, it appears that the images are stored somewhere on the phone where they cannot be viewed by other apps (or by connecting the phone to a PC) until you export the photo or video to the Camera Roll. (However, the photo can be viewed or shared within the app even without first exporting them to the Camera Roll.) When you export the photos or videos to the Camera Roll, they will be in standard equirectangular format, in jpg and mp4 respectively.
|(exposure, saturation and contrast edited in Google Photos)|
I haven’t tested the Nano completely yet, but so far the image quality looks about as good as I would expect for a casual use 360 camera.
Here is a sample photo (hosted on Kuula):
– The image is reasonably detailed, although is not as detailed as that of the Ricoh Theta S ($349), or the Samsung Gear 360 ($349), which, to be fair, cost almost twice as much as the Insta360 Nano ($199). It would be interesting to see how they compare with the LG 360 Cam ($199).
– The photo resolution is only 3040 x 1520 (around 4.5mp) but the image looks more detailed than the resolution would suggest. However, because of the limited resolution, zooming in the photo won’t show any additional detail.
– Stitching is quite good, no doubt due in part to the close distance between its lenses which reduces parallax stitching errors. The stitching can also be re-calibrated in the app, although I haven’t had the need to do that. Insta360 says recalibration may be required if the Nano is subjected to a strong impact.
– The Nano seems to have better edge to edge sharpness than the Theta (consistency of sharpness across the field of view), with a narrower range at the edge of the lens where the image quality suddenly drops, although in this respect it is not as good as that of the Samsung Gear 360.
– The image appears over-sharpened, with sharpening artifacts visible. However, most casual users will probably not mind.
– There’s serious chromatic aberration at the edges of the lens, but otherwise, aberration is a little more controlled than on the Theta.
– Flare resistance is excellent as long as you keep the lens clean. It is not totally immune to flare — if one lens is facing the sun directly, there will be a slight decrease in contrast in that side compared to the other side (the same is true for other 360 cameras I’ve tried). However, I have rarely seen lens flare artifacts in real world photos. It’s the best flare resistance I’ve seen among my 360 cameras, as long as I make sure there are no fingerprints on the lens.
– The white balance is sometimes inaccurate but performs adequately in common situations.
– When the white balance works, the colors are generally good, although in bright light, some reds can appear oversaturated.
– Contrast is a little high for my taste (I prefer a flatter starting image then adjust the contrast myself), although it makes it look better “straight out of the camera” without editing.
– Dynamic range is pretty good for a casual camera.
Here’s a “torture test” shot. It’s one of the few photos I have with lens flare (crescent-shaped, near the palm trees). Despite the strong contrast in the light, the Nano was able to preserve details in both highlights (such as the sunlit skin of my daughter) and shadows. There’s some chromatic aberration/fringing noticeable in the palm trees. Stitching looks pretty good except for one of the sunlit benches and some of the palm trees (my hand has parallax stitching error, but that’s to be expected).
In low light, I think the Nano performed adequately in typical low light conditions. Here is a sample in indoor light: