Insta360 ONE

Introduction

For the past 2 years, I’ve owned and almost exclusively used the GoPro Hero series for capturing video from FPV racing drones. In my opinion, there is nothing on the market that holds a candle to the awesome picture quality, bitrate, and “experience/feel” that you get out of the camera, especially when it comes to FPV. That being said, I am always tinkering with different types of cameras, and attempting to find something that is as good, or at least offers opportunity from another “angle.” I use the word “angle” partially as truth of what I’m trying to say, and partially ironically, because one of the places that I’ve spent a lot of time testing is with 360 degree cameras.

Inspiration

First and foremost, I want to say that the idea of using a 360 camera on a racing drone is by NO means original, and it is something that has been done many many years before me. HOWEVER, I have been working hard to find the best use-case for it. While there’s beauty in just using raw 360 degree footage to make engaging content, it’s my strong belief that there are other, more interesting aspects that can and should be taken into account, all of which I will list here. So, before kicking this off, I wanted to share a few videos and clips from people that have inspired me along this journey.

JesseP – Jesse Perkins AKA Mr. Tiny Whoop

If I recall correctly, the first 360 degree footage that I ever saw from a drone was from Mr. Jesse Perkins, aka, Mr. Tiny Whoop. He was one of the first people that I knew that purchased a 360 degree camera, and even back in the early days of 360 footage, he was strapping his Theta S onto a racing drone and ripping it around.

 

Awkbots – AJ Goin

After having seen the footage from JesseP many years ago (his video was originally posted in December of 2015 — it’s currently Sept of 2018 at time of writing), I pretty much disregarded 360 degrees video, thinking “huh, that’s neat.” I had never really taken 360 cameras into much consideration until I later learned of the idea of “overcapture,” which is simply GoPro’s term for the GoPro Fusion (their 360 camera to be later introduced), where you can take a full 360 degree shot and keyframe out where you want the camera to “look” allowing you to make camera movements in post. When GoPro launched their original reveal trailers for the Fusion, I knew immediately that I would be exploring what using overcapture might look like on a drone. The first time that I saw this actually achieved was by Awkbots.

FPV Provo – Christian Peterson

And finally, the footage that originally brought me to the Insta360 camera was Mr FPV Provo, aka Christian Peterson. He took his insta360 and used overcapture in the ways that I had always dreamed it would be used. Whether he’s diving a cliff or following a drone on a racecourse, he was able to create the shots that I had always imagined should be possible with 360 degree cameras.

 

My First Attempts

So while I was very inspired by these others’ footage, I actually hadn’t been in a place to purchase a new camera for a long time. Between full time racing, youtubing, and starting a new company, it’s sometimes a little hard to come across enough money to purchase a new camera. Eventually, my friend and business partner Winston (aka FlyingFrancis) picked up a GoPro Fusion, and we had the opportunity to play around with it and grab some footage. Here are some of our earliest attempts:

One of the places that I often start is with chasecam. I love seeing things locked off in the frame. While I obviously totally missed what “rule of THIRDS” meant you can see the idea that I was trying to attempt.

We’re always playing around with what it could look like:

Fast forward a few months, and I eventually posted video to instagram/youtube that included footage about drifting. In the drifting video, we used a few different types of filming to show off what mini quads can do vs big drones vs racing drones with 360 degree cameras. You can check out the footage here, but the point is that when we posted it, I was reached out to by Insta360. They wanted to send me their latest and greatest 360 camera, which was better than the GoPro fusion for racing drones because of its size, form factor, and just all around performance. I had heard about it due to FPV Provo’s post, so I said yes.

Insta360 Examples

So before we dive too deeply into the pros/cons/information about the insta360 itself, I want to throw out a few different examples of how we’ve used this awesome tool to capture some awesome footage

Mounted on a stick above the drone:

Mounted directly to the carbon frame of the drone:

Follow forward mode on a racing drone:

Mountain Diving:

Chase/follow footage of other drones:

 

Why Insta360

So as you can see, there are tons of use cases for a camera like this. You can stabilize, you can chase, you can use it for freestyle, and the user/recorder/editor is always in control of whatever image comes out of the camera. You have an infinite possibility of camera angles to work with. You just have so much power in your hands. So, to take this to the next step, I just wanted to do a quick break down of pros/cons, and then get into each detail as much as I feel it needs

  • Pro
    • Easy to use software both on the app and computer when trying to edit the footage that you get back from the camera. You don’t need to be intimidated by the software
    • The Size and weight and shape of the camera is VERY good, especially when you compare it to the GoPro Fusion. It’s less than half the weight, and about 1/3 the overall size, plus, with a 1/4″ screw thread built into the bottom, it’s very easy to mount to your drone. More on that later.
    • Instagramming with the insta360 is a dream
    • Shoot in Log profiles/raw photos
    • Price is low compared to competitors
    • Selfie Stick that comes with the bullet time bundle is awesome
    • Amazing stabilization
    • Easy to use 360 timelapse
    • Hardware Connection to Phone for use with App (don’t have to use it over wifi)
  • Con
    • Desktop app needs some love
    • not a professional quality film making tool
    • Durability is low
    • less powerful for heavy editing compared to GoPro Fusion
    • no standard LUTS available for the Log Profiles of the camera
    • Colors that you get back from the camera can sometimes be weird
    • No way to stop down light
    • Depending on your frame, it can be tricky to mount the camera

 

Pros

Now that we have a good overview of some of these aspects about the Insta360, let’s take a closer look at each.

