I’ve been an action camera buyer for a long time. Remember the GoPro vs Contour wars of the early 2010s? I was there, in the trenches and on the slopes, backing the more aerodynamic but shorter-lived horse. But now there’s another action camera war forming, one based not on aerodynamics but on visibility. For years, all of us — myself included — have worn wide-angle GoPros on our helmets, chests, dashboards and teeth. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see more?
That’s what Insta360 offers with its X3 camera: Full visibility on all sides. It’s an interesting move for a camera, going from a first-person view out to a third-person chase camera, without the hassle of flying around a self-guided drone. Just stick the camera on its extending selfie stick, clamp it to your bike (or car, or carry it while you snowboard down a hill) and it’ll capture everything everywhere all at once.
Full Disclosure: Insta360 asked if we’d like to test out its X3 camera. The company provided the camera, selfie stick, motorcycle mount, and protective lens covers.
It’ll do so in good quality, too. No action camera is going to replace your A7S or RED Weapon, but the the X3 is more than good enough to show off your dank whoolies. It shoots in 4k quality, but what really matters for cameras is sensor size. If you’re wondering why your high-res cell phone footage looks worse than a real camera, that’s the difference you’re noticing. Like any other compact camera, the Insta360 is too small to have a truly gorgeous sensor, but it gets the job done.
The ability to grab a full orb of video, admittedly, might sound odd. After all, you’re reading this on a flat screen — a rectangle, not some VR headset. What are you going to do with 360 degrees of footage?
The beauty of the Insta360 X3 isn’t the footage you capture in the moment. It’s the flexibility to decide, after the fact, what you want to show off. You can spin the view, zoom in and out, and record things you never knew to expect. Had I been wearing my chin-mounted GoPro in that video, you wouldn’t be able to see the Rav4 as it entered my lane. With the X3, you get to see the whole close call.
This after-the-fact framing can be done in a desktop program, but it’s easiest through Insta360's mobile app. Quick videos can even be made by moving your phone around within the orb of video the camera captured — like placing yourself back in the scene with your phone in hand, ready to shoot.
Of course, the disadvantage to this wealth of camera angles is the physical location of the camera. To get a good view, the X3 has to sit far away from whatever you’re shooting — separated from your bike, car, or body by its extending selfie stick. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a genuine consideration; the angle may not always be worth the obtrusiveness of the camera mount.
The Insta360 X3 retails for $450, $50 more than a standard GoPro Hero 11 Black or GoPro Max. Each has their own uses — I’d still take the GoPro’s smaller frame for helmet-mounted first-person footage — but the Insta360 is a compelling offer for such a similar price. For that $50, you get to see everything, a wealth of angles and options that you just don’t get with a Hero.
For years, the action camera has been one name: GoPro. For some shots, your POV vlogs, that’s still the camera to buy. But if you want to think bigger, if you can imagine keyframes and whip pans and more interesting framing, there’s a new name you should know. If we’re lucky, where Contour failed, the Insta360 can succeed. And maybe, just maybe, some real competition in the action camera market will help us all — driving prices down and features up.