Released a few months ago, we have looked at the Insta Pro 360 for a while now. Insta are a company aligned with the consumer end of the market, producing 360 camera for mobiles and action cameras. They announced the InstaPro as a camera for professional with desirable specs: 8K mono 360 and 6K 3D 360 with recording in H.265 codecs for less compressed images as well as the more commonly supported H.264 codec.
What we really get is a bit of a hot mess for a number of reasons. The primary from requirement for a camera to be considered usable by professionals is reliability. You want to be confident you can turn your camera on and 99% of the time you can record. Things go wrong with cameras like any technology, but recording issues need to be a rare.
What we see with the InstaPro 360 is a camera capable of randomly deciding at its own whim whether it wants to turn on and be ready to shoot. At random, it can be recording footage fine, then be turned off and on and result in error codes, basically bricking the camera. You will see error codes displayed on the LCD, with no explanation as to what they mean or why they suddenly occur.
Often error codes are due to camera data recording errors. The common ones are 460, 463, 69, 413, 1001, 436… The number of different error codes is enormous and unexplained and any can stop the camera in its tracks at any time. In terms of reliability, this is one of the worst ‘professional’ cameras we have seen brought to market, taking into account our 15+ years of experience filming with all types of digital camera.
A lot of the issues are because of the large amount of data being recorded and processed by underpowered components. The second biggest issue with the camera is related to which SSD or SD cards are being recorded to. You can have perfectly fine recommended media that you have been using on shoots for days or weeks, then suddenly an ‘insufficient speed’ error will occur. The camera can’t write quickly enough to the media, so it wants to perform a ‘speed test’.
This speed test is effectively a program to write data to the card and read it back. It can take 5minutes, or even up to 23minutes! That’s 23minutes of standing around on set or during an event hoping the media may be able to perform correctly. Media that worked absolutely fine up until that point and is fine in other models of camera.
Want to use a different set of media? Guess what, it still needs a speed test. That’s a minimum of 5minutes formatting every time you want to use a new set of cards. No other system has ever had this problem, this is a real killer for production requirements.
(InstaPro 360 Error Code – Credit: Marc Overeem)
In achieving the highly regarded resolutions, Insta have made compromises to image quality in terms of compression and the overall look. The camera is employing sensors from a generation back, meaning dynamic range is really limited to less than GoPro hero 4 sensor (Sony CMOS) from 3 years ago. Anywhere with any highlight and lowlight difference will mean complete blow out of white areas. Skies for example can be white blobby areas without too much room if exposing correctly for the action on the ground. The same applies to windows or lights with internal shooting.
In terms of compression, the camera processor is dumping the huge amount of data required for 8k into 40-60 Mb/s. What this means is that the images are washed down with compression artifacts and are less detailed in dense areas than one would expect. The 6K mode is arguably better quality due to less compression on relatively smaller images.
Try explaining these two issues to a person or producer new to the 360 VR video field however and they completely wash over in the shadow of the 8K capable spec sheet. Resolution specs sell cameras, not image quality. As do prices, and this is why the Insta is popular. Using old technology to keep costs down to bare minimum does not result in best quality or standards expected of professionals. The Insta360 Pro camera definitely doesn’t make footage stand out or give owners any quality edge over other better camera systems.
We always like to look at the positives when we call out these over-hyped cameras (see Nokia Ozo review). With the InstaPro 360, we cannot deny the oversampling of 8K. At present one could argue 8K is redundant as there are very limited ways of reviewing an 8K video. YouTube supports the format, but none of the audience can stream 8K easily or sufficiently, and local playback can only be achieved in a mid-to-high end GPU supported windows PC machine with HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
So 8K (and currently even 6K) are not widely achievable, but what they do offer at this recording resolution is oversampling. Starting with a higher pixel resolution means there is more detail in denser areas when compressed down to a 4K resolution. A lot of that detail is lost with the heavy compression however in the Insta360 Pro unfortunately.
Regarding the 6K stereo mode, a lot of people want stereo 360. The truth is it is incredibly difficult to produce as you have zero room for error. Unlike mono 360 where stitch errors can be accepted, any mis-alignment or mis-matching images results in audience members feeling unwell or having headaches. Some 360 filmmakers ignore these factors with the desire for 3D at any cost, but they can be severe issues in the InstaPro 360. Vertical misalignment of the sensors and lenses is a consistent problem with mass-produced cameras.
The lenses are off the shelf basic ones which are not particularly sharp, but do not feature many chromatic aberrations which is a plus point. Additional batteries are difficult to come by at this time, but we expect this to change in due course. It is also worth noting the phone app loses signal to the camera all the time with the smallest of distance to camera.
It is also worth mentioning that the internal fan is the noisiest you will likely ever hear inside a camera. It can be turned off up to 15minutes, but after that you are stuck with a horrible loud whir meaning sync audio cannot be achieved professionally as the fan can be heard from any nearby mics.
On the post side, a benefit is that Insta offer a free to download Insta Stitcher program. As with any auto-stitcher, there are a large number of artifacts and optical flow irregularities with the stitching. Any serious professional needs to use one of the two stitching software options with manual control options to get far better results (MistikaVR or Kolor AVP). It is also worth noting for the stereo 3D 360 workflow, the stitcher can produce left and right images of of sync, resulting easily in eye ache and head ache – basically unusable footage.
After assessing the problems with the InstaPro 360 for some time now, we can safely deem this camera system unfit for professional 360 productions. While some of the reliability could be fixed with new firmware in time, the actual quality of the images are restricted by the old technology used inside to keep the price down and attractive to new inexperienced 360 filmmakers. It is a consumer oriented camera and should be considered as such with on-paper specs over shadowing what the camera really delivers.
We recommend visiting the Insta360 Pro Feedback Group on Facebook for further proof of the widespread camera error code and speed test issues suffered by a large number of owners of the camera.