“It’s still a 360-degree camera, but the One X is right enough to stand out from the others.”
Neat controls for editing 360 to fixed images
Good picture quality for the class
HDR and log gamma modes
The image quality is still a sore point of 360
Some editing controls are not intuitive
Cumbersome design for use as an action camera
A cast of bizarre characters, products of all shapes and sizes lives in the theater of immersive imaging. The danger of death threatens each of them; Nobody is safe – even GoPro couldn’t produce a hero. The shaky first act feels cobbled together without a script, an incoherent improviser where every player vies for a moment for glory, except that most leave the stage immediately. There is no director. The audience’s heads literally turn.
That may sound like a comedy, but it goes in the direction of tragedy. 360 degree imaging promised to be the next big thing in the photo / video world, but it’s a huge leap that hasn’t yet made the landing. Again and again we released new 360 cameras with a lot of fanfare and the prices were reduced by hundreds of dollars just a few months after the launch. This was the fate of the groundbreaking Samsung Gear 360. Even the pretty impressive GoPro Fusion, which cost $ 700 last year, was recently launched for $ 299. These products cannot hold their value.
Insta360 is a company that believes it can reverse this trend and give immersive imaging the triumphant second act it needs. It manufactures a variety of 360-degree products, from bulky professional rigs to tiny smartphone attachments. The One X is the most advanced consumer model and, as Insta360 appreciates, one of the most sophisticated 360 cameras on the market, both in terms of hardware and software.
I’m not convinced that this is the camera that will take us to a climax, but it combines a good collection of the best features available in 360 today. It still feels like a novelty, but as long as you are aware of it, it’s worth coming back from the break.
Design and connectivity
The One X is a sleek, large, black camera body that looks almost monolithic, apart from the obvious double lenses above. Only two buttons are required to change the settings and take pictures or videos. A small LCD screen shows the current mode. There is a micro USB port on one side, a battery compartment on the other and a microSD card slot at the bottom. Next to the card slot is a detail that I was happy to see – a standard 1/4 inch tripod thread.
The design is well suited for handheld recordings, but appears a bit cumbersome when mounting in an action cam style. Through the helmet mount, the camera juts out into the air, increasing your height by almost 5 inches. It’s not waterproof either, but there is a waterproof case that you can buy for it.
There are also many other creative accessories, from a selfie stick with “bullet time” that you can swing around your head to an arrow-like holder that allows you to hurl the camera through the air like a soccer ball. Insta360 clearly understood the 360-degree camera as an equivalent tool and toy, and that’s a good thing.
To edit clips, you can transfer them from the One X to your phone either via WiFi or via a direct USB connection. Wi-Fi setup was incredibly easy with no need to enter a network ID or password. The app locates the camera via Bluetooth and then automatically connects to your Wi-Fi network.
With longer clips you save a lot of time thanks to the cable connection. The transfer of a 1-minute clip via WLAN took 50 seconds, but only 20 seconds via the cable.
Of course, you can also control the camera via the app. This is a requirement if you want to see a preview of your recordings, as there is no monitor built into the camera itself. Using the app also makes it easier to set up the camera, including choosing a frame rate and resolution. You can also view tutorials and sample material in the app, which is a nice touch.
360 to fixed frame
One of the most important insights with immersive videos was that you don’t always have to stay in the world of 360. With 360 Capture, you can convert digital camera movement to traditional, fixed-image output. By capturing a full spherical area, you also get almost perfect electronic image stabilization without cutting away pixels (the One X does this just as well as any other). These are real benefits of 360 capture, even if you never view your content in 360 or wear virtual reality goggles.
The One X, along with Rylo and GoPro Fusion, offers app-based editing controls that let you turn 360 content into fixed frame videos that can be easily used on social media without viewers turning their phones or holding them over their heads need to get the full effect. The One X offers many of the same features as the Rylo, although the user interface is a little less intuitive.
With enough effort, you can combine the various tools of the One X to achieve good results.
You can tap and hold to set a pivot point or SmartTrack command. Pivots tell the camera which direction to look in and automatically pan or tilt from one to the next. SmartTrack captures and follows a subject and keeps it in the picture wherever it moves in relation to the camera. In practice, SmartTrack worked quite well, but was usually very slow in the early stages of processing (we tested the app on an iPhone 7 Plus, so newer phones are likely to perform better).
The app also includes a variety of editing tools, from trim and exposure controls to Instagram-style filters that let you change the look and feel of the video. You can also change the playback speed by slowing it down to 0.25x or speeding up to 64x, where 16x is called hyperlapse (this looks pretty cool). You can select the part of the clip you want to change and speed up or slow down as many different segments within the clip as you want. There’s a good level of control here and we’re pretty happy with how easy it is to access most of it.
