I’m not yet done with my Insta360 ONE preliminary review but in the meantime, I wanted to compare the photo and video quality between the Insta360 ONE and the Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere, which until now has been widely regarded as having the best photo and video quality for consumer 360 cameras (up to around $350 or less) as of August 2017. Can the Insta360 ONE provide better image quality?
In this comparison, I’m only looking at the photo and video quality of these cameras. I’m not comparing any of the myriad of other factors such as workflow, features, or any other factors. Instead, I will address those other factors in my preliminary review of the Insta360 ONE. For Xiaomi, I used Android app version 1.6.5 for both the photo and the video. For Insta360 ONE, I stitched the photos and videos using Insta360 Studio v 2.10.3 with optical flow.
For the first time, I’m going to make this a blind test to try to minimize bias. Don’t worry, I will disclose the identity of the samples in the summary.
Insta360 ONE and Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere 360 Photo Comparison
Here is a 360 photo comparison. I uploaded samples from both cameras to Kuula.co. You can switch between the two cameras by clicking on the arrow keys or on the dots on the bottom of the frame. If you click on “Info” you will see one is labeled “Camera A” and the other is labeled “Camera B.”
Here are my observations:
Exposure: although I can’t see the EXIF data, both cameras have very similar exposure.
In the middle of the lens, Camera A and Camera B are very similar, although Camera B looks slightly sharper (possibly due to sharpening in JPG processing), but near the edge of the lens, Camera A is far sharper than Camera B (here, I used the nadir as an example). Overall, I prefer Camera A’s resolution for its better overall performance and more consistent sharpness throughout the frame.
Camera A and B seem to capture similar highlight range, however, for the shadow range, Camera A is significantly better — it has much less noise, and much greater detail. As an aside, this area near the stitch line once again shows Camera A is sharper near the edge of the lens, as you can see for example in the wall’s texture.
Camera A has some chromatic aberration / purple fringing, while Camera B has almost none.
Both cameras have reasonable stitching — the stitching appears unobtrusive in both cases, although upon close examination, you can see some stitching errors (in this case, doubling). Camera B has slightly better stitching in that it has more consistent exposure across the stitch line than Camera A (Camera B has a slight yellow tint on the stitch line).
Colors and white balance: the colors of Camera A seem more accurate when I compare it with what I actually see. On the other hand, Camera B’s slightly warm white balance and rich colors might be subjectively more pleasing to some people.
Flare resistance: not tested here.
Insta360 ONE and Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere 360 Video Comparison
I also compared 360 videos between the two cameras, using Windows 10 Movies & TV for playback. For reference, I uploaded 360 videos from both cameras to a YouTube playlist. You can click on the upper left corner to select Camera A or Camera B, or you can switch between the samples by clicking on the chapter search buttons beside the play button. For the cropped comparisons, Camera A is on the left, while Camera B is on the right.
This time, Camera B has noticeably more detail in the middle of the lens, while Camera A has more detail near the edge of the lens, although the resolution gap for the edge of the lens is much smaller compared to the gap between their 360 photos. Camera B also looks better for smaller details — look at the tops of the trees and the distant power line here:
Camera A and B appear to have similar highlight range. For shadow range, Camera A has much less noise while having as much, or more detail. On the other hand, for deep shadows, Camera A appears blocked (blacks are crushed) whereas there is still a little bit of detail in Camera B. I would say however that due to the noise in the shadow area, Camera A again has better overall dynamic range (because of the better shadow range). But see the summary / conclusion below.
Chromatic aberration: not surprisingly, it’s the same story as for photos, although Camera A’s purple fringing in its videos is less noticeable compared to its photos (due to the lower resolution of video).
This time for some reason, there is a more noticeable discrepancy in the stitching quality between Camera A and B. Camera A appears to have better stitching that is less obtrusive in this sample. Please see the notes in the summary.
Colors and white balance: as with the 360 photo, Camera A seemed more accurate to me compared with the actual scene, although Camera B’s colors are also pleasant.
Flare resistance: again, I didn’t test flare resistance in this sample.
Summary / Conclusion
Based on what you’ve seen so far, do you have a preference? And did you figure out which is which? Insta360 ONE is Camera B. One thing I did not mention above is that with Xiaomi (Camera A), some vertical straight lines become wavy. This is a known issue which I’ve mentioned in my Xiaomi review, but I didn’t mention it above because it would have been a dead giveaway that Camera A is Xiaomi. In any case, the Insta360 ONE does not have a waviness issue.
For Xiaomi, the workaround has been to use a third party stitcher such as Hugin, in which case there would be no waviness, but this makes the workflow harder (again, workflow is something I will address for the ONE in its review). This is something else you may want to consider.
To summarize, for 360 photos, Insta360 ONE and Xiaomi are similar but Xiaomi has better sharpness toward the edge of the lens and better shadow range. The Xiaomi’s disadvantages for 360 photos are chromatic aberration and the waviness issue.
For 360 videos, the Insta360 ONE has better detail near the middle of the lens (particularly with smaller details and more distant objects), while Xiaomi has more detail toward the edge of the lens. This is probably because the ONE has a higher video resolution while the Xiaomi has better overall optics. Overall, for 360 videos, I would say ONE has slightly better overall detail compared to Xiaomi.
For video dynamic range with default settings, Xiaomi has better shadow range (its shadow area is noticeably less noisy, while also having slightly more detail). However, Insta360 ONE has a log mode that DOES increase dynamic range. Take a look:
These videos were taken just seconds apart and you can see from the shadows that they were taken with identical ambient lighting. However, you can see from the point where highlights are clipped that the log mode was able to capture significantly more highlight range than the normal video mode – I estimate by as much as 1 stop. Therefore, you can shoot in log mode with +1EV exposure compensation to decrease the noise in the shadows, as long as you don’t mind additional editing required for log.
As for stitching, I plan to do more experiments to figure out the best settings for a smooth stitch with Insta360 ONE.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this is only a photo and video quality comparison, and there are many other factors for choosing a 360 camera such as its workflow and its features. I will discuss those in my forthcoming review of the ONE. In the meantime, Insta360 ONE is $299 MSRP although due to high demand, it is sometimes sold above that. Check here for the latest availability and price for the ONE. Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere is currently around $207 to $230. Check here for the best current price.