Just like there are different motorcycles for different purposes, there are now different action cameras for different purposes. While GoPro’s cameras are the industry standard, Insta360 has been steadily improving its game over the past few years. The Insta360 One X2 ($569 on Insta360’s store currently—keep your eyes open for a sale) might now be the most powerful and versatile camera on the market, especially when combined with Insta360’s proprietary software.
Insta360 sent me one of these cameras to test this year. Here’s what I found out:
The Hardware Specs
The Insta360 One X2 action camera is built in a “candy bar” shape. Most action cameras come in a cube shape, for easy mounting, but because the One X2 has lenses on front and back, it requires a different shape.
On the side, there’s an on/off switch, and on the back, a button for stopping and starting the camera. There’s also a round touchscreen, which you use to change the camera’s settings.
There are two doors on the side of the camera; one allows access to the charging port, the other allows you to remove the battery. Those doors, and the camera itself, are supposedly waterproof to 10 metres, although I always view such claims somewhat skeptically.
The camera’s front and rear lenses combine for 360-degree footage, with resolution as high as 5.7K/30 fps in 360 mode. The camera will shoot in several other resolutions, depending what your needs and plans are: 4k/30 fps, 4k/60 fps, 3k/100fps in 360 mode, or lower-res if you’re shooting in Wide Angle (steady cam mode). There are also several photo burst modes.
The high-res capability in 360 mode puts the One X2 on-par with the latest and greatest from its competitors. The camera also gets Insta360’s improved FlowState image stabilization (eliminating the shaky movement that typifies action cam footage). There’s a horizon lock, to keep footage leveled. Of course, there’s a hyperlapse function, and other trick auto-shooting modes.
The Insta360 One X2 also comes with four microphones, to capture sound in stereo. The 1630mAh battery takes 85 minutes to charge via USB-C, and will last for 80 minutes of footage capturing at 5.7k resolution. In my experience, shooting short clips for social media projects, I found the battery easily lasted me all day.
Finally, the Insta360 also has several useful accessories available, including a motorcycle mounting kit, and an Invisible Selfie Stick. The onboard AI will actually edit this selfie stick out of the footage for you, which allows for some very interesting effects.
Using the Insta360 One X2
If you’ve used an action camera before, the Insta360 One X2 seems simple enough to start off with. Mount it, turn it on, hit the record button, and away you go.
You can certainly use it just like any other action camera, particularly if you’re in Wide Angle mode instead of 360 mode. But if you’re using it as a 360 cam (that’s what you bought it for, right?), then you need to realize that the camera’s abilities require alternative mounting positions to take full advantage of both front-facing and rear-facing cameras.
For instance: My GoPro Hero 5 Black typically comes along mounted to my chest. It gets basically the same view that I get from the saddle that way, and if I want to pan a shot along the roadway, it’s easy to reach down with my clutch hand, pull the mount away from my chest, and get a nice handheld pan shot of the roadside by twisting that mount.
On the Insta360 One X2, if I mounted it directly to my chest, the front lens would see everything, but the rear lens would be blocked. Same goes for other traditional action camera mounting positions; with the 360 cam, you need to plan ahead, to make sure both lenses have a decent field of view.
Instead of mounting to your chest, you might want to mount the camera to the top of your helmet for a complete view … or on an extension, from front or rear of the bike. Remember that Invisible Selfie Stick accessory? Mount the camera to that, and then mount the Invisible Selfie Stick to a standard screw mount, and you’ve got a camera now following you with an omniscient, third-person view, instead of the first-person view that you get from most action cams.
The clip below shows hip-looking people demonstrating the current-gen Insta360 One X2 with the great, disappearing Invisible Selfie Stick. Or, click here to see @RedSpade demonstrate its motorcycle potential, on her Instagram Reel. Frankly, @RedSpade’s footage kills it, far eclipsing what’s possible with most other gadgetry on the market.
Obviously, there are tricks to optimizing your shot, particularly with mounting points. You’ll also find tricks to actually running the camera—like, it’s ideal to mount the camera where you can actually see the rear screen, if you want to turn it off and on mid-ride.
Here’s why: On a GoPro Hero 5 Black, it’s a bit frustrating to get the camera’s settings where you want them, but once you do so, it’s easy to turn the camera on and off without even looking at it. Press the button, hear the beep, you know you’re recording, and you can’t unintentionally change settings.
With the Insta360 One X2, I found it was very easy to accidentally change the camera’s settings while fumbling with the buttons, if I couldn’t actually see the screen, because the record button is right under the touchscreen interface. On multiple occasions, when I had the cam mounted to the top of my helmet and couldn’t see it, I messed up the controls when I tried to turn it on or off mid-flight.
