$399 throwable 360-degree camera unlocks impossible new action shots
Insta360 is calling its new One X camera a GoPro Hero7 killer due to its advanced omnidirectional motion stabilization. But we think that might be underselling it, because no GoPro can get the crazy, Matrix-style slow-mo shots this thing can take when you throw it right through the action as you film.
In form, it's not dissimilar to the first Insta360 camera we had a play with a couple of years ago: twin ultra-wide lenses either side of a compact, thin handle that looks something like an oversized cigarette lighter. But things have moved along some, as you'd expect.
For starters, the new One X films in 5.7 K resolution at 30 frames per second (fps). Now, when it comes to presentation, even 4K is barely becoming relevant to the vast majority of users. But when you're filming 360-degree video, and then only presenting part of that image in the final output, resolution is king and every pixel counts.
There are also now slow-motion modes – 50 fps at 4K and 100 fps at 3K – which sacrifice resolution for frame rates, but enable some absolutely ridiculous shots which we'll get to in a minute.
Then there's FlowState stabilization, which uses internal sensors to track the physical movement and rotation of the camera during use to allow you to make eerily stable footage no matter what was going on during filming. It comes out far smoother than anything a gimbal can do, also beating the GoPro Hero7's HyperSmooth stabilization handily in back to back testing, according to the manufacturer. Naturally, you can use it to create hyperlapse style shots as well, with the added bonus of being able to turn the camera any direction you like at any time in post processing.
Post processing gets an upgrade too, with active tracking built in - that means you can select a subject, and the software will stabilize the footage with the subject right in the center at all times. That in itself is a powerful step forward.
The One X steps up a bit as a semi-pro shooting platform too, with manual exposure controls, HDR photography, a removable battery, automated removal of mounts and selfie sticks from the final image, GPS-enabled smart remote control and a standard case that's waterproof to 5 meters (16 ft) deep. If you want to go another level down, you can option it up with a Dive Case that gives you a 30 m (100 ft) depth rating. And you can now preview the footage on your smartphone or tablet as you shoot.
But perhaps the coolest new feature is the One X's ability to snap into a throwable dart case and literally lob the camera through the action as it happens. It's like filming slow-mo from a drone that can go pretty much anywhere, and whose camera can be aimed precisely where you want after the shot has been taken. The results are truly stunning, as you can see in the video below.
Now, honestly, if you're looking for outright image quality in terms of resolution, dynamic range, sharpness, color bit depth, the GoPro is still going to beat the Insta360 One X, simply for the fact that it films in high quality 4K, in one single direction, while the 360-degree camera is filming in all directions and throwing out much of its resolution as you choose where to point it in post. You can see some of the quality loss in the video above, but remember, those are slow-mo shots that are working on even further restricted resolution. The difference is much less noticeable in the video at the bottom of the page, but it's still there, and you can still catch the odd stitching artefact. But the footage is so stunning that it doesn't matter.
Assuming your output is going to be 1080p, the quality gap is narrowing fast, and the case for 360-degree cameras like this is strengthening all the time. They're just as compact as other action cameras, you can stick them almost anywhere with a range of mounts, and they open up a vast range of shots and world projections you simply can't get with a regular camera, while also giving you the ability to act like a regular camera with all panning and tilting and composition done in post.
Stick them on a 10-foot pole, wave it around and you've got something very analogous to a drone shot. Put them on a drone, and you've got an unprecedented ability to simply fly close to your subject, and then compose your shot later, using motion tracking and all sorts of other tools to get supernatural shots. Look carefully and you'll realize that shots that could only have been taken on 360-degree cameras are starting to show up in all sorts of action sports videos, slowly starting to take over the genre the way the first GoPros did when they came out.
In about 18 months, we've seen Insta360's gear leap a couple of generations, to the point where anyone shooting action should start seriously thinking about throwing one in the camera bag. This is an exciting time for a new generation of action cameras. The Insta360 One X retails for US$399. Check out a full video below.