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Insta360 ONE in-depth hands-on review: the best 360 camera for consumers?

Insta360 ONE in-depth review: best 360 camera for consumers?
Insta360 ONE in-depth review: best 360 camera for consumers?

The Insta360 ONE is one of the rare 360 cameras that has actually had an impact on the way I shoot.  Out of the 25 360 cameras I’ve owned so far, it is among the best 360 cameras I’ve used because of how useful the features are.  In this review, I will explain not only its features and specifications but why they matter to shooters, whether they are beginners, intermediate shooters, or advanced users.

There are many 360 cameras on the market today, and they are constantly trying to outdo each other in terms of specifications, whether in photo resolution, video resolution, or any of the other traditional metrics for comparing 360 cameras.  The Insta360 ONE is different because it tries to stand out from its competitors with special features that help users hit the ground running with 360, even if they’ve never shot with 360 before.

This is not to say that the Insta360 ONE is only a beginner’s camera – on the contrary, it also has features for intermediate and advanced users.  And it also excels on more conventional measurements.

Here is a video review of the Insta360 ONE:

SPECIFICATIONS
– two lenses, fully spherical field of view
– aperture: f/2.2
– two 1/2.3-inch Sony CMOS sensors; unspecified Ambarella processor
– photo resolution: 24 mp (6912 x 3456). Supports Adobe DNG RAW format.
– video resolution: 3840 x 1920, 30fps or 2560 x 1280 @ 60fps or 2048 x 512 @ 120fps.  Supports LOG format.
– live streaming resolution: up to 4K 3840 x 1920. Compatible with YouTube, Facebook, Periscope / Twitter, Weibo.
– shutter speed: 1/4000 to 60 seconds.
– ISO: 100 to 6400
– 6-axis gyro-based image stabilization
– shutter speed as slow as 60 seconds!
– 1/4-20 tripod connector
– MFI-certified lightning connector
– Micro SD up to 128GB; 8GB Micro SD card included
Can be remotely controlled by your smartphone via Bluetooth
– Working humidity: 30% to 80%
– Working temperature: 14F – 113F (-14C to 45C)
– compatible with GoPro action mount accessories
– intervalometer
drone mount and waterproof case will be available
– includes combination hard case cover, handle and mini stand (similar to LG 360 Cam)
– currently only for iOS; but Android version is coming “very soon”  (estimated: late October 2017)

Insta360 ONE
Insta360 ONE

Insta360 ONE Compatibility

Officially, the ONE is compatible with the following iOS devices: iPhone 7/7 plus, iPhone 6s/6s plus, iPhone 6/6 plus, iPhone SE, iPad Pro(10.5-inch), iPad Pro(9.7-inch), iPad Pro(12.9-inch), iPad mini4, iPad Air 2.  However, I’ve also been able to use the ONE with an iPhone 5S, although the app seems to crash often.  It might work with iPod Touch 6th Generation which has an M8 processor, the same as the iPhone 6.

Regarding Android compatibility, Insta360 said that they will be releasing an Android version in late October.  It will actually be the same camera, except that it will have an adapter.  This means that if you have both Android and iOS devices (e.g. Android phone and iPad), you’ll be able to use the Insta360 ONE with both devices.  Insta360 has also said that the adapter won’t be a simple lightning to Micro USB adapter, but a specially designed adapter that will protect your phone and the ONE.

Insta360 ONE
Insta360 ONE

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN

The Insta360 ONE is small and compact.  It weighs about the same as a Nano.  Although it is mostly plastic, it looks well made and thoughtfully designed.  For example, the shutter was placed on the side, along the stitch line, so that when you press the shutter, your finger will be less prominent in the shot.

I also like that the lightning connector is retractable.  There’s a slide / switch which causes the lightning connector to pop out.  One concern is that the lightning connector seems to have an internal cable, and I wonder whether, with repeated bending over time, the cable will become loose.

One of my favorite features is the cover, probably inspired by the LG 360 Cam’s cover.  The ONE’s cover is multipurpose and can be used as a lens cap, hard case for the camera, a mini handle, or as a stand for either the camera or for a phone, with or without a camera attached.  (I like to use put the phone horizontally for maximum stability.)  The ONE can be connected to a USB for charging or data transfer while covered with the case.  To protect the ONE’s lenses, I like to keep it with the cover as much as possible, such as when attaching the ONE to a stand, removing it only at the last minute.  Please note that when using the case as a mini handle for the ONE, it is being held only by friction and not a locking mechanism (as with the LG 360 Cam).

