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.1/15/18 update: stabilization improvement.
1/4/18 update: Bluetooth remote demo and where to find it
12/23/17 update: stabilization improvement
– Android adapter now available for preorder
– Added more info about shooting options, including the dedicated Bluetooth remote (with advantages noted), and a generic remote
Originally published: September 21, 2017.
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 criteria.
Here is a video review of the Insta360 ONE:
I’ve been using the Insta360 ONE consistently since September. I would say that the dynamic range and low light performance are among its strengths. And even though there are now a few cameras that feature the “overcapture” style video, Insta360 ONE’s FreeCapture is the best implementation of it thus far.
|Lenses||two fisheye lenses|
|Field of view||fully spherical|
|Sensors||two 1/2.3-inch Sony CMOS sensors|
|Processors||unspecified Ambarella processor|
|Photo resolution||6912 x 3456 in JPEG or DNG raw|
|Video resolution||3840 x 1920, 30fps|
2560 x 1280 @ 60fps 2048 x 512 @ 120fps
mp4 (log mode available)
|Live streaming resolution:||3840 x 1920|
Compatible with YouTube, Facebook, Periscope / Twitter, Weibo
|Shutter speed:||1/4000 to 60 seconds|
|ISO:||100 to 3200 (up to 6400 for video)|
|Stabilization:||6-axis gyro-based image stabilization|
|Connector:||1/4-20 tripod connector|
|Storage:||one Micro SD up to 128GB (8GB included)|
|Working humidity:||30% to 80%|
|Temperature:||14F - 113F (-14C to 45C)|
|Waterproof:||No (waterproof housing accessory available)|
|Connectivity:||MFI-certified lightning connector|
Bluetooth LE 4.0
iPhone 8 / 8 plus
iPhone 7 / plus
iPhone 6s / 6s plus
iPhone 6 / 6 plus
iPad Pro (10.5 in, 9.7 in)
iPad mini 4
iPad Air 2
Android version shipping December 15, 2017
|Dimensions:||96 x 36.5 x 25 mm|
|Battery:||70 mins.; not removable; USB charging|
Freecast (live streaming with changeable perspective)
Time lapse mode
– drone mount and waterproof case will be available
– includes combination hard case cover, handle and mini stand (similar to LG 360 Cam)
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.
While the iPhone 6 will work with the ONE, it won’t export photos or videos in full resolution. However, I have been able to export at full resolution with the iPhone SE and iPad Air 2.
Regarding Android compatibility, Insta360 is shipping an Android version on December 15, 2017. 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. The adapter isn’t a simple lightning to Micro USB adapter, but a specially designed adapter that will protect your phone and the ONE:
The Android version will cost slightly more than the iOS version ($329 vs. $299) because of the adapter. If you already have an Insta360 ONE or want to get one now before the Android version becomes available, you can purchase the adapter separately ($29), either for Micro USB or USB Type C.
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 (unless you use a lightning extension adapter).
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 being followed. Tip: the tracking rectangle need not be placed in the middle. It can for example be positioned on the left third, or right third.
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. Moreover, there is manual control even for videos — a rare feature among consumer 360 cameras.
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, or adding stickers.
9. Bluetooth remote accessory. Insta360 ONE has a dedicated remote accessory (sold with a selfie stick as a kit). What is unique about the accessory is that after you pair the Bluetooth remote once, they will automatically pair simply by turning them on. This means you just turn on the Insta360 ONE, turn on the Bluetooth remote, and within a few seconds, the Bluetooth remote will be able to control the ONE, without the need to press any buttons, go through the app, or use any menus. The accessory can trigger the shutter for photos and videos, but not the special triple-click function. For more info, see How to Use Insta360 ONE.
How to use Insta360 ONE
There are several ways to shoot with the Insta360 ONE:
1. As a standalone 360 camera. The Insta360 ONE has only one button but it can be used to take a photo, video, or start the intervalometer or other shots. To take a photo, you press the button once. To take a video, you double-click the button. To stop recording, press the button again. To activate the special function, you triple-click the button. By default, the special function is the self-timer photo mode, but it can also be changed to the Bullet Time mode, or Interval Shooting mode in the app Settings.
2. Standalone 360 camera controlled wirelessly with your phone. The Insta360 ONE can be controlled wirelessly with your phone via Bluetooth. Simply turn on the ONE, launch the app, and click on the camera icon. In the shooting screen, tap on the Bluetooth icon to the left of the shutter. Select your camera on the next screen and tap Confirm.
