Insta360 vs GoPro

I've been using GoPro's for a long time now. First one I owned was the original GoPro Hero HD (released in 2010, capable of 1080p/30, which was unbelievable at the time, most portable cameras were at 640p resolution). I still use a GoPro 5 as a webcam, and have a couple of Sessions (Still my favourite form-factor) for ad-hoc static/mounted images. My normal "go-to" cameras are a GoPro 7 Black and a GoPro Max (360 camera). I still really rate the hardware, however the company have been falling further and further behind on software and connectivity. Getting a camera connected to their app (Quik) is a massive labour, often fails, and is incredibly slow. Their Windows software is basically non-existent, with an assumption that you will use an NLE and/or their Abobe Premiere plug-in. For flat cameras this is frustrating, for 360 cameras with proprietory formats this is intolerable. When I got the GoPro Max the only way I could edit it was to use GoPro's exporter, which simply rendered the 360 footage out to a generic format (dropping resolution from 5.7k/30 to 4k/30) and then using Insta360's software to reframe. Having to use a competitors software is a shocking the time I didn't even have an Insta360 camera!

As I've documented elsewhere, this year I've been using an Insta360 Go 2 for grabbing clips (mainly dogs and cycling this year). Really impressed with the hardware and's perfect for keeping in a pocket, and grabbing shots quickly, and I've found the Insta360 software (app and Windows platform) really good for post don't have to worry too much about the exact footage you are capturing, you have a lot of freedom to clean it up afterwards. It's pretty much replaced the GoPro 7 Black as a camera I carry.

With that in mind, I decided to try out their flagship 360 camera...the One X2. I nearly went for this (or rather the previous model, the One X) instead of the GoPro Max, but ultimately splitting platforms put me off. That's no longer a concern, and I found that the software and editing issues using GoPro meant I rarely went to the hassle of getting the Max out.

TL;DR - the One X2 is structurally and functionally excellent. It matches and exceeds the capture capability of the GoPro, while allowing very fast clip output. I've trialled it in 2 situations;
1) In a park, on a rainy evening, walking the dog.
2) A cyclocross event, capturing footage of racers

I can't be bothered to upload the clips to YouTube, as they are all niche and mainly trial footage, but in both situations it did really well.
There are some clips on the Reading CC Facebook Page...these were all done on-site on my phone, and all done within a lap (so 5-6 minutes of edit/render/upload)

Facebook has only done 720p versions...the original uploads were either 1080p/50 or 1440p/30 (depending on the camera setting during the capture, and the level of zoom I've used).

As with all small-lens cameras light quality is key...the brighter the better.. What Insta360 really excels at is allowing fast generation of clips and "interesting " footage. They lean heavily on AI models to analyse the footage, and make it very easy to use this via the app (so long as you read the instructions at least!). The biggies for me are;

1) Object tracking. I used this for both situations, and it worked flawlessly. This removes the need to keyframe footage, instead selecting an object and the app then tracks it, keeping it centred. It handled a black lab bombing round a park in dark conditions. In the Windows app there is an upgrade to this called "Auto Frame", which will track every moving object in the 360 shot, and produce short clips of each one. In the race situation, this resulted in a short 2-3 second clip of every.single.rider who went past. If I'd known this, I could have set the camera up on a corner, and then kicked out a personalised video for each of the 450+ riders we saw, and it would have taken me about 20 seconds to do. Stunning.

2) Multiview...this is mainly for vlogging, but it's super-good anyway. Once you've set up the main shot (be it auto-tracked or manually key-framed) you can add in a picture-in-picture which will automatically focus on a person in shot. I used this in the dog-walking situation, and you get something like this;

Again, this took seconds, and worked flawlessly.

3) Image Stabilisation/Horizon Levelling - Insta360 have a 2-phase approach to this. The capture onboard has (digital) gyro stabilisation, and then the app/software applies "Flow Stabilisation", which again is an AI-based approach. Looking at the raw footage the gyro-based stuff is pretty good, but once the Flow Stabilisation is in it's pretty much on-par with the GoPro stuff (the Go 2 also has this approach, with similar results). GoPro are doing all this on-bard the camera, and the current end result is overheating. 360 footage is always going to go through post-process, so moving some of the heavy lifting to more capable hardware is a clever tactic, and works well.

4) Software (app/windows) - it's just easy to use. The cameras and phones connect quickly, and while the UI can be a little obscure, the tools you want (tracking, keyframing, image filtering, speed etc) are all there and work pretty simply. Export is also fast. I think one reason that insta360 are doing far better than GoPro in this situation is that they generate low-res proxies on-the-fly, and the editors use this. GoPro works with the raw full-res footage, which means super-slow transfer rates and melting mobile phones.

