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Insta360 One is a 4K 360 camera with smart tricks

Richard Lai

For those who haven't been following, earlier Insta360 released a montage of cool sample clips to tease its upcoming camera's bullet-time video capability. What baffled me at the time was how those slow-motion shots orbited around a person with his upright arm seemingly holding onto something, except there was no visible string nor selfie stick to suggest that the camera was being swung around. Well, as it turns out, I was wrong, but there's no need to be disappointed -- it actually takes a lot more than just a piece of string to achieve this bullet-time effect.

The camera, which has just been unveiled as the Insta360 One, is the latest 360 camera designed to deceive naive folks like myself. This is the company's second 4K-capable compact device following the aptly-named Insta360 4K but at about half the price -- just $299.90. Unlike the older model, the One lacks WiFi connectivity for remote view, but it does come with an 8GB microSD card to get you started. The One shoots video at either 3,840 x 1,920 at 30 fps or 2,560 x 1,280 at 60 fps (both with LOG format option), and it can take 24-megapixel stills (6,912 x 3,456) with RAW format option -- apparently a first for a consumer-grade 360 camera -- followed by HDR capture later.

Much like the 3K-only Nano, the One can be used as a standalone 360 camera (using the power button or via Bluetooth) or as an iPhone dongle using its retractable Lightning plug (an Android version is due to arrive by the end of the year). It's also gained a couple of new use methods. For one, the kit comes with a short plastic tube that houses the device on the deeper end to protect its two lenses, while the shallower end lets you mount the device so that the tube can be used as a stand. Alternatively, you can also mount the camera on any standard tripod, monopod, selfie stick or even the bundled string attachment using its 1/4"-20 screw thread.

Needless to say, one of the main selling points of the One is the aforementioned bullet time mode. This trick is a combination of the device's six-axis image stabilization, powerful 120 fps capture at 720p (which can be boosted to 240 fps via interpolation using the companion app), some video magic to erase evidence of tethering plus a little bit of manual work using one arm. Once the power button's triple-tap toggle has been mapped to bullet time capture (via settings in the app), simply mount the One on the bundled string attachment or an optional selfie stick, turn it on, tap its power button three times and then start swinging it above your head at a modest pace (with the risk of getting funny looks from folks nearby). When done, simply hit the power button once to stop recording, and then you can plug the camera into your iPhone for playback, editing and exporting.

Perhaps an even more useful feature coming from the One is its app's FreeCapture tool -- a "shoot first, point later" concept that's clearly going after the upcoming GoPro Fusion'sOverCapture feature. This one's super easy: just load up a 360 clip in FreeCapture mode, treat your phone as if it's a conventional video camera at the time of capture (this relies on the phone's gyroscope), then simply pan around and zoom in or out -- all the way to the cute "tiny planet" view, if you want -- as you desire for your new "director's cut" in 1080p. Similarly, there's a SmartTrack editing tool that can automatically output a 1080p clip based on the subject that you want to be tracked in a 360 clip.

For existing Insta360 users who already have a library of fun 360 clips, a company rep pointed out that you can actually side-load any 360 clip from older cameras to the One's microSD card, in order to tinker with it using FreeCapture. That said, there are currently no plans to update the other cameras' apps with FreeCapture, which is all the more reason for existing Insta360 users to upgrade to the One.