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Which has better image quality? Insta360 Pro VIDEO vs. a Ricoh Theta S PHOTO

In my Insta360 Pro review, I pointed out that each frame of an Insta360 Pro 8K video has higher resolution than a photo from the Ricoh Theta S.  That statistic sounds impressive but how do the photos compare in reality?  In this post, I compare a video framegrab from the Insta360 Pro with a photo from the Ricoh Theta S.

The Insta360 Pro can shoot at 8K (7680 x 3840), which is an even higher resolution than a photo from the Ricoh Theta S, the most popular 360 camera on the planet (5376 x 2688).  However, a higher resolution doesn’t always mean better image quality.  For example, the Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere 360 camera has a lower video resolution compared to the Samsung Gear 360 2017 (3456 x 1728 vs. 4096 x 2048), yet the Xiaomi video looks much more detailed (in the shadows) than that of the Gear 360 2017.

I wondered how the Insta360 Pro 8K video image quality compares to the image quality of a Ricoh Theta S photo.  Ordinarily, a video is at a huge disadvantage for any image quality comparison because the bit depth of each frame has to be lower since there are 24 or 30 frames being captured per second.  But I was still curious how they compared.

I shot a test scene with the Insta360 Pro and the Ricoh Theta S.  For the Theta S, I took a standard photo (not HDR).  For the Insta360 Pro, I used 8K video using default settings (not flat color or isolated exposure mode), stitched on Insta360 Stitcher at the default 240 mbps and at the maximum 350 mbps.  I then took frame grabs from each video using Adobe Premiere.  I then uploaded the Theta S photo and the two Insta360 Pro frame grabs and uploaded them to Roundme.

Here are the 360 photos:

Here are some crops.  For these comparisons, the Theta photo is on the left, and the Insta360 Pro video is on the right.  The Theta S was on auto exposure, and it was at f/2, 1/2500, ISO 125.  I don’t have the exposure data for the Insta360 Pro (fwiw, the Insta360 Pro’s base ISO is the same as the Theta — ISO 100).

In this shot, you can see the wall, a low contrast subject, which I like to use to compare detail.

The Theta S is surprisingly noisier, with noticeable luminance noise.  The Insta360 Pro video on the other hand has a little bit of chroma noise.  Not counting the false detail from the noise in the Theta, you can see that the Insta360 Pro has much more detail than the Theta S, as shown by the texture of the wall.  The Insta360 Pro’s colors are also much richer compared to the faded color of the Theta S.

Interestingly, there wasn’t much of a difference between the Insta360 Pro sample at 240mbps and the one at 350 mbps, at least with this sample:

Here is another crop for comparison.  360 cameras are usually sharp near the lens but the detail drops quickly as you go farther from the lens.  Here I compare the amount of detail at a moderately far object (I guess around 20 to 25 feet away?).  The Theta crop below is 1:1 while I zoomed the Insta360 Pro image to be roughly the same size as the one for the Theta.

Once more you can see that the Insta360 Pro shot on the right has far more detail, as you can see from the wall or the folded patio umbrella.

Of course resolution isn’t everything, so I looked at dynamic range as well.

In the comparison above, you can see the Theta S photo on the left has better highlight range than the Insta360 Pro video framegrab on the right.  On the other hand, you saw from the samples above that the Insta360 Pro had much less noise and better saturation.  This is especially true for shadow areas.  In the comparison below you can see the Insta360 Pro has much better detail and saturation.
I estimate that the highlight range for the Theta S photo is about 2/3 or 1 stop better, while in shadows, the Insta360 Pro video has better shadow range, by around a similar margin.  I would therefore estimate that they have similar total dynamic range (i.e., including both highlight range and shadow range).  Again, please note I’m comparing a video framegrab with a photo — the fact that you can even make such a comparison in the case of the Insta360 Pro is remarkable.
Please note I’m not saying to replace your Theta S with an Insta360 Pro — they are different cameras with different purposes and of course drastically different prices.  It would be like comparing a family sedan with a Ferrari — they have totally different uses.  You would probably never take the Ferrari on a long distance road trip, nor would you race with the family sedan (well, maybe if it’s a Tesla S).  Nonetheless I think it’s amazing that the Insta360 Pro can capture video that is more detailed and with similar dynamic range as a Ricoh Theta photo,  in a camera that is as easy to use as a consumer 360 camera.

The Insta360 Pro is $3,499 + shipping and taxes.  If you want to buy Insta360 Pro, contact me via email or the 360 Rumors Facebook page so I can tell you how to get an exclusive discount! Or you can get it through Amazon or B&H Photo.  Thank you for using these links to support 360 Rumors at no additional cost to you so I can do more tests, reviews, techniques and updates.

About the author

Mic Ty

10 Comments

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  • +Mic Ty wow, the difference is as big as comparing videos from the Gear 360 2017 and the Xiaomi…advantage Xiaomi. Wonderful sharp and nice frame grabs. And in this case Video vs Photo!! The Insta360Pro seems to be a wonderful cam for anyone who can afford it. And I really love the optical flow option in the right situation.
    Very enjoyable comparison. Thanks!

  • While interesting, this is a little unfair because the Insta Pro has 6 200-degree lenses and much more expensive processors, so they will always start with better source material! It might be more surprising that the Theta S holds up as well as it has.

    What is interesting is how well the Theta S has continued to sell despite it being over a year and a half old and not that much cheaper than when it came out! (we’ve been tracking sales and price history on Amazon) I think they hit on a nice set of tradeoffs (and paid enough attention to the software) that the other mfg’s have been trying to figure out.

    • Hi Jeff. I understand your points. There’s a huge price difference between these cameras so I would agree it doesn’t make sense to compare the quality of the Insta360 Pro to the Theta *directly.* However, the point of my comparison here is different: it’s to emphasize how good the Insta360 Pro’s video is — i.e., each frame is as good as, if not better than, a Ricoh Theta photo. This is saying a lot because the Ricoh Theta photo quality is pretty good.

      But in any case, among consumer cameras, Theta has a well deserved spot as the most popular camera because of its excellent design and image quality. I’m really looking forward to Theta V.

      Best regards,
      Mic