Insta360’s 1-inch 360 mod sets the stage for 360 cameras to come

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In 2020, Insta360 began betting big on modular cameras. Instead of replacing its entire system with each product cycle, the company started making cameras that allowed owners to upgrade a single part of the camera they already have. So even though Insta360’s latest camera, the One RS 1-inch 360 Edition, looks wildly different than its predecessor, the One RS, it is built on the same processor and software Insta360 customers already own and know. It’s an incredibly smart approach, but it relies heavily on each modification significantly improving the experience in some way.

For this latest release, the company went big: dual 1-inch CMOS sensors. Together with the core of a previous camera, the added sensors combine with a larger battery and mounting case to create the most robust consumer 360 camera Insta360 has ever made. And also the most expensive, at a whopping $799.99.

For how large that sensor — and price tag — is, I was hoping for just as large of a jump in picture quality. Instead, the real jump came in how great Insta360’s software experience is and how great this camera feels to hold.
Insta360’s latest camera, the One RS 1-inch 360 Edition, fits great in my hand.

The One RS 1-inch 360 edition is made up of four parts: a plastic mounting bracket; a battery brick with a USB-C charging port, a ¼” tripod mount, and a USB-C plug to connect to the core; the main core piece with a USB-C port, an incredibly hard to reach micro SD card slot, and very responsive 1.3-inch touchscreen; and the dual 1-inch CMOS sensors and lenses. When all connected and assembled in the plastic housing, you have a 360-degree camera.

The new, larger lens mod creates a bit of a lip from the grip that not only proves to be a great resting spot for my thumb and pointer finger but also provides a perfect location for the power button, with the record button right underneath. There are also plastic side panels that display details about the sensor and the stabilization. It’s a great touch that makes good use of the space needed to hold those large sensors.
The side display is a creative way to put specs onto a camera.

At 239 grams, the camera feels robust but is heavy, especially when holding it out on a selfie stick. Insta360 warns that for action sports, such as biking, any selfie stick longer than four feet is not recommended. And I can feel why. This is the first time I thought their own selfie stick should come with a wrist leash.

There is a rubber lens guard, but I still had constant worry of one of these lenses, which cannot be user replaced, being smashed or cracked. The system is also only rated IPX3 water-resistant, which means that it should not be submerged in water. I have heard there might be some lens protections coming, but for now, I would not treat this like an action camera.

Insta360 sells a program for $79 that covers a one-time accidental damage repair and the shipping fees for one year after purchase. And for an additional cost, you can add Insta360’s Extended Warranty to cover unlimited free repairs and replacements due to product defects, not user error, for two years. But none of that feels comforting enough for a camera that weighs this much and is geared towards active use. I much prefer GoPro’s $50 per year subscription service that, in most cases, offers two replacements a year along with cloud storage and discounts on gear.

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On the inside, there are dual 1-inch CMOS sensors capable of filming 6K 360-degree footage at 30fps or 3K footage up to 50fps. It can also capture 21mp 360 photos. That is the same size sensor that is in Sony’s RX100 line, a camera that many folks, including myself, love.

But it is not the only consumer 360 camera to have 1-inch sensors. Kandao’s QooCam 8k was launched in 2018 and Ricoh’s Theta Z1 in 2019 were equipped with similar size sensors. Both, however, ultimately produced underwhelming results despite their specs on paper and failed to gain popularity on a larger scale.

Insta360 claims that these larger sensors will make for better low light performance and provide more dynamic range than its previous consumer 360 cameras. And in low light, it’s just a bit better when compared to the ONE RS with the 5.7K 360 mod.

There is slightly more detail in the shadows. If we really pixel peep, there is a bit less noise, but the stabilization is absolutely much smoother. It’s not so different from its predecessor that I would rush out to buy it, though. And I was hoping to see a much larger jump in performance given that it has that much larger sensors.
The One RS 1-inch 360 addition is made up of four parts.

On blue-sky days, though, these sensors really shine. Bright colors, such as the greens of trees or blue of the sky, are punchy and bright. And the image doesn’t feel over processed or too sharp. And, of course, everything is very stable, something I’ve come to expect from Insta360. I also noticed that the quality on the stitch line is a bit sharper than both the GoPro Max and the One RS 5.7K.

The mics on this camera sound great when there is no wind and are usable, though not perfect, when there is a breeze. If you want even better audio, Insta360 has a mic adapter that sits on the side of the camera where it is cropped out of your shot. There is both a ¼” mono mic port and a mount for holding a small wireless mic receiver such as the RODE Wireless Go II.

On the photo side there is an HDR mode that produces balanced images without looking too processed, but the downside is in how long these photos take to capture. You are looking at around 1.5 seconds to take a snapshot. I just ended up recording video and taking screengrabs instead. For more photo and video samples, check out my video review at the top of this article.

Photos taken using HDR mode on the Insta360 1-inch 360 Edition, showing both a wide and tight crop
  1. The battery life has been right about what I would expect: an hour and a half of straight use brought me from 100 percent to a clean zero. That doesn’t sound particularly impressive, but when you consider all the playback on your phone that’s required and the heat this much processing can cause, it checks out. The battery can recharge relatively quickly, though, going from zero to 100 in about the same 90 minutes. And the company says a single vertical battery base is coming soon for $50.

The most impressive thing about this camera, though, is its ability to stay paired to my phone and just how quickly I can review shots. The playback gets pixelated and laggy with long clips if they aren’t downloaded to my device, but for a quick review, it all works well enough. The camera also gets toasty to the touch but never hot enough that it would pose a problem if mounted on someone’s chest.

I handed the app to a few folks who are not video editors by trade and for whom keyframing does not come naturally, and there is a learning curve. Editing this footage will still take practice, patience, and time. Insta360 still hasn’t solved that problem.

Insta360’s desktop app has significantly improved with a better design and far more intuitive icons, though. Previous versions featured an archaic design that did not inspire me to edit the footage. Now you can see thumbnails of all of your clips and continue to edit them even when a clip is exporting.
With every new product, Insta360’s app gets easier to use.

Because of its larger sensor, heavier weight, and polished app experience, the ONE RS 1-inch 360 edition feels like a breath of fresh air in a rather stagnant consumer 360 camera market. But unlike its predecessors, it is not an action camera. Not only does it have lots of glass asking to be scratched, but it also lacks the high frame rates, rugged build, and water-resistance of its counterparts: the GoPro Max and Insta360’s own One RS and One X2.

At $800 for the full system, which includes the core, mounting bracket, battery, and lenses, it is also very expensive. And I don’t feel this system’s minor upgrades in low light performance and resolution is worth almost double the price of what is already available.

For existing One R and One RS owners, the 1-inch 360 lens, battery, and mounting bracket are available for $650. Though, for One R users, I would wait till a bit more testing is done with that older core and this new system. The One R notoriously overheated when recording 360 footage, and I imagine processing this amount of data would cause similar problems.
From left to right: Insta360 One RS 1-inch 360 edition, Insta360 One X2, Insta360 One RS with 5.7k 360 mod, and the GoPro Hero Max.

I am excited about this camera, though. Not only does it feel far more powerful in my hand, but Insta360 software has gotten so polished with each new product’s release. And by putting a larger sensor in a camera that has not only gained significant popularity but also, for the most part, has been limited to a smaller size, it signals that the competition in the consumer 360 market is about to get a lot more exciting.

Photography by: Becca Farsace / The Verge

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