When it comes to digital cameras a bigger sensor means better quality. No one else is offering a larger sensor in an action camera, and if that appeals to you then the Insta360 with the 1-inch module is your only choice. The modular features that the Insta360 One R has mean easier upgrades and more options for one camera, but the cost is that switching batteries is more difficult. Insta360 isn't offering a perfect camera, but it is well built and comes with a great collection of features.
Modular design could make it future proof
Smartphone app makes quick work of editing and sharing
Swapping batteries is difficult
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When it comes to filming your rides via a handlebar or helmet mounted camera (opens in new tab) there's a lot of options on the market. Start narrowing it down to the serious contenders though and the field actually gets pretty small.
Nowadays, getting good quality out of an action camera is an expectation, and thus it is its other features that make a camera stand out or lag behind.
Stabilization has to be spot on or you end up with unwatchable footage. A road bike (opens in new tab) might seem smooth from the saddle but every tiny vibration gets multiplied, and a rigid mount from the camera to the bike acts like a lever on the lens that will ruin even the best scenery.
Ease of mounting, ease of editing, packaging, and battery life are all others important aspects of the modern action camera shopping list. The Insta360 is a camera that addresses these issues and comes out in the top tier.
Insta360 action camera features
There are three main sections to this modular camera, in itself a unique offering: the battery, the screen and processor, and the lens and sensor. You choose which battery size and which lens and sensor combo you want and then put it all together. We took a look at the 1-inch module and the 360 module as well as a slew of accessories.
Though not so common, it is possible to pick up a fairly run of the mill 4k action camera module and the quality will more or less match the competition. Opt for the Insta360 with the 1-inch module and you've got something truly different and special.
Don't confuse the larger sensor in the 1-inch edition for a simple resolution upgrade. It does carry a higher 5312x2988@24/25/30fps max resolution but the new on the market GoPro Hero 9 also offers 5k max resolution. What's different about a larger sensor is that there's more physical room for the photosites. Without getting too technical it's fair to say that larger photosites are preferable, and even if the resolution is the same, larger photosites give more detail and better low light performance.
The 360 module uses a smaller sensor but it carries two lenses and films everything in an environment all the time. Resolution is still 5k but it's slightly different. Options include 5760x2880 at 30fps, 25fps, and 24fps, or lower for slow motion or file size considerations. Remember though that the data recorded in that file size is much greater, but it's going to get cropped.
Where the 360 module comes into its own is in post-production cropping. You can crop your content to a standard video, then at any moment choose a different point of view. It gives options you've never had before and because of the modular nature of the Insta360 you don't choose either or.
The 360 module is worth owning but you might not want it all the time. This way you can add on the 360 module when you want a 360 view, but swap it off when it's time to narrow the focus.
The first thing you've got to do with the Insta360 is assemble the chosen pieces. The 360 module makes for unique footage while the best quality will come from the 1-inch mod. Next, choose which direction you want the screen facing and push it against the lens/sensor mod, before choosing which size battery and connect it to the bottom of the other pieces. There's a latch on the battery and it can be a little fiddly to connect the last piece.
There is also a plastic cage, called the mounting bracket, that everything fits into. With the standard battery this is where the hook and push mounting (commonly referred to as a GoPro mount) sits. If you've chosen the boosted battery case it won't fit in the mounting bracket. Instead, it has its own mounting integrated attachment. The 1-inch mod won't fit into the mounting bracket without removing, then reinstalling the lens protector.
Now that you've got everything assembled, you can shoot your footage in whatever way works for you. The camera is waterproof to 5m (16.4ft) and since it uses an industry-standard mount there is a mount for everything you could think of. We initially used a Barfly mount (opens in new tab) to situate the camera under our computer but we rethought things when the rain got heavy. Looking to minimize road spray we moved the Garmin 1030 Plus (opens in new tab) to its own mount and resituated the Barfly above the bars.
While filming it's possible to interact with the camera via the touchscreen or connect via a smartphone and use it as a secondary screen. Once you've finished, that same Insta360 app does a respectable job of handling editing. For many people editing the footage while still on the camera through the app is going to be a killer feature.
Long editing sessions through the phone and a Bluetooth connection aren't ideal but quick edits for social posts work perfectly. If you are using the 360 mod it's easy to choose the point of view via keyframes. Once the keyframes are chosen, the software will smoothly swing from one point of view to the next. Once done editing, export the finished product and share it.
We reviewed the Insta360 One R Expert Edition Ultimate Kit. It's a bundle that includes the 1-Inch Wide Angle Mod, 1x Dual-Lens 360 Mod, 1x Core, 2x Battery Base, 1x Insta360 ONE R Invisible Selfie Stick, 1x 32GB Micro SD Card, 1x Lens Cap, and 1x Mounting Bracket and costs $759.96 (£721.47).
On the face of it that's more than the price of competition from DJI and GoPro - but you are getting two cameras for one here. To get the same setup from GoPro you'd need the GoPro Max as well as the GoPro Hero 9. Purchased together the price would be almost exactly the same without all the accessories.
No matter how you slice and dice the packages you end up with a product that costs about the same as what GoPro offers but with more accessories. There are little pros and cons for each company but Insta360 has one thing that GoPro can't offer. Because it's a modular system, you've got scope for swapping in a new mod at a much lower price in the future. If Insta360 sticks to its standards moving forward, this unit with updated moducles could offer much better value than alternatives.
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Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minutia of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer will be yes.
Height: 5'9" Weight: 137 lb.
Rides: Orbea Orca Aero, Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Trek Checkpoint, Priority Continuum Onyx