Software

The software that Insta360 provides both for the desktop and the app are incredible. I especially want to highlight the app here. When you record something, you can import the footage to the app, create keyframes, do automatic tracking, and even whip your phone around in “VR” mode to re-position the camera. While I don’t think that the software is something that should be replacing desktop footage or be used in a strictly professional setting, if you’re pulling footage from the camera directly to your phone and making a quick edit, it’s very compelling and easy to use. This is especially true for users that don’t often do much post production work, since you can very easily and quickly re-position and re-aim the camera throughout a clip. In addition, the desktop software (i.e. for use on OSX and PC), is also very well refined. While there are some small features missing, it is very robust. And, if you find that you need to break out of the small limitations, you can simply use the software to render the final 360 video from the insta360, pull it into Adobe Premiere, and use the GoPro VR Reframe plugins to modify the 360 degree footage. I’ve included a section at the bottom of this page entitled “workflow” that should help break down how I use these two pieces of software together to create content on the desktop. In addition, I’ve also given an example workflow for the footage that I film on my phone.

Flyability

So yeah that’s a made up word, but I wanted to have a section dedicated to why this camera is just great for mounting on a quad. First of all, it’s very small and very light. While the GoPro Session 5 weighs in at 74g, the insta360 compares at 83g. To contrast that, the GoPro Hero 6 weighs 117g, and the GoPro Fusion weighs a whopping 220g.

Session 5 74
Insta360 83
Hero 6 117
Fusion 220

In addition to a relatively light weight class, the camera itself is much smaller. If you compare the GoPro fusion to the insta360, you’ll find that the large, wide face of the Fusion is almost the width of 3 of the insta360 cameras side by side, so mounting the camera onto a drone would become a quick challenge. In addition the insta360 has a 1/4 thread screw on the bottom, which is the standard mounting platform for the camera industry, where all GoPro platforms come without. You need to add extra adapters and weight to be able to connect those cameras OR you need to 3d print a mount. While that works well for the Hero6 and Sessions, a 3d printed mount for a 360 camera becomes very tricky, because you cannot and should not block either of the lenses.

Price

Another extremely compelling part about the insta360 ONE is its price, compared to its competitors:

Insta360 $300.00
Theta S $400.00
Fusion $600.00
Rylo $500.00
Garmin $800.00

As you can see, the insta360 is currently the best bang for the buck.

 

Cons

As opposed to all of the pros, there are a few downsides to the camera that I want to be very candid about, just so you’re aware of them. For the price, obviously there are some fallbacks that need to be discussed. Some of these apply directly to the Insta360, but some also apply to all 360 cameras in general, so be aware of the distinctions that I attempt to make from here on out.

Video Quality

I think of all of the cons that we’ll discuss, this one will sting the most. While its competitors shoot at a “higher than 4K” resolution, the Insta360 ONE is limited to 4k. And, even though it is written as 4k, I’m sure that it’s not true 4k. For example, the GoPro Fusion uses two cards and two separate processors to capture 5.2k footage, the Insta360 only has one card, and one processor, so I have to assume that there’s some sort of sampling and then re-scaling happening inside. That being said, the final product that I get out of the camera often looks very very good. If I am not pushing way in on the footage (that is to say, zooming in), and I leave it relatively zoomed out, I find that the image quality is very excellent for YouTube or instagram. However, as soon as you push past what would be around a 50mm equivalent on a DSLR, you start to really notice that lack of resolution. However, keep in mind that all 360 cameras suffer from this exact issue — rather than focusing on really good detail in one particular location of the frame, you are capturing GOOD resolution in 360 degrees. Thus, when you choose to punch in on one particular spot of that 360 view, you are going to take a hit in quality no matter what. The only thing that can save you is having higher and higher and higher resolution, which in many cases means adding more and more cameras and resolution. I mean, just go look at this gopro rig.

In addition to the lack of resolution, I will occasionally notice some weirdness with colors. This will happen especially when I shoot in the included “log” profile, which should provide higher dynamic range over the standard recording mode. In the same way that GoPro offers its “protune” option, the “LOG” profile in the insta360 allows you higher levels of control in post. However, due in part to the fact that Insta360 has not provided default LUTS for manipulating this footage, I will occasionally find the colors that I expected to be one thing are way off from what I expect. One time, recording in my office, just talking to the camera, I found that my skin tone on my face just became Orange, and there was nothing I could do about it in post. However, in most circumstances, I have found the color to be very true to life, only giving me hiccups very occasionally. Especially in use outside, I have found that the camera will perfectly capture what’s around me.