These are the sort of things that you can only learn by actually getting out and regularly using the camera. If you want to buy something like this to record a big trip, my advice is to get out and test-run the equipment beforehand, to get the minor bugs worked out. Figure out voice activation, or a remote start (there’s a gadget for that) or other workarounds. Don’t expect everything to go 100 percent hassle-free when you use the camera for the first, second, or third times. There’s a learning curve to the hardware.
Using Insta360’s mobile editing app
Once you’ve got some footage on your camera, you’ve got to edit it. You can download the footage to a desktop/laptop and edit using Insta360’s Studio 2020 app. However, the computer editing suite is somewhat crippled, and nobody seems very enamored with it.
Instead, most users are downloading their footage to a mobile device, and using the Insta360 app (available for iOS or Android). And, just as there’s a learning curve to the hardware, there’s also a learning curve to the software, because it’s so powerful.
The mobile app allows all sorts of trickery with the 360-degree footage, and is useful for both the casual owner, the kind of person who wants to upload 10-second clips to Instagram, or the prosumer owner, the kind of person who needs distinctive footage for social media influencing purposes or even actual film footage.
You start off with the raw 360-degree footage, and from there, start hacking it up. You can actually export 360-degree footage (see here—YouTube’s compression made it low-res but you get the idea). Since most of us aren’t watching YouTube videos that way, the app is set up to also select a specific viewpoint from your raw footage, and export that as “flat” footage.
You can choose to export standard horizontal video, or (shudder!) vertical video. Considering how much of the footage shot on Insta360 cameras ends up on social media, viewed on phones, vertical video might actually make sense for some users. See a comparison of the exact same footage, edited into either vertical or horizontal, below:
This is only the beginning—there’s a lot of other manipulation you can do with the app. Check out the very short clip below. In this clip, the camera is mounted to the tail of my bike, and I’m able to use the in-app editor to track my riding buddy, creating a pan effect. The camera itself doesn’t move, but the software allows you to achieve the same result.
If you’re used to self-filming, you can see the potential here; you could place this camera roadside, ride past it, and use the software to effectively create a panning shot of yourself via software. Very cool.
Or, you can seriously mess around with the perspective. Here’s an example of Tiny Planet perspective.
Or, you can use the app to select your helmet, then place it into the footage as a picture-in-picture effect.
Or, you could use the AI to edit the footage! Insta360’s app to automatically select the best perspectives from your footage, and edit them together. See the scene below; it’s the same ride, with two AI-picked perspectives.
And so it goes. Insta360’s app might take a while to master, but it has a wide range of capability, and it has built-in tutorials to help you learn. Once you’ve got a few clips you like, you can then string them together as Stories; presumably, you could put together a whole film this way, if your phone has enough memory space.
That’s one issue with the app: You might need to buy a new phone, with a lot of memory, if you want to play around with a lot of Insta360 footage. The camera’s 5k footage, even the 4k footage, is memory-intensive. You’d better have some free GB on your phone, or be prepared to deal with shorter video clips (that’s why my clips above are so short!).
This is just the nature of dealing with hi-res video footage; on computers, it’s not as noticeable since hard drives are so massive. On phones, it can be an issue. You can work around it by actually editing the footage while it’s still on the camera, and only downloading the finished product, but you still need to keep this in mind. If you want to keep the footage, you’ve got to store it somewhere, and your phone will eventually run out of space.
Generally, though, the app seemed very stable and surprisingly quick to work with on my phone (a Samsung Galaxy S9). It was much more stable than the GoPro editing app I used last winter, and also seemed less of a memory hog. It’s incredibly powerful, and the best part is, the app is free.
The bottom line
At this point, I’ve said a lot about this camera, but I’ve only scratched the surface of its abilities. For a good look at what a more talented user can do with a 360-degree camera, as mentioned earlier, follow @redspade on Instagram, or see her stuff on YouTube. She’s a big fan of Insta360 hardware, and has used the app long enough that she’s really good at unique edits, and she’s also good at finding accessories that expand her camera’s capabilities.
Otherwise, check out the Insta360 website for other details, especially about the camera’s other capabilities besides action camera usage. You can live-stream with this thing, use it as a webcam, and more. At the current $569 CAD price, I’m incredibly impressed. I think it’s well worth the money.
But, is it worth it for you? Do you want to spend time learning the software, learning the hardware, and actually cranking out video with it? That’s the real question to ask yourself—are you committed enough to actually learn how to use this? If so, I think you’ll be happy with your purchase.