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Camera Review: Insta360 One X – PDN Online

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May 21, 2019
By Greg Scoblete
The market for VR/360-cameras is no longer teeming with new entrants hoping to hitch their fortunes to the next big thing. But while competitors pump the brakes, Insta360 has, if anything, floored the accelerator with an aggressive slate of product releases targeting a multitude of 360-degree image applications.
The OneX is Insta360’s action cam killer: a discrete, dual-lens package that is perfect for mounting on helmets, handlebars or monopods. We went hands on.
While it boasts an action camera’s low profile, the OneX is capable of delivering higher resolutions and frame rates than your typical sports cam. You can film 5.7K (5760 x 2880) video at 30fps, 4K video at 50fps and 3K video at 100 fps via a 1/2.3-inch sensor. The camera can record RAW images in the DNG format and video is encoded in H.264 in bit rates up to 120Mbps.
The OneX features a pair of f/2, 200-degree fish-eye lenses that will overlap, encompassing a full 360 degrees. 
One of the hallmarks of the OneX is the so-called “FlowState” image stabilization, which uses a six-axis gyro stabilizer to keep footage smooth. There are a number of specialized shooting modes, including an HDR mode for both stills and video, time-lapse and a Bullet Time feature that works with an accessory to create a Matrix-style effect of swooping around a subject (more on this later).
The OneX uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity and a microSD port at the bottom of the camera for storage. 
The camera can be outfitted with a range of accessories, mounts and housings, including a “Bullet Time Bundle” which was included in our test unit. The bundle includes a short monopod that screws into a hand grip which doubles as a small tripod. The handgrip has two ¼-20 threaded screw mounts, one on the top and the second on the side. The top of the hand grip can be locked so that the monopod sits in it securely, or unlocked to allow rotation, which you’ll need to capture bullet-time videos.
The vertical OneX is super compact and, at 115 grams, it’s lighter than the similarly designed Ricoh Theta V. 
There are just two buttons on the exterior of the OneX—a power button and a mode/shutter button. A press of the mode button changes shooting modes and then you’ll need to wait half a second and press it again to begin recording. Thanks to the tiny display, you’ll get a rudimentary read-out of the mode plus image quality settings. 
Most of your interaction with the OneX will occur through the mobile app. It has a straightforward user-interface, but we did have one quibble. The first screen that appears when you open the app is Insta360’s online community. You have to switch views to actually enter into camera settings. Insta360 isn’t alone in trying to push their social community on users through an app, but we think it’s distracting and would prefer to hop directly into the camera settings. On the plus side, the app makes a number of useful tutorials accessible to you as you’re getting up to speed with the camera.
The app offers very basic editing tools. For videos, the only thing you can do is trim them. There are a few more options for still photos, including the ability to take a snapshot of a portion of a 360 image for more conventional framing. You can also add filters and stickers to your 360 images, de-fisheye them and create a picture-in-picture effect.
In the universe of 360/VR cameras, there’s a limit to just how much realism, depth and image quality you can coax from two lens/small sensor models like the OneX. That said, we came away very impressed with the results from the OneX. At 120Mbps, it’s delivering higher bit-rate video than the Theta V and it shows in the richer colors and better tonal range. You’ll get some lens flare from the sun, but on balance, the OneX surprised us with how good the footage looked.
The camera does a nice job of erasing any monopod that’s anchored to the base of the unit. You are left with the somewhat odd effect of seeing a hand clasped around the base of the monopod and then empty space where the rest of it should be, but it’s still better than seeing an unsightly black rod follow you around. If you rotate the camera quickly, you will catch some smearing at the stitch lines between the two lenses, but generally the stitch is pretty seamless. In still images, it’s usually flawless.
Read enough camera specs and you invariably hear companies tout “gimbal-like” stabilization technologies that don’t require a gimbal. Dyed-in-the-wool cynics that we are, we were all prepared to be let down by the OneX’s FlowState stabilization, but we were anything but. In fact, it’s so good it’s kind of scary. You can walk, run and even gently bounce and the footage stays preternaturally smooth. We have yet to find another action camera or 360-degree camera that offers comparable stabilization.
The bullet-time feature was also pretty neat. The camera basically jumps into 3K/100fps mode and shuts one of the lenses. Using the rotating monopod or an included hand grip, you can capture a gently rotating slow-motion video that rolls around the monopod. More inventive filmmakers than us will undoubtedly rig up cool scenarios using the feature, but it’s definitely fun to play with. You’ll take a small, but noticeable, hit to image quality in Bullet Time mode, but it’s a small price to pay.
You’ll get about an hour-plus of video recording on a fully-charged battery, a bit less than the Theta V but on par with most action cameras on the market.
Before the OneX, we haven’t been overly impressed with dual-lens 360-degree cameras. Sure, it’s fun to capture spherical images, but the combination of mediocre image quality and basic feature sets left us wanting more. The OneX is refreshingly different. It not only delivers excellent image quality, but class-leading image stabilization to boot. Combined with some cool novelties like bullet-time mode, it has the makings of a first-class 360 camera.
Ricoh’s forthcoming Theta Z1, with a 1-inch image sensor and revamped image processor, looks very promising from an image quality standpoint but Ricoh is still lagging Insta360 when it comes to features. Until the Z1 materializes, the OneX gets the nod as the consumer-friendly 360 cam to beat.
Pros: High-resolution 360 video; excellent feature set; outstanding image stabilization; compact design.
Cons: App is cluttered with promotional material.
Price: $400
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