5) Hardware - The One X2 is a really well built...very dense, and a much better form-factor for 360 shooting that the Max (which is square, and quite's basically 2 Hero cameras bolted together). I'd say the X2's screen on on-camera UI is a little fiddlier than the Max as the screen itself is smaller, but overall it's a smaller device. One (for me) big thing is the mount point. Insta360 use a ¼" thread mount, while GoPro use their proprietory pront mount. The biggie here is that it's virtually impossible to find a GoPro-Thread mount that is narrower than the body of the camera (most selfie sticks use a ¼" thread mount), and this leads to visible artifacts when you try and do the "invisible selfie stick" trick where the stick sits in the blind spot caused by the camer body between the 2 lenses. These annoying artifacts look like this

(you can also see in this footage how degraded image quality is with the GoPro export process...this was a 5.7k/30 shot, re-rendered to 4k/30 via teh GoPro Exporter software, and then re-framed and exported to 1080p via the Insta360 Studio software...each render step degrades the image)
For the Max I ended up dremmelling and modifying a mount, and it still wasn't perfect. The thread mount of the Insta360 has 2 benefits...
1) Very narrow, so does not exceed the width of the camera
2) No flexibility, so won't move under vibration/torque

The end result is that I'm simply far more lightly to take the camera with me and use it than the GoPro...I can grab some shots, and then edit it on my phone while drinking a cuppa. Being able to do Social Media clips for a cycling club while in a field is (for me) game-changing...previously I'd have had a laptop and a prolonged workflow.

I'll be taking it to St Lucia on Friday, and assuming it behave out there (its waterproof to 10m as well, so plenty of options to play!) I will probably eBay the Max, and maybe even the Black 7 too. I think my time with GoPro's is done.


Interesting read! Felix and I saw the cyclocross at Prospect on our way swimming. It looks like a batshit sort of event. Road bikes on not-roads.

I love the footage you captured of the riders; fair play for keeping up with them.

Have a great anniversary holiday!

brainwipe's picture

Insta360 have really put some good work into their software coupled with reliable hardware I used one of their Insta360 evo's (which I think is actually a slightly modified OneX hardware with the hinge and folding mechanism added) when I was over in Australia/New Zealand to take shots and do vehicle timelapses in Vr180 good quality images and the software was pretty good sounds like it's only improved since then. I've used other 360 cams in cars and often the stabilization gets confused by the motion and you get it rolling and tilting on acceleration or braking like the camera is on a sort of pendulum and have to got through and correct that in post but insta360's flow stabilization seemed to cope pretty well with that plus their software makes any adjustments easy to accomplish.

Gopro have been slowly dying out when they lost the drone market then wasted a bunch of money on that Karma drone to try and beat dji and then they had to recall it that nearly killed them and in that time the competition got to the point where their quality is as good if not better than Gopro and the price is often significantly less that's a losing game. They've positioned themselves as a premium brand but now the competition have caught up I can't see a good argument for paying that price premium especially when as you say their solution is less refined and more difficult to work with that their competitors for the same sort of image quality.

Evilmatt's picture

I think GoPro got over-focused on the "pro" market, with proper editors involved. I got onto the Max development focus group (basically from continual moaning to their support team about the lack of Windows support), and their development team are almost exclusively Apple/Adobe-based skillsets, they completely missed the "social media" market, where people want short, snappy clips...rather than prolonged epics.

I often quote this well-researched article when people do videos

Simply put, there is nothing more boring than long, un-edited cuts. Cyclists have a really bad habit of mounting a GoPro on the front of their bike, and then trying to show people several minutes of tarmac (I've been guilty of this before, it's tedium even if you were there), so now I endeavour to keep shots down to 5-10 seconds max with multiple angles, and then will do montage videos. The Insta360 app does this automatically (the daily videos I put on Facebook while I was doing LEJOG were all auto-edited...I just pointed it to the 20-30 shots I'd done that day...each typically 30-60 seconds in length), and it punched out a series of short cuts from each to form a video with little or no user input (I generally picked a music track from the library, and the output format (16:9, 9:16 or 1:1...I assumed most people were on phones so did 9:16 like a vertical video heathen). You get the option of modifying it before rendering and uploading (useful when you've accidentally pressed record while getting undressed in your tent, which happened a couple of times!)

GoPro belatedly came up with a similar thing (Quik, which is a terrible brandname, and a lie), but implemented it really badly. Firstly they removed any manual editing and enforced template videos, then added in a subscription to allow more than about 5 templates. They also don't do any image analysis, you have to go and flag certain points, but even then the final edit may not include them, or will put the mark point at teh start/end of a cut randomly. I can't personally confirm it, but I have seen in several places that their Apple app implementation is significantly better than the Android one. One Fanboi on Reddit suggested I buy a flagship Apple phone in order to "best the most of out my GoPro Max" when I pointed out the many, many failings they had on Windows/Android.

