Dec 21, 2020 | Reviews

Insta360 One R Review (Twin Edition)

Ralph

Ralph

I get commissions for purchases made through Amazon links in this post.

The Insta360 One R is one answer to meeting a niche in the action camera market.  As tested, the Insta360 One R is two cameras in one, hence the twin edition moniker.  While GoPro sells two distinct cameras in the Hero 9 and the Max, Insta360 covers both of those bases in the One R.

Competing with the GoPro 9, the Insta360 One R is a rugged, water-resistant action camera that ticks off all of the boxes you might expect.  It also can transform itself into a 360 camera at will.  Simply removing the 4K module and installing the 360 module makes this happen, and it takes well less than one minute to do.

Hiding in the wings is also a 5.7K one inch sensor camera mod with lenses co-developed by Leica.  So the Insta360 One R brings a lot to the table, but how does it stack up?  Let’s find out.

Price

At the time of this article, the price of the Insta360 One R Twin Edition is $407.00 at Amazon for the base package without any extras.  Packages abound for this little camera with there being a simple 4K only camera package, a one-inch sensor camera package, and packages with all manner of extras.  The Twin Edition is by far the most popular choice among consumers.

At that price, the Insta360 One R Twin Edition is directly competing with the GoPro Hero 9 Black, which is only $8.00 cheaper.  Considering that the GoPro is a 4K action camera only, while the Insta360 One R can transform itself into a 360-degree camera and back into a 4K action cam for roughly the same price.

Design

As mentioned above, the Insta360 One R can change between a 4K action camera and a 360-degree action camera by way of interchangeable modules.  The base of the system is the battery with the main module that contains the display and processor, and finally, the third module which can be either the 4K cam, the 360-degree cam, or the one-inch sensor camera.

When affixed together, the three modules are rated as water-resistant.  Indeed, the rubber gaskets that form a seal between the modules are easily seen during assembly.  Once the camera is assembled, it is usually placed into a metal cage.  This keeps the modules from separating inadvertently and allowing water inside.  

To convert from one camera mode to the other is quite simple.  Remove the camera from the metal cage, depress the locking switch on the battery base to remove it, then simply pull the camera module apart from the main control module.  Reassembly is the reverse.  The metal cage also mounts to GoPro mounts for ease of use with the plethora of GoPro mounting accessories.

While the camera itself is water-resistant to about 16 feet, going deeper will require a dive case, which is sold as an accessory.  The 16-foot rating also only applies when the camera is mounted inside the metal cage.  Outside of the cage, the camera might be splash-proof, but  I would not trust it to 16 feet.

The downside of this design is also the cage.  To replace the battery, the camera must be removed from the cage completely.  Also, there is a very small cover on the side of the control module that must be opened to install a micro SD memory card.  The cover is retained from loss by only a small rubber insert that appears to be quite prone to breakage resulting in the loss of the plastic cover.  With the plastic cover missing, the water-resistance of the unit is compromised.  I hope to see that design flaw remedied in the next iteration of the camera.

Display

The control module of the camera sports a touch display screen that is about one-inch in size.  The display is much smaller than that of the GoPro Hero 9 Black due to the diminutive size of the control module itself.

While it does take some getting used to, the small screen is actually useful for modifying camera settings when not using the app on a phone.  Swiping the screen in any of the four main directions calls a menu that performs some of the basic camera functions.  For example, swiping the screen from right to left brings up camera settings for ISO, shutter speed, and white balance.  Swiping from left to right shows the images and videos that are stored on the camera.

While it is useful, I find it far more practical to use the software app to control the camera and its settings.

Image Quality (4K)

The still image quality of the Insta360 One R is quite good on its own, with good detail.  The color rendition is quite good if a bit saturated compared to the GoPro 9 Hero Black.  The Insta360 One R is capable of capturing RAW photos and it captures 18-megapixel stills.  In low light, the images can tend to be noisy due to the small image sensor.  

New to the camera in the past couple of months is Pureshot mode, which allows still photos to be captured in greater dynamic range.  Leveraging the power of your phone and artificial intelligence, Pureshot allows for greater dynamic range, less noise, and greater detail.

