Insta-FUN with the Insta360 ONE

It’s no secret that Apple has made its intentions clear with regard to VR delivery and Post Production on the Mac. While we wait for the next version of Final Cut Pro X to drop, I wanted to share some of my thoughts regarding the state of 360 production. Currently there are two camps: The ultra high-end, where the GoPro Odyssey, Jaunt One, and Google Jump fill the landscape, and the consumer world of 360 cameras like the Richoh Theta-S, Nikon KeyMission and the recently announced, GoPro Fusion.

There are some key differences in these cameras, but it mainly boils down to resolution and whether the camera has the ability to shoot stereoscopic footage (allowing the the viewer to experience depth when wearing a headset). All of the 360 cameras on the lower end of the spectrum shoot monoscopic equirectanular footage in resolutions from HD to 4K. 4K should be the minimum resolution for 360 videos because unlike flat video, all those pixels are projected onto a sphere and the viewer is only seeing a fixed field of view that’s roughly equivalent 480p. This is why viewers often complain that 4K looks soft on YouTube.

While we wait for the next series of consumer cameras that shoot in 8K, I wanted to showcase one particular 4K 360 camera that is, in a word, awesome. The camera is the Insta360 ONE and it has a remarkable feature set for it’s price point.

The camera itself has two 180 degree angle-of-view cameras mounted on each side of its ruggedly designed pill-shaped body. There is a retractable Lighting Connector on one side that can be accessed with a push of a button.

The camera is designed to work with Insta360 ONE’s free iOS app that allows you to view your scene and interact with it in a 360 viewer before you tap record. When you connect the camera to your iPhone, the camera is detected and you’re prompted to give the app access to it.

Video can be recorded at 3840 x 1920 at 30fps, or 2560 x 1280 at 60fps. 24 megapixel photos are captured at 6912 x 3456 in JPEG or RAW. There’s also a third video mode that allows you to record in “Bullet Time” that allows you to simulate the effect made famous in the Wachowski’s Matrix films. I’ll get to that shortly.

Once connected, you can control the shooting modes and exposure settings. You can also set up time-lapse recordings. When using the camera with your iPhone, all your recorded media is stored within the Insta360 app until you manually transfer it to your Camera Roll.

If you want to be more discreet when shooting, or you don’t want the camera to be connected to your iPhone, you can shoot with the camera in “independent” mode. There’s a quarter twenty tap at the bottom of the body for mounting to monopods, hand grips and selfie-sticks.

There are 2 ways to shoot in independent mode: using the Insta360 app connected to your phone via bluetooth, or using the button on the side of the camera’s body. If you choose either of these methods, the media will be stored on a microSD card. The media card’s contents can then be offloaded to the iPhone using the app the next time you connect it to your phone, or via computer using a card reader.

Because the camera covers a full 360 degree angle of view, I’ve had great results shooting with this camera sans iPhone. It also makes it super quick to set up a shot using a $20 monopod.

The camera also has built-in 6-axis gyroscopic stabilization. Below is a 360 video of my wife on her favorite horse Blaze. The camera is mounted to a monopod with the feet removed (photo above). The camera does a great job of keeping the horizon level. All the stitching is handled in camera by the app and the algorithm even patches the camera out of the shot!

Here’s another 360 video of me and my dog putting around our backyard.

When you’re finished shooting you can upload your videos and/or photos directly to your favorite sharing sites and the app will inject all the necessary 360 metadata into the files so that it’s properly interpreted as 360 media by the sharing platform.

Lastly, the Insta360 ONE has a feature called Bullet Time. The effect is achieved by attaching a provided string to the bottom of the camera, then swinging it over your head while recording 2K video at 120 frame per second. You might think it’s kinda gimmicky, but this is the only camera I know of that does this, so at least for now, you can impress the heck out of your friends on FaceBook.

The Insta360 ONE sells for $300 on Amazon. If you want to dip your toe in the water of 360 production, this little camera won’t break the bank while giving you a fun new creative option to play around with.