Zooming in and out is less intuitive. Basically you have the choice between two working angles, wide or normal, in different aspect ratios, including standard 16 × 9, portrait format 9 × 16 and square 1: 1. You can reduce the perspective to “small planet” in each of these options. However, if you want to make more subtle zoom adjustments or animate zoom in or zoom out while playing with a fixed image, you have to switch to ViewFinder mode Chaos.
ViewFinder mode uses the accelerometer in your phone to pan and tilt within the frame (if you’ve ever seen a 360-degree video on YouTube, it’s the same concept). There’s a zoom slider that lets you set the field of view, and the app basically records your actions as you adjust the slider. This means that you have to edit in real time and it is almost impossible to get exactly the image or zoom speed you want. This is as uninteresting and certainly not as easy as the Rylo method of linking the viewpoint to a point and then automating the zoom between the individual points compared to the simple way in which adding points works.
This is fine if you just want to work loosely and a rough approximation of your point of view is enough, but a perfect result is a matter of luck. You will likely end up repeating simple editing many times to get the image and zoom speed exactly as you want it to.
With enough effort, you can combine the various tools of the One X to achieve good results. This allows you to create videos with cool zooms and pans that make people wonder how you did it.
Image quality is not yet ready for prime time
For the most part, the One X handles sewing pretty well. Sewing is the term for the combination of the two hemispheres into a seamless 360-degree field – or at least seamless if it is 100% correct. I would arrange the stitches of the One X over the Rylo and the mobile stitches of the GoPro Fusion (the desktop stitches are much better). The stitch line is still visible in close-ups (e.g. the hand that holds the camera), but it is almost invisible just a few meters away.
As with most consumer 360 cameras, the resolution remains inconspicuous. Yes, it’s 5.7 KB, but these pixels are spread over a spherical area. If you stick to a wide field of view, it will look better, but the video quality won’t keep up on a big screen, especially if you start zooming in. This is probably fine for Instagram users.
Strong compression also leads to many artifacts. Turning on slow motion will make it worse. I understand the need for compression to keep the file size manageable with this 360 degree camera type, but I wish there was at least one option to choose a higher bit rate.
However, there is an option to enable Log Gamma. Yes, this $ 400 party animated camera has a professional picture profile, and admittedly I’m pretty impressed. A logarithmic exposure curve maintains a wider dynamic range compared to a standard linear curve, but the footage looks very flat when viewed from the camera and needs to be graded in color to look normal. You have to do this in a third-party desktop editing app (Insta360 has a plug-in for Adobe Premiere Pro), but this way you can get much better results.
HDR video (High Dynamic Range) is also offered, but Insta360 warns that this mode can cause stabilization system problems and is best for static shots. HDR noticeably improves the image quality because there are fewer highlights in the sky, more details in the shadows and consistently better colors.
HDR also works for still images and works pretty well here too. Still images, however, don’t look much better than videos. There is less compression and less sharpening (which I really appreciate), but the resolution and stitch quality are about the same. You can add stickers to still images in spherical space, which is fun but ultimately not very useful.
The Insta360 One X is a solid B student who looks even better because the average grade in the class is a D. Well, that’s a bit extreme. Meanwhile, several 360 cameras stand out – the Rylo with its great user experience, the GoPro Fusion and its high image quality (if you can handle slow desktop stitching) – and the One X can certainly count itself among this small number that it’s actually worth buying. I wish all the refresh controls were as easy to use as the Rylo, but otherwise this is a contender for the best 360 degree camera on the market and the price is fair.
Ultimately, however, it is still a 360-degree camera. You probably don’t need one, but if you’re intrigued by the idea of an immersive video, or want to mess around with converting spherical content into fixed image films, the One X is a good choice.
Are there any better alternatives?
The Rylo is easier to use, but doesn’t offer some of the One X’s editing tools, such as filters or slow motion. The GoPro Fusion can achieve higher image quality, but only if you are ready to go through the very tedious and time-consuming desktop editing process. The One X is cheap to compare with its long list of functions and unique accessories.
How long it will take?
The 360 industry still has a big question mark over its head. New cameras are coming out all the time and companies are always finding new ways to use them. The One X is certainly built well enough for the past few years, but that doesn’t mean you will actually enjoy it for so long. Hopefully Insta360 will continue to support it through firmware and app updates, but these may not be enough to prevent the novelty from waning.
Should you buy it
Sure, as long as you understand what you want. Again, this is a good choice for a 360 camera – you just have to make sure you want a 360 camera.