Durability

This applies more  to all 360 cameras than directly to the insta360 specifically. The biggest issue with 360 cameras is that there is NO way to protect the lenses without covering up some of the image. Because each lens needs to be able to see 180 degrees (180 * 2 = 360), they have to protrude from the camera. When fragile glass extends from the surface on which it mounts it becomes VERY susceptible to damage. If the quad lands upside down, or scrapes against something, hits something, or gets a prop strike, it’s very easy to scratch the lenses, ruining the footage that the camera is able to take. That being said, I have flown the camera in very aggressive environments, crashed a ton, and not had a problem. However, at the same time, I’ve also had crashes where I ruined the lens where I didn’t expect to. I know that insta360 is considering or already does offer a protective case that will help save the expensive lenses, but I don’t know what implications that would have on image quality or weight. See an example of me flying this camera very very aggressively, but without ruining the camera (don’t worry — I crashed a TON in this environment).

 

Other Key Points and Information

In addition to the pros and cons, here are a few points of key information and questions that I answer a lot that I think would be very useful to someone considering purchasing this camera.

  • Can it replace the GoPro hero cameras?
    • I don’t think that this can quite replace GoPros. While I really like the ability to change where the camera is looking and all of the control that I have with it in post, the durability and form factor just isn’t there. With the two lenses, mounting it VERY securely and safely becomes a challenge, and there’s just something to be said about the simplicity of just hitting record on the GoPro and letting it go. That being said, I’d be very interested in a version of the camera that has 180 degrees only, that mounts more securely and out of the way that would still have the same post production features, but only for the forward facing frame. That way, you could still stabilize it and slightly reframe it, but without the danger of having more than 360 degrees covered.
  • Special affiliates deal for the “bullet time” bundle
    • If you use the affiliate links that I have provided, you can get an extra $40 bundle called the “bullet time” bundle that will come with a selfie stick and some nice extras.
  • Bullet Time
    • The Selfie stick that comes with the camera is awesome, so I highly recommend having it with it, so that you can use it as a standalone camera, rather than just on a drone.
  • How I mount the camera
    • The best way that I’ve found to mount the camera is to take advantage of the 1/4″ thread for camera mounting. You can buy these simple little thumb screws for relatively cheap, and use it to hold the camera to a frame, TPU, or whatever works best.
    • I took my SMWYG Steeze, used a soldering iron to punch through the Pod, threaded the screw in from UNDER the pod, and then screwed the camera onto the screw that was left poking through. See how it’s mounted here:

Workflow

For those that are interested, I wanted to detail out my workflow and how I take the footage and make videos out of it. I’m not sure if this is the best or fastest or most efficient way, but I wanted to show how I did it so that others can learn and make suggestions as they tinker.

  • Major Post Production Workflow (i.e. part of a YouTube video)
    • Film minding where your props are and choosing your lines very carefully based on how you want the end product to look
    • import to pc
    • render with Insta360 software
    • edit with premiere or after effects
  • Minor Post Production (stuff edited with just app and going to FB/IG)
    • based on how you want the end product to look
    • Download to camera before trying to edit
    • Place keyframes
    • Render
    • Post

Editing on Desktop:

Editing on Mobile

Conclusion

While I think there are potentially higher quality images available from 360 cameras out there, and others might be more durable, I believe that the Insta360 is the best bang for the buck. As the cheapest option in our lineup, there are some fallbacks, but I think that the lower price makes up for the opportunities that it provides. This camera offers amazing stabilization and image quality all for a price that’s very similar to a GoPro, but it can create images that people have never seen before. If you are considering a 360 camera for racing drones, I HIGHLY recommend the Insta360.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Insta360 ONE

  • September 20, 2018 at 6:59 pm
    Permalink

    Great write up Paul, I found the bit about the weight comparisons the most useful for me.

    I could personally see myself mounting one to the bottom of the frame instead have you tried that at all?

    Reply
  • September 20, 2018 at 8:31 pm
    Permalink

    Very informative!
    Would it be possible to mount the camera on it’s side? Mainly so it doesn’t stick up so high above the drone.

    Reply
    • September 23, 2018 at 12:14 am
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      I have mounted mine ‘laying down’ on my foam wedge with one lens facing up and the other facing down just in front of the FPV camera. Seems to work just fine for me. I can barely see it in the goggles and it even survived a drone crunching encounter with a goalpost. (That was more luck)

      Reply
  • September 21, 2018 at 1:38 pm
    Permalink

    I have an lg 360 cam which is unfortunately lower quality (2k video), and also doesn’t have the great software.
    However i did take it apart and was sorely tempted to try to fix one camera to the top of my frame and one to the bottom.
    I also weighed the guts without battery and case and it came in at about 25g. That would be incredible!

    Reply

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