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Insta360 Sphere review: invisible drone, excellent camera

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Insta360 Bol

Recommended retail price $429.99

“The Insta360 Sphere makes your drone invisible, allowing for an incredible degree of creative freedom.”

Pros

  • Makes capturing aerial 360 video easy

  • Incredible creative potential

  • Fits securely and securely on your drone

  • Robust design and materials

  • Excellent editing software integration

The dream for 360 cameras is ultimate creative freedom, yet they face certain limitations. The Insta360 Sphere solves one of those limitations by bringing 360 video to the sky and making your drone disappear. Designed specifically for the DJI Air 2 and Air 2S drones, two of the best and most popular drones in DJI’s lineup, this camera is arguably the best accessory ever made for a drone.

The Insta360 Sphere works by placing one camera above the drone and one below it, then stitching the two semicircular video feeds together to create one seamless, spherical image. Since the drone is located between the two cameras, it is completely absent from the video, allowing you to look in any direction without the drone getting into the show. It’s a fascinating concept, but how does it hold up in practice?

Design

The Insta360 Sphere on a table.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

The Insta360 Sphere is made of robust metal and plastic. In short, it looks quite durable. It clamps and locks securely to your drone so it doesn’t fall mid-flight. However, it is important to note that the Sphere is not waterproof, so do not fly it in conditions where it can get wet. With my big fingers, I also found it difficult to insert and remove the microSD card and operate the power and record buttons. While these things were annoying, I don’t consider them major concerns.

To keep the drone out of your shots, the two cameras on the Sphere must be below and above the drone. This means they stick out of the drone. And as you’d expect, it’s critical to keep the bottom camera in mind during takeoff and landing. Insta360 provides lens protectors and a landing pad to solve this problem, although I had some issues with these precautions.

The Insta360 Sphere attached to the DJI Air 2S on a landing pad.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

For example, the first time I flew the Sphere, I used the landing pad and lens protectors as instructed. However, when it came in for a landing, the smooth surface of the lens hit first and the drone slid sideways off the landing pad on the ground. Luckily I installed the lens protectors so no permanent damage was done, but the resulting scratches spelled the end of that set of lens protectors.

Since that experience I have started taking off and landing on my hand. This is the method I usually use for flying drones because most of the locations I like to fly don’t have a flat surface to land on. This poses a danger to the pilot, so I cannot recommend it for safety reasons. Instead, I recommend finding a flat, grassy area to place the landing pad where the drone has a safe surface around it if the landing goes wrong.

The Insta360 Sphere on the DJI Air 2S.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

I’m also not a fan of using the supplied lens protectors, even though they saved the camera on my first flight. This is a personal preference on my part, and one that extends to my various other cameras. Placing a surface in front of a camera lens degrades the image quality to some extent. If you want to capture the highest quality images possible (like me), you may want to fly without the lens protectors. Remember that you do this at your own risk.

Insta360 engineers faced a remarkable challenge when designing the Sphere, and what they have accomplished is impressive. The trade-offs involved present some challenges for the user, but I got used to them fairly quickly while testing the camera.

Performance

The Insta360 Sphere on the DJI Air 2S in flight.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

Carrying extra weight on a drone affects battery life and handling. Having the Sphere on my Air 2S resulted in an approximately 20% reduction in flight time, and I noticed a significant reduction in responsiveness. It is important to know that the drone has more speed and needs more time and distance to come to a stop at high speed.

The only major issue I encountered with the Sphere is that it somehow interferes with the drone’s GPS while recording. More specifically, recording with the Sphere results in a loss of signal of 10 MB. Under ideal conditions, this will not affect the drone’s GPS performance. For example, when I flew over the ocean, I didn’t experience any interruptions from the GPS. But when flying in wooded, hilly or mountainous terrain, the GPS is reduced and the interference from the Sphere causes the signal to be interrupted at best.

The Insta360 Sphere on the DJI Air 2S in flight.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

The good news is that this will not affect the performance of the drone beyond the GPS functions. In my testing, the consequences include not being able to track the drone on a map and relying on the “Return to home” functionality. Essentially, when flying, you want to be more careful and stay within line of sight.

The camera itself performs very well. It’s reliable and I’ve never experienced errors, corrupted footage, or overheating. Overall, the filmmaking benefits the Insta360 Sphere offers outweigh the compromises it poses to the drone’s performance.

