Insta360 has rolled out a few small 360-degree cameras — such as the Nano and the Air — but its latest, the Insta360 One, could be its best yet. Not only can this $299 camera be used with or without a phone connected, but it shoots in 4K, and includes some pretty neat features, including a “bullet time” mode which makes it look like you’re in The Matrix. I had a chance to go hands-on with the Insta360 One, which is now available, and came away with some pretty favorable first impressions.
The Insta360 One is rectangular in shape, and each end is rounded off. It’s roughly the same length as the Samsung Gear 360, but not as wide where the lenses are, so it’ll fit into a pants pocket better. I also like that the Insta360 One comes with a plastic case, which not only protects the lenses, but can also snap into the bottom of the camera as a sort of mini- selfie stick.
MORE: Best 360 Cameras
On each of the long sides is a camera lens; the top edge has a small power/shutter button, while the underside has a retractable lightning connector that plugs into an iPhone (an Android-version is also coming in the near future). As with its other apps, the Insta360 One app launches upside-down; this makes sense because the camera attaches to the bottom of your phone, but it’s always a little disorienting.
Still photos are captured at a resolution of 6912 x 3456, and the camera can also save files as RAW images. An indoor shot of a train station captured its stained-glass ceiling well, but the Insta360 One had some trouble with all the light streaming in through a bank of windows on one side, and wasn’t able to stitch one of the chandeliers properly.
Within the app, you can retouch photos by adding various filters, and there’s even a beautify feature to make your face look prettier. Afterward, you’re given a multitude of sharing options, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.
Insta360 One Sample Video
The Insta360 One can shoot video at 840 x 1920/30fps and 2560 x 1280/60fps, but perhaps its coolest feature is its bullet time mode. Included is an orange cord that attaches to the camera’s tripod mount. You then activate slow-motion mode on the camera — which records video at 128 fps — and then whip the camera around your head. (You can also use a selfie stick instead of the cord.)
Then, after connecting the camera to your phone, you pull up the clip you recorded in the app. Here, you have the option of slowing the action down by half, one-quarter, or one-eighth the original speed, cutting the clip to your desired length, and then exporting it.
It was pretty easy to figure out, and the resulting video looked awesome. A neat feature in the app also eliminates the tether from the video, and also keeps you in the center of the frame. I wasn’t exactly Neo dodging bullets, but the effect was pretty awesome.
At $299, the Insta360 One is about $100 more than the Samsung Gear 360, which makes it less of an impulse buy, but may be attractive to those who are frustrated by the Gear 360’s lack of compatibility with Android smartphones other than those made by Samsung.
I was using a beta version of the Insta360 One app, so I’ll reserve my final judgment until I’ve had a chance to test the final build. However, the ease of use and unique features of the Insta360 One could make it a very compelling mid-range 360-degree camera.