What if a camera stands out not based on its resolution or dynamic range, but by how well it could implement your artistic vision? I think that’s exactly what I’ve found with Insta360 ONE, in particular because of its FreeCapture feature, which I believe is its most important feature notwithstanding superficial similarities with other 360 video editors.
There are many 360 cameras on the market right now. Most of them compete primarily based on their image quality or technical characteristics, in a never-ending race. The Insta360 ONE does well in those traditional metrics as well, but in addition, it adds value with tools for your artistic vision.
I finally got the Insta360 ONE the other night. I couldn’t shoot with it much yet but I’ve been testing its features with the time I have available.
When you mention the Insta360 ONE, most people think of its Bullet Time feature. After all, that was the feature that made the Insta360 ONE famous. Sure, Bullet Time is very interesting and impressive to your friends. I will talk more about it in my review. (You can also check out my tutorial on how to do Bullet Time with almost any camera.)
But what I want to highlight is FreeCapture, which after testing the Insta360 ONE has been my favorite feature thus far. Before I explain why, let me show you a sample (which was edited entirely in the app, including the music):
FreeCapture is NOT just another tiny planet animator
Freecapture means converting your 360 video into a traditional non-360 video, but one where you as the creator decide which view to show to your audience. On the Insta360 One, you can choose the view in three ways: with Smart Tracking (object tracking), Pivot Point (keyframing camera movements), or Viewfinder (you hold your phone and use it like a virtual camera and whatever you point at will be shown as the view of the non-360 freecapture video).
To explain the importance of FreeCapture, I want to take a step back and put it into context. Ever since 360 cameras brought 360 video capture capability to the masses, the biggest question, IMHO, has been how to best use 360 video. Even professional videographers haven’t mastered the craft because 360 is so different from traditional videos. Many techniques for traditional videos don’t apply to 360, so everyone is still experimenting.
One approach is to use the 360 camera as a tool for non-360 videos. In theory, a 360 camera can simulate the focal length from any lens, in addition to being able to shooting impossibly wide angles that cannot be achieved on a conventional lens. The only practical limit is the 360 camera’s resolution.
GoPro highlighted this approach in its promo for its upcoming Fusion camera. They called the feature Overcapture. In truth, there have already been several software that could adapt a 360 video for non-360 use – in fact, it’s a standard feature of most desktop 360 video editors. However, GoPro deserves credit for highlighting this approach, giving it a memorable name, and capturing the public’s imagination with it.
It was in this context that the Insta360 ONE and its FreeCapture feature was announced, and it seemed Insta360 was just riding on GoPro’s coattails, particularly with the name. That’s certainly the impression I was concerned about when I first heard about it, and it almost seemed like it was just a tacked-on feature for a me-too product. I don’t know when exactly Insta360 came up with this feature for the ONE, but their Insta360 Studio software has been creating ‘overcapture-style’ videos since at least July of 2015, long before the Fusion was ever hinted.
How to use FreeCapture
More importantly, FreeCapture works in a totally different way from all other 360 video editors to date. With Freecapture, you use your phone to frame the 360 video by aiming your phone like a camera. It will “record” the overcapture-style video as you keep pressing the record button. While you’re shooting, use the zoom slider to seamlessly change from telephoto / closeup to rectilinear to fisheye to tiny planet. Releasing the button ends a segment of the video. You can also use pinch-to-zoom to change the perspective with a simple cut rather than transition. There’s a delete button to delete the most recent segment, one segment at a time.
Here’s a tip: I found it best to shoot with FreeCapture while on a swivel chair for smooth panning movements.
(And BTW, in case you’re wondering, so far I have not found a way to use for videos from other cameras, even from Insta360 Nano because other videos don’t show up on the gallery of the current version of the Insta360 ONE app.)
Why FreeCapture is fantastic
Besides being intuitive and giving you complete freedom to control the perspective and framing at the same time, this way of using Freecapture feels different and feels much more like shooting with an [amazingly versatile] traditional camera. (My hypothesis is that by viewing the scene head-on rather than with a birds-eye view, it turns on a different part of the brain.) I started composing the video not based on how ‘impressive’ the effect was, but based on how I wanted to tell the story. And so, rather than being a gimmick, 360 becomes a legitimate tool for your artistic vision.
This is why I think FreeCapture is the Insta360 ONE’s most important feature. It is one of the few 360 cameras that has already had a tremendous and no doubt lasting impact on how I use 360. In my opinion, it is the first camera to successfully bridge the gap between traditional and 360 cameras, and I believe it will help hone 360 shooters’ vision, as well as help show the beauty and value of 360 to those who have yet to shoot with it. I will definitely post a full review ASAP, but you can understand why it has already earned my strong recommendation as long as you have a compatible phone (iPhone 6 and above; Android TBA). If you’d like to buy one, I’d really appreciate it if you could buy through either of these links to support 360 Rumors at no additional cost to you: through Amazon or through B&H Photo. Amazon has a great price on it, but if it shows it’s out of stock, click on “other sellers.” (I got mine through Amazon reseller Nspire Store within one day with expedited shipping because Insta360 said they forgot to send one to me. sigh…)