On the video side of things, the Insta360 One R produces great footage with good color rendition, albeit with a little less contrast than the GoPro Hero 9 Black.  Video stabilization on the Insta360 One R works very well and would be hard to distinguish from GoPro 9 footage.

The Insta360 One R also has a log video mode where the colors of the video are recorded in a flat tone, and then boosted later in the Insta360 app.  I’ve been mostly disappointed with the results of log mode on the Insta360 One R.  Colors usually come out over-saturated in my opinion.  I generally avoid log mode on that camera.

Image Quality (360@5.7K)

Still photography with the 360-degree module is good in well-lit areas.  Details are much less than images shot with the 4K lens, which is as expected.  

I’ve noted that images shot with the 360 module inside of residences tend to be soft and noisy.  The 360 module is set up to be used by Matteport for virtual tours, but the image quality is fair to low for such a purpose.  The Insta360 One R and the OneX before it continue to be used for the virtual tour industry despite there being better cameras suited to the purpose.  I have shot residential commercial tours with the Insta360 One R and the Qoocam 8K and find that the One R returns images with soft focus and noise.

The 360 module is interesting as it is a 5.7K unit versus the 4K of the main camera.  Keep in mind that while the main camera has 4K resolution in one direction, the 360-degree camera spreads its 5.7K across the entire 360-degree sphere.  What this means in practical terms is that any given section of video shot with the 360-degree module is closer to 1080p video resolution.

Where the 360-degree module shines is in its ability to see everything in a shot, which can be re-framed later.  It is a lot harder to miss a shot with the 360-degree lenses working since they see everything.  Then, after all of the video has been shot, the editor can go back and reframe the video to show exactly what he wants to see.  Additionally, the stabilization on the 360-degree camera is fantastic as it is for more 360 cameras.

App and editing

The Insta360 app is one of the strong points of this camera system.  The Insta360 app is one of the best camera apps on the market.  The control of the camera from the app is great, even though the camera loses connection often when the phone is some distance away from the camera.  

Editing on the app is intuitive and quick.  Insta360 developed the app to be the primary method of working with photos and video from the camera.  There is a desktop app available for download from the Insta360 website, but the desktop app is clearly a secondary concern.  Most of the polish and work has been put into the mobile app.

The market segment for the camera is clearly for consumers rather than professionals, therefore the emphasis on mobile apps is completely understandable.  Shoot, edit, and go seems to be the idea here.

Battery Life

The battery life of the Insta360 One R is comparable to other cameras in its class.  While recording 4K video at 60 frames per second, I have usually been able to record for about 50 minutes on a fresh battery if I didn’t spend too much time with the camera idling during setup.

Thankfully, the device can be powered via USB-C cable to extend its work time, but the cable connects through the aforementioned small plastic door and the cable plugs in next to the SD card.  When using the USB-C cable to power the device, there is no splash-proofing.

Insta360 has released a double capacity battery for the One R as an accessory.  While the larger battery will prevent the camera from fitting back inside its metal cage, the battery itself will have GoPro mounting fingers on the bottom.

Opinion

The Insta360 One R is the most interesting action camera to be released in years.  The ability to switch between a 4K action camera and a 360 action camera is unique among its peers.  Given that versatility, it serves a niche for consumers that no other single camera can cover.

It can be used in the same way as traditional action cameras have been used, for shooting point-of-view style videos of action sports.  It can be clamped to a fence to record softball games.  It can be placed on a helmet to record the rad moves of a skateboarder.

It can also be transformed into a 360-degree action cam where the video can be reframed in unique ways so that shots aren’t missed.  Even two shots that happen at the same time can still be sorted out and used.  Additionally, unique 360-degree videos can be released where the viewer has the freedom to look around the scene at his/her discretion.

I think the Insta360 One R serves not only in the action camera niche, but also allows the videographer to explore and experiment with 360-degree content.  From action shots to tiny planet photos, the creativity allowed by the unique perspective of a 360-degree camera is something not found in other action cameras.

Bottom line, I am a fan of the Insta360 One R and I will continue to shoot photos and video with mine.

GoPro Hero 9 Black

Ralph

Ralph

Ralph is an avid photographer in his spare time. He spends a lot of his photography time shooting sports photos of his daughter, who plays softball and swims. He also has a keen interest in mobile photography.

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