I’ll have to admit — the Insta360 X3 360-degree camera was about as much of an impulse purchase as it gets, one that went against the well-meaning advice of peers: “this is smartphone-level money”, “buy a game console instead” “too much money for an action camera”. All of these may have a hint of truth, but we were Sri Lanka-bound for a year-end vacation, and I wanted to take the X3 along for some unique perspectives to the many activities we had planned, despite having access to the best smartphone cameras around. The X3 delivered on that front in spades — what I hadn’t bargained for was how much fun I’d have using this rather unique piece of tech.
Let’s back up for a moment here and understand why the Insta 360 X3 isn’t yet another pocketable carry-everywhere camera of the sort we’ve come to associate with the likes of GoPro or DJI. Straight off, the X3 eschews the squat form factor preferred by GoPro/DJI — instead, you get a candy bar form factor in a two-tone gray finish with a rubberized grip along the sides. In the hand, the X3 is easy to hold and wide enough to stand up independently on a flat surface. There’s a standard tripod mount at the bottom, which is rather convenient if you have a selfie stick already. It would be prudent to check ahead if you’re planning on using this for adventure activities like white water rafting — while the X3 is waterproof, most safety gear (helmets) available with operators have incompatible GoPro mounts.
Of course, the first thing you’ll likely notice about the X3 is the pair of fisheye lenses on either side, with a 2.29-inch touch screen and four hardware buttons to operate the device. Both these near-180-degree lens work in tandem to stitch both of their outputs in-camera to produce a seamless 360-degree spherical view of everything around the camera, no matter whether you’re shooting 5.7K spherical videos or absolutely massive 72MP still images.
I know what you’re thinking by now — why do I need 360-degree videos? No, they’re not for niche virtual reality (VR) applications. Instead, this all-encompassing capture method lets you start filming without having to worry about framing your shot — since you’re capturing everything around you, all you have to do is hit record, focus on doing what you want to do, and you can always go back to the smartphone/desktop app later and pick which part of the shot to use. Think of this as the modern take to a point-and-shoot, except you shoot first and point later, reframing your video or photos into the frame/scene you need.
It's a disarmingly simple approach to recording a moment or an activity, one which keeps you in the action and lets you savor the moment rather than worrying if you’re in the frame (or heaven forbid, out of it completely!) as you bob around in your raft or while holding onto the safety apparatus while parasailing. Or, if you prefer, edit the same video to focus on you in some part, and on the landmarks around you, in others. Or even re-watch the same walk through the busy tourist markets, rediscovering shops or attractions you may have completely missed the first time around. You’ll never miss a moment with the X3, unlike other action cams which depend on you to make the right choice about which direction the camera should be pointing.
While 360-degree is its marquee attraction, the X3 just as easily switches into action camera mode, recording 4K stabilized action video from either the front or the rear lens. Hit a button and you can shoot regular or HDR photos for selfies that have your group in the photo, plus everyone else in the room as well! Great for taking overhead shots at parties where everyone simply cannot fit into the frame. Using a selfie stick? No problem, the camera’s smarts detect the selfie stick and stitch it out of the final video. Want the video to focus exclusively on you as you record a vlog? Try the Me Mode, where the camera creates a 180-degree video with you in the center of the frame. Or how about the Loop mode, which continuously records footage while saving only the most recent 1-30 minutes of the video, say for a dashcam on your motorcycle or multi-terrain bike?
Shooting with the X3 is akin to shooting with a whole bunch of cameras and editing in post thereafter.
As easy as it is to record videos via the X3, Insta360 has made it equally easy to edit videos, either via the Android/iOS app (over Wi-Fi) or via Windows/macOS desktop apps (by transferring over the USB-C port). The X3 saves 360-degree files in a proprietary format, so the apps are a strict requirement, but it’s well worth the initial learning curve (the apps have included video tutorials) to figure out how to tame the sheer number of creative possibilities all this 360-degree footage presents.
While you can use the mobile apps, we’d recommend using the desktop apps, if for no other reason that’s a lot easier to work with 360-degree video with precise mouse control, unless it’s for a quick post to social media. Advanced users can bring in the 360-degree video into Adobe Premier Pro CC and Apple Final Cut Pro X, and fiddle around with advanced controls like setting keyframes for pans or moving the camera. Photos shot on the X3 benefit from the app as well — you can add animations to show off the entire scene as a video clip or export the photos in a variety of social media-friendly aspect ratios.
Internally, the X3 two 1/2" sensors and each lens shoots at a super wide angle with an f/1.9 aperture. This combination of a largeish sensor and a bright lens delivers video that’s sharp and clean – up to 5.7K resolution at 30 frames per second (fps) or 4K/60fps, and 4K/30fps and 3.6K/60fps in single lens mode.
The X3 did a tremendous job of capturing sharp and well-exposed video, no matter whether I was shooting on the fort in sunny Galle or while trekking up the Little Adam’s Peak in overcast Ella. Videos shot indoors and in low-light aren’t as impressive, so keep your expectations in check. Photos offered plenty of detail, as long as you don’t go pixel peeping. No matter where you take the X3, keep this in mind — while it is fairly rugged and impact-proof, it’ll serve you well to be careful with those two extremely bulbous lenses. You don’t want them to be rubbing against anything harsh or coarse. Battery life is middling, in that it lasts just about 80 minutes of continuous 5.7k 30fps 360-degree recording.
Making your videos stand out in a time when millions of creators are trying to do the same on Instagram and YouTube/TikTok is no easy task, and the Insta360 X3 represents a formidable weapon to this audience. Even for normobs, the X3 earns an easy recommendation for the outdoorsy types, though it would be a tad harder to justify the Rs. 46,999 outlay. The rather understated reason to consider the X3 is that it’s a ton of fun to use, thanks to the extensive range of shooting modes and creative options that it presents with a degree of assured confidence and user-friendliness. The fact that you can pull it out and press record and worry about the rest later is a little bit of imaging magic that simply cannot be matched right now.