Camera

The Sphere captures 5.3K video, which is practically identical in quality to Insta360’s other cameras – including the One X 2 and One RS 360 module, both of which I’ve used extensively. Since 5.3K is the bare minimum for 360 video recording, it’s important to realize that there will be some noise and pixelation visible depending on how you edit. However, I realized a long time ago that with 360 cameras, image quality is secondary to the creative potential they offer. That applies more than ever to the Sphere.

Quietly flying over a field, circling a tree, or gliding under a bridge may sound like mundane drone footage. But that’s only until you filmed them with the Sphere and got those shots in a video editor. Set a few keyframes, speed up the footage, flip it here and there, and suddenly you’re racing across that field at breakneck speed, making a fast lane around the trees and doing somersaults under the bridge.

One of the best uses for the Sphere is that it allows users to capture thrilling acrobatic FPV-style footage while flying slowly with a calm and safe DJI Air 2S. This effect only breaks down a bit if you’re flying around moving objects (and if you speed up the footage). But when you fly in the mountains or the forest, it looks absolutely amazing.

You can also achieve many other more bizarre effects, such as a “little planet” look, or the reverse, where the sky is a sphere with the landscape around it. Alternatively, you can use more advanced editing software, such as Adobe After Effects, and create truly unique and bizarre images straight from Doctor Strange or Start† There is also the potential to create 360 ​​VR experiences that completely immerse the viewer in the joy of flying.

Software

The Sphere is fully compatible with Insta360’s excellent software suite, including desktop PC, iOS/Android apps and an Adobe Premiere Pro plug-in. I have used each version to varying degrees. For quick and easy edits on the go, I like to use the Insta360 app on my iPad mini 6. The desktop app is great for more accurate work at home, while the Premiere Pro plugin is useful for integrating footage into my workflow for making videos. Whatever platform you’re editing on, Insta360 has made the process remarkably intuitive while retaining plenty of depth and granular control.

Price and availability

The Insta360 Sphere is available now for $430, which may seem a bit steep. However, this is such a niche and unique device that I think the price tag is reasonable. If you don’t already own a compatible DJI drone, a DJI Air 2 will set you back about $800, or $1,000 if you opt for the Air 2S.

Our opinion

The Insta360 Sphere is a truly innovative camera that opens up exciting new creative possibilities. While it certainly has a few flaws – and may be a niche product – I’d highly recommend it, especially if you already own a compatible drone. The creative possibilities are truly amazing from the get-go, and even more so when you really dig into editing and manipulating the images you capture.

The Insta360 Sphere on the DJI Air 2S in flight with trees and mountains in the background.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

Is there a better alternative?

Closest to the Sphere is a drone made by BETA FPV designed to carry the Insta360 One R. That kit is actually less expensive than buying an Insta360 Sphere and DJI Air 2 drone, but the caveat is that you also need to know how to fly FPV drones. That means a lot of practice. If you’re going that way, I also recommend getting a small, inexpensive practice FPV drone that won’t set you back too much because you’ll inevitably crash. Flying the Sphere on an Air 2 drone is a safe and hassle-free experience with a much smoother learning curve.

Another option is to mount a 360 camera (such as the Insta360 One RS or One X 2) on a drone. I’ve been doing this with the DJI FPV drone for a while and have shot some really cool videos with that setup. It’s not really the same though, as it’s hard to keep the drone out of your shot. That can produce an effect akin to riding a Star Wars speeder on Endor, which might be cool, but it’s also limiting. The bottom line is that there is nothing quite like the Insta360 Sphere out there.

How long will it stay that way?

Given the durable construction of the Sphere, and assuming you don’t fly the drone in the rain or have a serious accident, this camera should perform well for some time to come. The lifespan is inextricably linked to the lifespan of the DJI Air 2 and 2S drones. These will almost certainly be replaced by new models in a few years and the current models will disappear. However, drones can last for years if cared for properly, so I estimate the Sphere will last between five and ten years.

It’s also worth considering that the Sphere’s 5.3K resolution is really the bare minimum for shooting 360-degree photos and videos. I expect that most 360 cameras will record 8K in a few years and offer significantly better looking images. But that’s pure speculation on my part.

Should you buy it?

If you want a turnkey solution to capture 360-degree aerial shots without getting the drone in your shot, the Insta360 Sphere is pretty much the only game in town. It opens the door to some really exciting creative possibilities and allows you to capture truly unique images. If you already own a DJI Air 2 or 2S drone, this is an incredible accessory. If you don’t own any of those drones, the Insta360 Sphere is a compelling reason to buy one.

Editor’s Recommendations

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