Which is the best action cam for low light? I compared GoPro Hero 10 to the Insta360 One R 1-inch mod in low light for image quality and stabilization. Here are the surprising results.
GoPro Hero 10 officially launched yesterday and YouTubers have been falling over themselves to give rave reviews to the Hero 10. Watching the videos, you’d get the impression that this is the best action cam ever made. Hero 10 is definitely better than preceding GoPro Heros, but is it better than, let’s say, the Insta360 One R 1-inch mod, an action cam that is almost 2 years old?
I compared the Hero 10 and Insta360 One R 1-inch mod in low light, side-by-side, both handheld and on a tripod. I compared them for image quality (detail, noise, exposure latitude) and stabilization. BTW, I purchased the Hero 10 myself with my own money. The One R 1-inch mod had been sent to me by Insta360 more than 2 years ago for testing and review. I have affiliate links for both cameras. No one paid me for my comparison and no one reviewed the results before I posted them.
In Part 1 of the test, I mounted the Hero 10 and Insta360 One R with 1-inch mod on a selfie stick as I walked, facing the cameras alternately toward me and toward the scenery. I used the Hero 10’s wide mode with High stabilization. In Part 2, I used the Hero 10’s Linear mode with Boost stabilization. In Part 3, I put both cameras on a tripod and shot at fixed ISOs and fixed shutter speeds, from ISO 100 to ISO 6400 (note: the One R maxes out at ISO 3200).
For the stabilization comparison, I made sure to have a similar field of view in both cameras. This is critical because both of them rely on electronic stabilization, which means the cameras use the data on internal gyroscopes to detect movement, then they shift the image in the opposite direction to neutralize the movement. To make electronic stabilization work, the video has to be cropped. The tighter the crop, the more stabilized the footage will be at the expense of a smaller field of view. Therefore, to make my comparison fair, I chose the field of view on the One R 1-inch mod that appeared closest to the field of view of the Hero 10.
For the Hero 10’s Wide mode with High stabilization, I used the Ultra Wide mode on the Insta360 One R 1 inch mod. For the Hero 10’s Linear mode with Boost stabilization, I found the One R’s Narrow mode had the closest field of view.
To my surprise, I found that the Insta360 One R 1-inch mod had far better stabilization. The difference was so stark that I wondered if I had mistakenly turned off the Hero 10’s stabilization, so I went out to do a second test (that’s why there are two stabilization tests). However, I got similar results on the second test proving that it wasn’t a fluke — the One R 1-inch mod had far better stabilization than the Hero 10.
I honestly didn’t expect this result given how many YouTubers have given such glowing reviews to the Hero 10, including its stabilization. Looking back at the results from other YouTubers, I see how the field of view in their comparisons often don’t match. To the extent that a stabilization comparison uses a wider field of view for the One R, it handicaps the One R’s stabilization. Please keep this in mind as you look through other reviews.
I also compared the image quality between the Hero 10 and the Insta360 One R. I looked at the detail, noise, and exposure latitude. One of the curveballs I encountered was that the Hero 10 and One R have significantly different exposures when both are set to Auto exposure. Hero 10’s auto exposure often chooses a brighter exposure than that of the One R 1-inch mod. This does not mean that Hero 10 has better light sensitivity. Rather, GoPro simply chose a brighter exposure than what Insta360 chose.
It was not practical to use manual exposure because the light conditions kept changing drastically. Nor was it possible to dial in a specific exposure compensation because with auto exposure, it appears that both cameras adjust their exposure at different times. An exposure compensation adjustment that would make them look similar in one scene would not work in other scenes.
Instead, because One R usually had a more conservative exposure, I pushed the exposure of the One R 0.7EV during video editing in Premiere to match the exposure of the Hero 10. Rather than conferring an advantage on the One R, pushing the One R’s exposure actually handicapped it because pushing an image in post creates more noise than shooting at the correct ISO or exposure. This is most evident in Part 3 where I had to push the exposure of both cameras because the exposures were too dark at low ISOs (it also revealed their exposure latitude).
With One R pushed to match the exposure of the Hero 10, the Hero 10 has slightly more visible luminance noise but much more detail. This suggests that in low light, Hero 10 uses a more aggressive noise reduction that removes luminance noise but reduces the detail. In that regard, in areas of low light, Hero 10 looks smeared.
As for chroma noise, the Hero 10 has much more chroma noise compared to the One R 1 inch mod. The Hero 10’s chroma noise appears as color blotches and blue-tinted shadows.
I tested exposure latitude by putting the One R and Hero 10 side by side on a tripod, shooting at fixed shutter speeds of 1/30 sec and fixed ISOs from ISO 100 to 6400. At low ISOs, both cameras appeared dark and I pushed the exposure to the equivalent of ISO 3200 (e.g. ISO 100 pushed +5EV) and I showed the image quality both before and after pushing.
Not surprisingly, the One R has far more exposure latitude than Hero 10 and was able to recover a lot more shadow detail. When pushed 4EV or 5EV, the One R colors in the shadows become tinted as a result of RGB channels clipping at different rates. To remedy this, I adjusted the black levels to clip the channels evenly.
One area where I think Hero 10 did better is its color accuracy. GoPro is known for its color science and the Hero 10 did not disappoint even in low light. I did not shoot with a color chart, but subjectively, it seemed to me that Hero 10 had more accurate color hues, albeit a little saturated.
For low light videos, the Insta360 One R 1-inch mod is clearly better than the GoPro Hero 10 with far better stabilization and better overall image quality. It’s not a close comparison. The one area where Hero 10 is better than One R 1 inch in my opinion is color accuracy.
I will do another test in daylight.