Smartphones have become veritable champions at stabilising video with built-in optical and electronic image stabilisation but in a world where polished smartphone videos for social media have become the norm, you just can’t beat the smooth cinematic footage a mobile gimbal delivers.
You would probably have seen them at weddings and live events, allowing video crews, vloggers and influencers alike to shoot jitter-free video without a big tripod or dolly setup. Brands like DJI and Zhiyun dominate this space but Insta360 is bringing its 360-degree smarts to this segment with the new Flow ( ₹15,990).
The Flow is different from other gimbals in that it packs down small (79.6x162.1x36mm) and light enough (369g) to fit in a jacket pocket or a small sling bag. It unfolds, powered on and ready for use, in a single twist – portable when collapsed, yet quick to deploy. The phone is mounted on to a metal clamp which securely attaches magnetically to the gimbal arm; the set-up is rated to handle phones up to 300g in weight and 3.3 inches wide. For reference, I was able to fit an Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max with a case.
There’s a Nothing-esque clear plastic cover which shows off the battery and some of the internal circuitry, an aesthetic that sets the Insta360 apart from the fairly staidly designed competition.
In keeping the overall size portable, the handle is small for larger hands but there’s a rubber sleeve for a better grip. Keeping the battery pack in the arm of the gimbal has allowed for some thoughtful design elements, from tripod legs tucked into the handle, to a 215mm extending selfie stick. They’re great in a pinch but be sure to use the tripod legs on a stable surface, preferably indoors, as any significant movement or wind can unsettle the set-up. If you regularly want to go hands-free outdoors, there’s a regular mount thread on the bottom so you can attach it to something more planted.
Connecting to your smartphone happens via the same Insta360 app we have seen on the brand’s 360-degree action cameras and pairing is quick and easy.
While you can control the gimbal movement on the app, you can access most features with the circular touch-sensitive panel on the handle—swipe on the panel to switch modes, use the jog wheel to zoom in and out, use the buttons to start recording or switch from portrait to landscape or selfie to rear camera, and a joystick to control where the phone is pointing. The only other control is a trigger button on the back to activate subject tracking and flip the phone 180 degrees. It may sound complicated, but the controls are easily grasped within a few minutes of familiarization.
There are a number of shooting modes. The auto mode uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) tracking to keep the subject centred. The Follow and Pan-Follow modes control the pan, tilt and roll and the FPV (first-person view) mode mimics drone-like footage. These are targeted mainly at the casual creator, as the app suggests steps to get the shots right, leaving you to focus on the framing and capture. The app helped me get dolly zoom cinematic effect right on the first shot—and that’s saying something.
Face recognition and tracking are excellent, particularly for framing you correctly even if you are walking around the room or are recording a video of yourself without a cameraperson. It works even if the subject is hidden or moves out of the frame briefly and supports gesture control to activate tracking and recording without having to go over to your phone.
In doing so, I observed an issue that’s inherent to the folding design in compact gimbals—the Flow offers a limited amount of tilt, which impacts how it can be used when held far above your head or held down low, or in the Pan-Follow mode. Whether it’s a deal-breaker or not depends on your shooting scenarios, but you should be aware of this if you’re actively evaluating the Flow for your next gimbal purchase.
From an image stabilisation perspective, particularly outdoors, the Flow does an exceptional job of reducing movement. You can be running alongside your child on a football field and the stabilisation will smoothen out even the kind of footage you would expect from the action mode of the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
When you are done, the app uses AI to help edit shots, suggesting the parts to use. While you would primarily use the Flow for video, the selfie stick and the tripod allow you to capture time lapses and 360-degree panoramas far more easily via the app. The app, however, doesn’t support capturing high dynamic range footage.
Battery life is solid, with the gimbal estimated to last around 12 hours per charge on the generous 2,900mAh battery. Even more impressively, you can use the Flow as a power bank—a USB-C port on the gimbal arm lets you charge your smartphone from the Flow’s battery, whether you are using the gimbal to shoot video or it’s packed away in your bag.
Considering this is the brand’s first attempt at a smartphone gimbal, the peppering of thoughtful features that would typically be incremental improvements in second- or third-generation products is super impressive. Equal parts feature packed, practical and downright ingenious, the Flow is Batman’s utility belt for mobile gimbals. Thanks to its portable form factor, solid feature set, Insta360’s fantastic software and AI tracking and quite literally a do-everything approach, it pulls ahead of the competition.
If you are looking for a creative edge to videos, whether you are shooting reels on vacations or are serious about video as a hobby, throw away the basic selfie stick. You can’t go wrong with the Flow.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar.