Digital Cameras

Insta360's VR cameras have iPhone, Android and pro users covered

Insta360 has all the bases covered with its Nano, Pro and Air model cameras
Insta360 has all the bases covered with its Nano, Pro and Air model cameras
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Optical flow stitching smooths out the often jagged transitions between cameras
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Optical flow stitching smooths out the often jagged transitions between cameras
Insta360 Pro: a decent hunk of camera gear with 6 cameras and built-in stabilization
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Insta360 Pro: a decent hunk of camera gear with 6 cameras and built-in stabilization
Insta360 Nano: clips to the back of your iPhone using a Lightning connector
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Insta360 Nano: clips to the back of your iPhone using a Lightning connector
The Insta360 Nano offers a slim, good looking build for the iPhone crowd
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The Insta360 Nano offers a slim, good looking build for the iPhone crowd
The Insta360 Air weighs just 26.5 g (0.9 oz)
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The Insta360 Air weighs just 26.5 g (0.9 oz)
Insta360 Air: flexible cable mount makes this a 360-degree panoramic skype camera
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Insta360 Air: flexible cable mount makes this a 360-degree panoramic skype camera
Insta360 Air: cute packaging
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Insta360 Air: cute packaging
Insta360 Air: USB-C and MicroUSB connectors clip straight into your Android phone
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Insta360 Air: USB-C and MicroUSB connectors clip straight into your Android phone
Insta360 has all the bases covered with its Nano, Pro and Air model cameras
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Insta360 has all the bases covered with its Nano, Pro and Air model cameras

Insta360's affordable Nano and Air cameras clip onto smartphones to live stream and record panoramic 360-degree video. But it's the Pro we like the look of. It packs in six cameras, image stabilization and a whopping 8K resolution at 30 frames per second (fps) output.

A raft of consumer-grade 360-degree camera options are beginning to flood the market as VR headsets and simple strap-your-phone-to-your-face viewers become more common. Efforts from Ricoh, Kodak, 360Fly, Sphericam, CENTR and many others offer relatively cheap ways of getting in on the action, most producing 360-degree imagery in 4K resolution, and some offering high frame rate capture for better immersion in a headset.

Insta360 has come out hard with a trio of 360-degree cameras, two of which mount straight to smartphones for instant on-the-go editing and livestreaming, and the third of which is a pro-grade machine that shoots in 8K, or 6K for panoramic 3D vision.

The Insta360 Air weighs just 26.5 g (0.9 oz)
The Insta360 Air weighs just 26.5 g (0.9 oz)

Insta360 Air (for Android)

The Air model is a ball-shaped unit that clips straight onto an Android phone at the USB port. Its front and rear lenses each have a widest aperture of f/2.4, and it offers a maximum still image resolution of 3008 x 1504 (3K) and can capture video at 2560 x 1280 and 30 fps.

Through the Insta360 app, it allows one-touch sharing of photos and videos, as well as livestreaming through Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. At just 26.5 g (0.9 oz), it's also light enough to sit on the end of a flexible USB cord and operate as a panoramic meeting camera that can catch everyone around the table and broadcast them on a Skype call.

At a retail price of US$119, it's one of the cheapest ways to get into 360 video.

Insta360 - The Insta360 Air

Insta360 Nano: clips to the back of your iPhone using a Lightning connector
Insta360 Nano: clips to the back of your iPhone using a Lightning connector

Insta360 Nano (for iPhone 6 and higher)

Things go up a step in terms of build quality for the iPhone version, with "premium materials" and a sexy box that converts into a phone VR viewer. The Nano uses a Lightning connector to clip onto an iPhone and deliver similar functionality to the Air, with the addition of a TF card slot and built-in 800-mAh battery.

The iPhone app lets you shoot and stream at resolutions up to 3040 x 1520, slightly higher than 3K, and in addition to Facebook, Instragram and YouTube sharing, it's also billed as the first 360-degree camera ready to support Twitter and Periscope live video, (although Periscope's 360 video function is still in beta).

All those "premium materials" come at a cost. You're up for $299 for the Insta360 Nano. And the final video… Well, take a look:

Insta360 Pro: a decent hunk of camera gear with 6 cameras and built-in stabilization
Insta360 Pro: a decent hunk of camera gear with 6 cameras and built-in stabilization

Insta360 Pro for high grade video

The Pro is a standalone ball-shaped aluminum unit with six built-in fisheye cameras, and it's a bit of a beast. Capable of photos AND videos at 7680 x 3840/30 fps, or 8K, as well as real-time streaming at 4K/30 fps, the Pro also uses its multiple camera options to provide 3D stereo vision, either at 4K/25 fps as a live stream, or at 6K/30 fps if you're happy to post-process it.

There's an AUX mic in for external audio, as well as twin built-in mics and a HDMI 2 Type D output for live monitoring. File transfer can be done through Ethernet, USB type C, or a built-in Wi-Fi connection. The removable 5,000-mAh battery lasts some 75 minutes.

Importantly, the Insta360 Pro also features some pretty awesome looking stabilization software that makes a big difference, removing the queasy roll and shake issues that can be a pain in the butt with dynamic moving shots.

Video quality with the six cameras and optical flow stitching is leagues ahead of the two-camera versions, with much cleaner transitions between cameras and greatly improved sharpness, resolution and detail, as well as reduced ghosting.

Optical flow stitching smooths out the often jagged transitions between cameras
Optical flow stitching smooths out the often jagged transitions between cameras

Naturally enough it's a much chunkier gizmo than the others, coming in a palm-sized ball weighing 1.2 kg (2.6 lb). And the asking price of $3,000 will scare off most dabblers, but it seems a quality piece of gear.

The issue remains with 360-degree footage: what can you really do with it? It seems best suited at this stage to long, single shots in which the viewer can spin the camera around, either with a mouse, finger or a headset, to take in views of a particularly spectacular or dynamic situation. It also seems great for real estate tours and simple shots that give you a sense of immersion in a famous or beautiful space.

The wrong kind of editing can make things very confusing, as you can see if you drag around in the video below and try to get a sense of what's going on:

Mind you, the right kind of editing can make for a pretty spectacular showpiece:

Step inside the Large Hadron Collider (360 video) - BBC News

Still, even some of the panoramic projections and ultrawide views you can map back onto a non-360 degree video output look really cool, and doubtless there will be filmmakers out there working on how to incorporate this kind of tech into exciting storytelling.

Source: Insta360.

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