There are some things that I think could have been better.  First, the tripod hole appears to be made of plastic instead of metal.  Second, it is very easy to accidentally turn on the ONE, even with the cover.  Third, it is very hard to insert or remove a micro SD card if you have short nails.  Fourth, because the ONE’s micro USB port is beside the lightning connector, you can’t connect to Micro USB (or charging) when the ONE is attached to a phone.

Key Features in the Real World

Here are the key features of the Insta360 ONE and how well they work “in real life”:

1. Hybrid smartphone 360 camera: the ONE can be used in three ways. It can be used as a standalone 360 camera, a 360 camera controlled wirelessly via Bluetooth, or as a smartphone 360 camera accessory. The ONE’s direct connection via lightning port makes it very easy to share photos and videos.  It also provides a reliable connection to a phone for live streaming, while also allowing the phone’s Wi-Fi to be used for the stream.

Regarding the wireless control, it’s easy to establish (you don’t even need to enter a password or go through pairing) but the range is quite short — perhaps 15 feet or so, and primarily within line of sight.  I should also add that there’s no live view for the wireless mode.

2. Image stabilization – stability and invisibility.  The ONE has built-in image stabilization, which can keep the horizon level regardless of how the ONE is actually positioned.  Besides making the videos look much better, this also makes it possible to position the ONE in-line with a monopod or selfie stick to make the monopod disappear, creating the illusion of an invisible flying camera.

In the real world, I found that the stabilization works quite well.  Videos are stabilized automatically and immediately when you review them and when you export videos.  It even works for live streaming.  However, one issue is that after a couple of minutes, the stabilization will drift horizontally. (For comparison, there is also drifting with the  Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere but not with the Garmin Virb 360.)  The stabilization effect can be toggled on or off, and for longer videos, you may need to turn it off to avoid the drifting.

3.  Freecapture – shoot first, point later.  This lets you pull a full HD video from a 360 video.  While many 360 video editors can do that, FreeCapture is unique because of how you create the non-360 video: after recording a 360 video, you hold your smartphone as if you are shooting a video with the smartphone.  Here is a sample video created entirely within Freecapture:

Freecapture has several benefits: first, it helps you visualize the video better.  Second, because the resulting video was shot ‘handheld,’ then it looks more natural compared to a non-360 video from another software that uses mouse movements or keyframing.  Third, this is a more natural and familiar way of shooting for first-time users.  Fourth, FreeCapture shortens your workflow because you don’t have to stitch the 360 video beforehand.  You can simply go from the unstitched INSV file directly to a Freecapture non-360 video.

Tip: consider using a swivel chair to make your FreeCapture movies look smoother.

4. Smart Track – follow a subject around the 360 video.  Smart Track is an additional feature that works with FreeCapture.  When enabled, you can place a box over your subject or other target in the 360 video.  When you press ‘record,’  the app will generate a non-360 video with the subject at the center.

I found that Smart Track is reasonably accurate for tracking a subject.  However, if the subject makes a sudden unexpected movement, Smart Track will lose tracking over the subject.

5. Bullet Time.  This lets you swing the ONE around you while recording a high-speed video.  This is arguably the effect that made the ONE famous thanks to an ad campaign that showed its capabilities.  It lets you shoot in high speed 120fps (240fps interpolated), and because the ONE has stabilization, you won’t need to use a Centriphone or other stabilizer for the ONE.  At the same time, unlike the normal stabilization mode that is locked toward a particular compass direction, the stabilization for Bullet Time keeps the view oriented toward the user.

In the real world, Bullet Time does work pretty much as advertised.  Insta360 even provides you with an accessory string that attaches to the tripod hole of the ONE.   My concern with this feature is that you would need to bring around the string accessory, and you’ll need a lot of space to use it safely.  I prefer my bullet time method which uses a swivel mount together with a selfie stick because it’s easier to bring and somewhat safer (insofar as you can swing the camera at lower speed, and it won’t drop even when it slows down).

