Insta360 ONE Review: This Spherical Camera Is a Ball to Use

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Insta360 ONE Review: This Spherical Camera Is a Ball to Use

Want to try spherical imaging? This 360 camera is a great place to start.

Want to try spherical imaging? This 360 camera is a great place to start.

Spherical imaging has never been as approachable as it is right now. Cameras like the Ricoh Theta and GoPro Fusion let you can shove some impressive lens technology into your pocket to take with you anywhere. Especially if you own a VR headset, 360-degree photos and videos are interactive and capture special memories from every angle.

Insta360 is one of a handful of younger brands hoping to capitalize on this new, unique kind of photography, and its latest camera shows how much imaging tech $300 gets you.

The Insta360 ONE is more than just an iPhone accessory—even though it has a flip-out Lightning connector that lets you attach it to an iOS device, making photo transfer a cinch and framing your shots pretty easy. Since the Lightning port is on the bottom of the phone, once you attach the camera, you have to flip your phone upside-down. This points the camera skyward where it can get a clear view of the world.

But, as we found out when we tested the Insta360 Nano and Air cameras, it’s not always convenient to swing your phone around to capture spherical images and video. That’s the big reason Insta360 has made the ONE camera usable as a standalone device. You can still take photos and videos without plugging it into your phone, which means it works with Android devices too. The camera has its own battery that’s chargeable over micro-USB, and it uses microSD cards for storage. It even comes with an 8 GB card pre-installed.

It comes with a few other accessories of note. For Wachowski-style bullet-time footage, there’s a fishing line in the box that lets you swing the camera around the action. The ONE also has a plastic sleeve that doubles as a stand, but it’s probably the worst aspect of this device. I found even though the doohickey does a decent job at protecting the camera’s two lenses, it’s a pain in the butt to attach and detach reliably. Since the plastic deforms when you grasp it, it can feel like the camera’s stuck, and the smooth sides of the ONE make things more difficult as your fingers struggle for purchase, skittering across the shutter button and release mechanism for the Lightning port. (121) add

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I greatly preferred to leave the sleeve off for convenience. However, if you frequent places with lots of sand or other environmental hazards that might damage the glass lenses, you’re gonna want to find a pouch of some kind for this thing.

Recently, Insta360 updated the ONE’s companion app, adding functionality and a pretty impressive software image stabilization feature. Everything from programming automated pans to tracking moving subjects are all doable without much fuss, and tutorials walk you through each function before you’re set loose.

But, along with the poorly designed case, I had some other issues with this product which made me miss the bigger but more ergonomic Ricoh Theta series 360 cameras. The ONE’s small body means there’s not a lot of room for its many ports and connections, and it makes the unit’s shutter button way too easy to accidentally push. Additionally, there’s a noticeable delay between the view on the iPhone’s screen and the image that’s captured. When I was using the camera at the world-famous Rancho Obi-Wan, I thought I captured a quick portrait with my girlfriend only to discover we didn’t stay still long enough, and the shot showed us pulling away from the camera instead. Bummer. (118) add

Probably the biggest drawback I found from this product is that it’s bad at guessing the proper exposure level, especially in bright sunlight or in brightly-lit rooms. I noticed a lot of blown highlights, which is something the Theta, with its HDR mode, dealt with a little more elegantly. Thankfully, the app lets you tweak image settings before you take a photo or video, so you can use your best judgement to get it how you want it. And even if exposure isn’t the camera’s strong suit, its stitching algorithm—the on-board software that assembles a seamless 360-degree photo from the two, separate 180-degree photos captured by the dual lenses—is quite good. (111) add

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If you can’t justify grabbing the pricier Ricoh Theta V, Insta360 has made what is probably the best alternative. I actually prefer the Insta360 app in most cases, and its latest set of updates makes this product really shine. Especially if you prefer to use an iPhone for all things photography, the feature-rich Insta360 ONE is an approachable way into 360 imaging.

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