• Thursday , 2 April 2020

Hands On: Insta360’s Clever New Modular Camera

Code Canyon

Insta360’s ONE X has been a huge success for them; however, in the wake of the GoPro Hero 8, it’s about time they meet new demands. The GoPro Hero 8 and GoPro MAX 360 cameras are the flagships to beat: Insta360 is trying to take on both at once, for the same price as one.

In short, the Insta360 ONE R converts between a fully functioning 360 camera and a regular action camera. I’ve been toying around with it the past couple days, and I’m beginning to think they’re on to something. Here’s the basic rundown.

Modularity

The camera clips together like LEGO. The screen/buttons/IO, the cameras, and the battery are all separate. This means that the screen can face you or away from you. Then, if you need a 360 camera, that’s an included attachment.

They’ve also announced a version with a 1-inch sensor. My guess is that this will compete with Sony’s RX0 line up. If they’ve got low light and stabilization figured out, then this could be a winner. However, this is priced higher and isn’t bundled with the 360 camera mod.

Insta360 has given out review hardware, but an upcoming update to the app means nobody has any footage to show off yet. This hands-on will only show off footage from Insta360, but I’ll have test footage to show off next week. For now, here are the key features:

Stabilization

Insta360’s “Flowstate” is back, and it’s very good. The latest version aims to avoid artifacts caused by low shutter speeds, which will make nighttime shooting look a lot better. I’ll have test footage for this soon.

Waterproof

The camera is also IPX8 waterproof up 5 meters with its cage, and it’s pretty watertight without it anyway. The pre-release version here has a small gap between the battery and the camera, but it’s actually still waterproof. The retail version won’t have the gap, for aesthetic reasons, I’m told. A waterproof cage can also be bought that extends this range to 60 meters.

Professional Editing

A big plus for me personally is that the camera can even send ProRes files into post (after processing in app). This means that a MacBook won’t have any issues handling the footage in post, and there’s more room to color shots. They’ve also allowed the new AI-driven color science to be toggled on and off when exporting the clip.

Amateur Editing

Via Wi-Fi, the camera can connect to your phone, and you can begin editing right away. This is a first for Insta360 and a seriously welcome addition. No transferring needed at all. This would be really handy for users who want to throw something on Instagram quickly. Unfortunately, using the Wi-Fi a lot really kills the battery, so watch out.

Voice Control

Unfortunately, the review models aren’t the full shilling in this regard. I’m told that the retail models will have a new update, but for now, I don’t have a verdict on this. Supposedly, it’ll be as natural as talking to Alexa or Siri, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Aerial Mod

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? We’ll never know, because if you shoot with this setup, the drone will be invisible to the viewer. I’m thoroughly excited to see how people will use this. With the first wave of consumer drones came an enthusiasm for new styles; I think that this will renew that.

The Mod works by fitting a Mavic 2 drone with two lenses. It’s made possible because the ONE R’s camera lenses also have imaging processors installed. The final result is a flying 360 camera.

1-Inch Sensor Mod

Bringing the sensor size up to 1-inch comes with all sorts of advantages, like 19 MP photos and 5.3K video recording. Leica has worked with Insta360 to create the glass here, and it’s a little larger than the other mods. I don’t have it on hand yet, but I will be testing it out soon. Here’s some low-light footage for now.

Other Specs

  • Quick charging, reaches 80% in half an hour.
  • “Night Shot” mode, akin to Google’s Night Sight.
  • HDR video at 4K 30fps and regular video at 4K 60fps. Up to 200 fps for HD footage.
  • Automatic subject tracking, both in camera and in post.
  • USB-C mic compatible and wind-resistant mic on board.
  • Easy workflows for bullet time, astrophotography, and “little planet” shots.

Quick Comparison

In a few days, I’ll be doing a footage comparison between the Insta360 ONE R, GoPro’s MAX 360 and HERO8, and DJI’s Osmo Action. For now, all I have to go off is the hardware. To reiterate, the Insta360 companion app needs to be updated. Without that, no reviewer can get the best-looking footage from it.

When compared to the other three, the ONE R is far more versatile. The MAX 360 comes close, but it’s regular mode only shoots 2K at 30 frames a second. If you need a 360 camera and the quality of a dedicated action camera, then the ONE R is the best.

Unfortunately, the ONE R takes longer to boot up and shoot (by about a second or two), and it’s screen is a step backwards. The Osmo’s screen is the largest, and the clarity is definitely appreciated. The ONE R’s screen is tiny since it’s attached to a module. It’s a square display, so 16×9 videos get a letterbox. When shooting with the 360 camera, the ONE R will let you scrub around your scene, which is a nice detail over the MAX 360.

I have early beta software installed on the ONE R, so the boot time could be improved before the camera hits the shelves. It’s hard to beat GoPro’s “QuikCapture,” in which it powers on and immediately starts recording. You can check out our recent review of the MAX 360 here.

Pros

  • Extremely handy to switch between a 360 camera and action camera.
  • Flowstate works wonders in keeping footage steady.
  • Battery life hasn’t been an issue for me so far.
  • It feels solid, even without the cage.
  • Being able to flip the screen around is very smart.
  • AI editing in-app.
  • Waterproof when connected.

Cons

  • The screen is tiny.
  • Doesn’t boot up as quickly as others (although is using beta software).
  • The battery is the width of the camera, so carrying a bunch of them might be awkward.
  • It’s not easy to look back at footage unless it’s on a smartphone or computer.

Price and Conclusion

There are three packages available at launch. The base package is similar to a regular GoPro setup, and it’s surprisingly $100 cheaper than a GoPro HERO8. The next tier up includes the 360 camera as well, for $479.99. Then $549.99 will fetch you a version with a 1-inch sensor and a Leica lens.

I think Insta360 is on to something here. If they can make sure the footage looks gorgeous, then they’ve got a near unbeatable action camera. It’s innovative and refreshing.

Finally, I’ve got no doubt that this has potential with YouTubers, because Insta360 is planning AirPod support soon. You’ll be able to record audio via your AirPods or any Bluetooth headset with a mic. That’s surely a feature worth having for a compact vlogging kit.


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