6. Manual exposure for photos and videos.  Insta360 ONE is one of the very few 360 cameras that have total exposure control — manual exposure, ISO priority, shutter priority, with shutter speeds as slow as 60 seconds and as high as 1/4000.

7. Excellent live streaming capabilities.  Insta360 ONE is an excellent camera for live streaming.  First, it has a direct connection to the phone for greater speed and reliability.  Second, your phone can use Wi-Fi for live streaming, instead of using it to connect to the camera (as in the case of the Garmin Virb 360 for example).  Third, the ONE’s live stream is stabilized.  This makes the video look better but more importantly, it also conserves bandwidth.  Fourth, the ONE has the option to live stream in tiny planet mode (FreeCast), a unique feature that AFAIK is found only in Insta360 cameras thus far.

8. In-camera editing features (see below under Workflow).  The Insta360 ONE app has many editing options such as making tiny planet versions of your photo or video, adding stickers

Insta360 ONE Workflow

I believe workflow is a very important consideration for a 360 camera, and can sometimes be even more important than image quality.  If the workflow is horrible, then you are not likely to use the camera despite other features it may have.

Fortunately, the Insta360 ONE’s workflow is pretty easy and is similar to the workflow for the Insta360 Nano.  Photos and videos captured on the ONE are stored in its memory card as INSP (photo) or INSV (video) files.  The files are unstitched but when viewed in the Insta360 apps, they will look fully stitched during review.

To share a photo or video, you must export it from the Insta360 ONE smartphone app or Insta360 Studio desktop software.  If you use the app, viewing a photo automatically downloads a copy of the photo from the memory card to the app, visible even after the ONE is disconnected.  However, for videos, the app won’t automatically keep a copy.

When you tap on a photo or a video, you will have several editing options such as applying a beautifying filter (to smoothen wrinkles) or Instagram-style filters.  You can also place stickers that will be automatically warped to appear proportional wherever you put them in the photo or video.  The edits are nondestructive and fully reversible, so don’t be afraid to experiment.  You can also change the perspective (e.g. to tiny planet, etc.) and take a snapshot of your creation.  Tip: try flipping your phone to landscape view to change the composition.

Insta360 ONE tiny planet sample
Insta360 ONE tiny planet sample

After editing the photos or videos, tap on the Share icon.  You can choose your preferred social media such as Facebook or YouTube, or you can choose album to export to your camera roll (from which you can upload the photo or video to your preferred sharing platform).  If you choose Facebook or YouTube, you’ll also have the option of converting the photo or video to a tiny planet, and there are tiny planet animation presets with interesting transitions.

Image quality

Overall, the Insta360 ONE has very good photo and video quality, although it is not necessarily the highest image quality in its class.  See my detailed analysis here.

Insta360 ONE strengths and weaknesses

Here are a list of the Insta360 ONE’s strengths and weaknesses with respect to practicality, image quality and other factors.  Please do not simply add the plusses and minuses — rather, you should review the list of strengths and weaknesses to determine how well the ONE fares in that aspect, because some strengths may be very important to you while some weaknesses might not be.

Practicality and usability:
+ Freecapture
+ Smart Tracking
+ Bullet Time
+ image stabilization makes it easy to shoot
+ live streaming uses direct connection to phone; can use Wi-Fi for streaming
+ Freecast (tiny planet live streaming option)
+ live stream has stabilization
+ intervalometer
+ simple and easy workflow
+ reasonably priced
– Micro SD cards need to be formatted with ExFAT on desktop (thanks to Mike Boening for the tip!)
– mediocre battery life; can’t use spare battery
– plastic tripod hole

Image quality:
+ excellent sharpness near the center of the lens
+ I like the colors, which look film-like in my opinion
+ almost no chromatic aberration
+ good dynamic range
o conservative exposure preserves highlights
– prone to flare (contrast reduction)
– shadow areas are noisy

Photos:
+ very good photo quality
+ Adobe DNG raw shooting option
+ DNG raw stitching
+ manual exposure mode
+ 60 second exposure
– soft near the stitch line

Videos:
+ excellent 4K video quality
+ image stabilization works well
+ 4K live streaming
+ log mode adds around 1 stop highlight range
+ manual exposure mode
– horizontal drifting when gyro is on
– audio is clear but mono only

Other factors:
+ waterproof accessory
+ drone accessory

Where to buy

At the time of this writing, the Insta360 ONE is a bit hard to find.  Try Link #1 or Link #2.  If it’s out of stock, check this page for the best prices.  Thank you very much for using these links to support 360 Rumors at no additional cost to you so I can do more tests and reviews!

