When Insta360 first came out with their 360 cameras, I was skeptical. The technology behind the cameras was really cool and I would see a lot of interesting and unique shots taken with them…but it always seemed like people were doing more trick shots that would fall out of popularity rather than use them for real film use.
I get it. The trick shots are great for clicks and it is something unique that we hadn’t seen before. It was interesting but it wasn’t how I shoot video.
It wasn’t until I bought the Insta360 X3 and started working with it that I realize the brilliance in 360 video and – more importantly – how Insta360 actually implemented the technology and software together to make it something really powerful.
The Genius Behind 360 Video
The true genius behind 360 video is the fact that you are essentially doing a multi camera shoot from a single camera. Not only do you have the ability to reframe shots in the software to grab any angle you want in a single clip (think cool panning around shots) but you also can break up those clips without panning that you wouldn’t be able to do without multiple cameras on the same shoot.
Granted…you are only getting one point of reference as the camera is still in the same place. That said…I found this incredibly useful out on the lake when we were videoing tubing, wake surfing and wakeboarding. Especially with tubing…I was capturing not only the action behind the boat but also the reactions of the people in the boat when a rider would wipe out. This would have been nearly impossible to do in the past and it was all done from one camera being held by my 11 year old son out of all people!
You also have your other sports that get the benefit of seeing what is in front of you and the subject performing the sport at the same time. This has been incredibly useful in filming videos for BIKE198 where I need to show products in actual use. I now have one camera that I bring that can capture both at the same time.
Where Insta360 Really Got It Right
There have been other 360 cameras on the market. GoPro came out with their own shortly after Insta360 started gaining traction. Where I believe Insta360 really got this right was in the implementation of the firmware/software on the camera, the bundled software for your phone/computer and the accessories that work seamlessly out of the box.
The included software for you phone allows people with basically zero editing knowledge to get a 360 video to look good enough to post on their favorite social media platform. This is a big deal because dealing with 360 video can be a pain for even some of the best editors. There is a lot of information to go through, key frame and edit to get something that looks usable. With a couple of clicks on your phone…you are ready to post.
Add to that…the computer software included is actually half way decent for keyframing and exporting your footage. While there are plugins that I can use in Davinci Resolve to do this as well…I find it is easier to edit my 360 clips in Insta360 Studio and export them in full resolution to then use in Resolve.
Then there is the real home run. The accessories. I am NOT A FAN of selfie sticks. I think they look ridiculous and no one needs to carry one around to take a thousand selfies. I have always hated them and probably always will. So why do I like the “selfie stick” so much that Insta360 sells? I don’t see it has a selfie stick. The extended pole allows the camera to get a better vantage point for another angle that you just can’t get without using it.
I don’t use it to take selfies. I use it to get farther off the boat or farther above it. I use it to get unique angles that you couldn’t possibly do by hand. When you add to that the stick is automatically removed in camera…it makes it an incredible tool for getting shots you couldn’t have before with minimal effort.
The bottom line…Insta360 makes it incredibly easy to get great shots with their cameras whether you are a complete beginner or a seasoned pro because of their software and accessories and how they work together. \
It Isn’t All Good News
There are still some major drawbacks to using a camera like this but…in my opinion…they don’t outweigh the positives you get.
First, you are still dealing with an action camera. I don’t know if you have noticed…but typically the sample shots in commercials for these cameras are some combination of the following…
- Skiing in perfect sunlight and no trees.
- Surfing in the ocean on a perfect day.
- Mountain biking in Moab where there are no shadows.
- Hey look! We are at the top of a mountain! (where there are no shadows)
Basically, they use examples where you are getting PERFECT lighting where any camera will do a great job. These cameras are still using ultra wide angles with small sensors that struggle when conditions are not absolutely ideal. Here in the SE US, it creates a unique problem while mountain biking because we are almost always under complete tree cover. The skiing one always makes me laugh because conditions never get any better than that for shooting. You have the sun out and a soft box under you.
Speaking of the wide angle lens…you are limited in what you can record. When you start to punch in on this footage it starts to really degrade quickly. As you can see with this tubing video, it’s passable enough so you can see what is going on but even in perfect conditions…it looks pretty bad. When the angle spins back around to the boat, it looks awesome. If you are trying to record something that is more than 20-25 feet away…these cameras are going to struggle.
And the last thing.
While I love the stick to get unique angles and extend the recording range of the camera, the fact that it casts a shadow creates a problem. The software in the camera does delete the stick but it does not delete the shadow. You are left with this fantom shadow that appears to be there for no reason. You also have to be careful with how you hold it because it can look weird when your arm and hand look like they are holding something but it isn’t visible. It can create a unique situation where the shot is almost unbelievable because it doesn’t look natural.
The Bottom Line On 360 Cameras
The camera industry got rocked when GoPro first hit the market. They were crappy little cameras at first but what they did was give viewers angles and experiences that they had never had before.
That is what 360 cameras just did to the industry again. You are now able to bring your viewer into even more of your world by recording even more of where you are and what you are doing. I almost think all of the trick shots that were featured initially did a disservice to the platform as it didn’t really show off how these can be used in your activities to capture more footage and more content all out of one camera.
The crazy part to me is that we are only really scratching the surface. What do you think we will be able to do with 360 footage and a product like the new Apple Vision Pro?