Once connected, your phone has all the shooting modes and exposure controls available. There is no live preview, but if you take a photo, it will send a low-res equirectangular preview to give you a rough idea of what you captured.
3. Standalone 360 camera controlled wirelessly with a dedicated Bluetooth remote. Insta360 has a dedicated Bluetooth remote for the ONE. This is the fastest way to control the ONE wirelessly. To pair the remote with the ONE, you need to go to the Settings in the app and look for the option to pair the remote. When paired, the remote will stop blinking. After the remote is paired with the ONE, the camera and the remote can reconnect automatically even without a phone. You simply turn on the camera, turn on the remote, and they will reconnect. The larger button is for photos while the smaller button is for videos. Triple-click is not available. Here is a video tutorial:
As I mentioned in the video, the remote is out of stock as of January 4, 2018. However, I found a 3rd party remote that does work (almost all other remotes don’t work). Here is another one (remote only, no selfie stick) that looks the same so it might also work but I haven’t tried it.
4. 360 camera attached to your smartphone. The ONE can be attached to your phone. The advantage of this method is that it allows a live preview. As with the wireless smartphone control mode, you have all the shooting options and settings available for this mode, in addition to live preview.
5. Smartphone 360 camera triggered wirelessly via generic Bluetooth remote. When the ONE is attached to a smartphone, it can be triggered wirelessly with a generic Bluetooth remote.
Insta360 ONE Workflow Tutorial
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.
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.
Insta360 ONE has a log mode for video, to maximize dynamic range. Here is a tutorial on how to use it:
Overall, the Insta360 ONE has very good photo and video quality, and has one of the best dynamic range for a 360 camera in its class, although it is not perfect. See my detailed analysis here. It has excellent performance in low light as well.
Insta360 ONE improved stabilization (Jan. 2018)
Insta360 announced that the Insta360 ONE’s image stabilization would be improved via a firmware and app update. Insta360’s CEO JK Liu showed me an amazing new demo of the upcoming stabilization update:
For this demo, the Insta360 ONE was attached to a harness on a dog running in a park! The demo was inspired by a similar video posted by Rylo, which has become an overnight sensation for its class-leading image stabilization. The new stabilization demo seems to show that the ONE’s stabilization will be similar to and at least on par with Rylo’s stabilization performance.
Besides the impressive stabilization performance, what else is interesting about this upgrade is the backstory behind it. In December, I posted about Rylo’s stabilization. Mr. Liu saw my Facebook post and found the demos impressive. Here’s what he said: “Their stabilization is really impressive and makes me reconsider how good a gyroscopic stabilization can be. Fortunately, the hardware side is not much different. I think we have a chance to achieve the same result based on the software side improvements.”
And just four days later voila … Insta360 has been able to improve the stabilization. Take note that they had also been working on a major release for Insta360 Pro at the same time (it was released yesterday). Some people think I’m unfairly biased in favor of Insta360, or that I even work for them (no I don’t) but objectively speaking, this responsiveness and rapid development pace is nothing short of remarkable. The other thing to note here is that Insta360 was honest about its competitor’s strength — and learned from it. (By contrast, many companies will resist criticism and deny that their product needs improvement, insisting that it is already perfect, and thus they don’t improve.)
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
+ Smart Tracking
+ Bullet Time
+ excellent 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
+ Bluetooth remote accessory can automatically pair with the Insta360 ONE without needing an app
+ 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
+ excellent dynamic range
+ excellent sharpness near the center of the lens
+ very good low light performance
+ I like the colors, which look film-like in my opinion
+ almost no chromatic aberration
o conservative exposure preserves highlights
– prone to flare (contrast reduction)
– shadow areas are a little noisy
– In low light, LED light sources can lead to horizontal lines.
+ very good photo quality
+ Adobe DNG raw shooting option
+ DNG raw stitching
+ manual exposure mode
+ 60 second exposure
– softer near the stitch line
+ excellent 4K video quality
+ 4K live streaming
+ log mode adds around 1 stop highlight range
+ manual exposure mode
+ image stabilization works reasonably well; Feb 2018 update will offer similar performance to Rylo
– horizontal drifting when gyro is on (calibration fixes this); issue will be addressed in the update
– audio is clear but mono only
+ waterproof accessory
+ drone accessory