About the author

Mic Ty

23 Comments

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  • Hi Mic.

    Great review as usual.

    Incredible that this camera suffers from the same horizontal drifting problem when gyro is on. Do you think this can be solved with a firmware update?

    Also I wonder if the horrible softness near the stitching area is an app problem. Have you tried to stitch an INSTA360 ONE photo with other software?

    Thank you very much.

  • @Michael TY the tutorial is comprehensive and resourceful as always. Now I still opts more for camera A as I have seen so many fine photos with it whereas B just started and may be everyone is still playing with the gimmicks. Your linked post pointed out that B has drifting after longer video recording. A has it too and the users said to turn gyro off. My Theta experience (sweet and shallow in pixel) is start and shoot, Theta apps will right it up. So camera A could not do it and B cannot for long? Although I seldom take 360 video (difficult to share and store), I would appreciate a zero effort flow. I can accept a low DR video as long as it is clear reasonably, but hardly if I need to fiddle long hours on desktop. If camera A can also meet the take video and stitch upright easy, I certainly will buy it as camera B cists 100 USD more and photo quality not remarkably win over A. I still have 1 month to decide as I am trying to replace dead battery of Theta and the delivery of Li-50b battery and testing takes time. Wish that breathtaking photos by B could hit us to draw a fairer comparison.

    • Thanks iamme! I think they are both good choices. Xiaomi does have higher photo quality but to get the best out of it takes a few tricks and workarounds such as using Hugin. Check out the Mi Sphere group on Facebook: facebook.com/groups/mijia360cam

    • Hi Reyner! The specifications don’t say that it has Wi-Fi so I believe it is not possible, unless you connect it to a phone and then use a second phone to connect to it.

  • Well done review.

    Freecapture might be useful. But I’m wondering about the resolution of the resulting video. I can’t believe it will be anywhere near as good as a regular 1080 camera. Do you have some samples?

    Bullet time seems gimmicky. But I think it’s generated a lot of sales from people who might not normally consider a 360 camera. The poor tripod mount that you describe may have these cameras being flung all over the place during bullet time use.

    Too bad about the “mediocre” battery life.

    Adobe DNG raw is a plus especially for more advanced users.

    • Hi Bill. Thanks for your question. I’ve updated the article to include a sample of a FreeCapture video. But to answer your question, it won’t be as good as a regular 1080p camera I think. It’s more a matter of convenience and flexibility in composition.

      Best regards,
      Mic

  • Great Mic!
    I was thinking if 360 cameras will replace the conventional cameras in a near future.. because we already could take normal photos from 360 photos.. and now free capture just come to definetely stay here haha…
    Nice review!

    • Hi Ramon! I think 360 cameras will definitely be more common in the future, although I don’t think they will be more common than non-360. We’ll see!

  • Hi Mic! Thanks again for a very deep and accurate review (as usual)!!!!! I wonder if you have tested the Flat/Log option for real – I mean shot with the cam in Log mode and then color corrected the video? Because I can see traces of “oversharpening” in the logfiles they’ve uploaded to YouTube (looks like if you throw a “normal” video into a editor and just change gamma, sharpness and brightness…that can also, of course, be caused by YouTube when uploading the video) I think it will be a big thing and a “press the buy-button” for me if it really shoot videos in true flat mode.

      • Hi Svend, that’s one of the issues. I think the photo quality is also quite good but not as good as Xiaomi. There are other issues which I listed in the strengths and weaknesses.
        Best regards,
        Mic

    • Hi Douglas. I will try to do a battery run-down test to find out. But so far, after I take some videos, I can see the battery level is reduced noticeably.

      Best regards,
      Mic

  • I just received mine today and first thing off the bat, the SD cards I have (Lexar, Samsung, and Sandisk) doesn’t work!!

    What cards are you using Mike?

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