360 cameras can be daunting. They look weird, they’re difficult to use, and most are really expensive. But they don’t have to be, as Insta360 proves with two 360 cameras you can snap onto your phone.
Insta360 makes the Nano, for iOS (Rating: 6 out of 10), and the more recently introduced Air, for Android (Rating: 4). After testing both, it’s clear that Android users get the short end of the stick here.
Both cameras plug in through the charging port—the Air works with both USB-type ports—which is both brilliant and problematic. It’s pretty much the only way to add a 360 camera to the phone, but it also requires using the phone upside down without a case. The result: a top-heavy device that’s difficult to hold in one hand. Besides the risk of dropping your phone, it also means you need a steady hand taking pictures. Even the slightest movement makes your footage look like you’re filming from the eye of a tornado.
The Nano also works without the phone, which gives you more stability and means you can still use it if your iPhone dies. Of course, you’ll need an SD card and won’t be able to see what you’re filming.
As far as image quality goes, the Nano mostly delivers. For $200, you get dual fish eye lenses and 3040 x 1520 resolution at 30 frames per second. While it performs well in evenly lit areas, it struggles in the real world. Windows become gaping white blotches and anything more than 20 feet away is indiscernible.
The Android-specific Air costs only $130, but the $70 savings is all too apparent in the image quality. The Air records video at 2560 x 1280 resolution at 30 frames per second. It takes pictures at a slightly better clip—3008 x 1504—but a 2.4 minimum aperture isn’t ideal. Unlike its counterpart, the Air doesn’t work as a standalone camera, but you can plug it into a computer, turning it into a 360 webcam. It’s the one feature the Air has that the Nano does not.
Both the Air and the Nano connect to the Insta360 app, which gives you both an online community and an interface to control the camera. The interface lets you choose between photo, video, and live stream, plus filters like “Hefe” and “Sketch” to add an unnatural hue to the world. You can manipulate images and videos to zoom in and out, twist and switch between modes like Fisheye, Tiny Planet and Ball. You can even upload footage to the still-growing Insta360 community. Right now, it’s mostly a wasteland of 360 selfies, but playing with a malleable image will make returning to flat media feel boring and depthless.
The Insta360 Nano comes with flaws, but it’s easy to use, relatively affordable, and captures more than decent 360 pictures and videos. The Air, on the other hand, only checks off those first two boxes.