I think GoPro will continue to terms of raw power their hardware is top-notch...but I wouldn't recommend them for anyone other than professional/semi-professional peeps who need the highest quality footage in prepared situations, and have the corresponding software/hardware to use it (editing 4K is a ballache unless you have a monster of a machine, or are prepared to go through a proxy render process, which most professionals don't have time for. I have a fairly grunty and modern laptop, but still cannot scrub through 4k footage at native res). They'd probably be better off binning their software, and go full in on the professional market. Companies like Insta360 and DJI, meanwhile, have gotten to the "good enough" place in terms of quality, and are a million miles ahead in usability and connectivity...each leaning into their speciality (insta360 with 360/fisheye lenses and overcapture, and DJI with hyper image stabilisation), while being cheaper and more non-professional friendly.

babychaos's picture

yeah i watch a lot of project diy/making videos on the youtubs and you can mostly tell how new someone is to making video just by how much needless footage people leave in of them screwing in every screw in real time or cutting every piece of wood when they are identical bits. The more seasoned and popular people know to just cut that stuff as short as possible just illustrate the point with a single often greatly shortened version and not bore their audience to tears and or have them fast forwarding through things.

Going for the high end of things is often a good strategy in tech you get much higher margin and it's also a way to absorb higher manufacturing costs if your at a disadvantage there vs say a chinese competitor with easier cheaper options a western or smaller company just can't get. But to do the high end you have to have the best most polished experience to justify that price markup (something apple have embraced as a strategy massively overpriced kit but well made and with a smooth if simplified user experience) and gopro just don't have that and since they lost that quality edge they had nothing to really fall back on.

I've got one of the dji osmo pockets which is basically a drone camera with 3axis gimble glued to a battery with a tiny screen but it has excellent hardware good image quality the interface is a little clunky something they improved in the later models but it slips in a pocket and you can get nice stabilized 4k60 video out of the thing. The software is easy to use reliable you can pick a bunch of auto templates and it will do choreographed shots for you doing motion moves and applying filters even adding a royalty free soundtrack all in the phone app or you can pick out what you want it to do in a more template fashion or you can hurt yourself by manually editing it on a pc and suffer editing 4k footage on an NLE like wot I did :S

Similar to insta360 it's User friendly able to do the stuff for you but also with the flexibility to do your own thing which is what you want in something like this.

With insta360 and DJI they are going for a middle ground rather than the top like gopro or the bottom like all the knock offs yes their stuff is not the cheapest but it's affordable well designed and made and unlike the cheap end their user interface apps and other stuff is well designed works on a variety of platforms and is being constantly improved

Evilmatt's picture

That link you posted Pete sent me down a wonderful websurf rabbit hole, thank you! I'm hoping to improve my devlogs with some of the things I read - although I have to keep some elements of my style as it what makes my devlogs what they are.

Drone freestyle pilots still use the GoPro but they take the shell off and replace it with a thin 3D printed cage. The aim being to have a 5" 6S (25V) quad that flies like a fucking beast for 3-4 minutes but weighs under 250g so that you can fly without any involvement of the authorities. You can even buy a GoPro that has been deshelled.

Chinese firms are catching GoPro up - they keep trying to sue them for doing copies (that worked with one session-style box cam) but that's a tactic that will only last so long.

brainwipe's picture

I do find the production side of things fascinating, especially multi-camera live broadcasting (just how much stuff they do on-the-fly, and how much absolute processing horsepower must be involved). A good YouTube channel to follow is Linus Tech Tips, who do a lot of items on how they produce their videos in such volume and quality (they've basically built a small production studio on the outskirts of Toronto, complete with sets, a pool of writers, cameramen and editors etc). Something I need to get better at is colour correction, or at least think about it. As I tend to shoot outside lighting is completely variable...I tend to shoot on Auto settings (bad me, I should use a flat colour setting), but then you can see the settings change from one cut to the next. Ironically on my work streaming setup I have way more control of lighting (greenscreen + 2 diffused LED lights in a dark corner), so I can use a LUT to balance the image.

I really wish they'd stuck with the Session form-factor, it is/was by far my favourite. It was so much easier to mount and position than the flatter, more rectangular Hero design. I know that (at the time) if was an assemby nightmare (the micro-SD card reader is upside-down and at a weird angle, I read somewhere that it was literally the only way they could fit it in), but a Session with "modern" features (digital image stabilisation, higher bitrate capture, USB-C charging and connectivity) would be amazing.

I've seen footage from a few replica GoPros from China...I'd say the biggest issue I've seen is a low bitrate capture, so lots of blocking and artifacts, especially with lots of movement (in my case hurtling down mountains on bikes, but probably similar for drones in terms of frame-to-frame variation)....but again, at typically a third of the price, for most people they come easily into the "good enough" category...they are basically looking for a camera to put in a situation their phone cannot do (e.g. stuck on a pole out of a car, bus, train etc etc). The lower quality is only really noticeable when put side-by-side with a GoPro shot of the same footage (for example we had a mountain decent that I had recorded on a Black 7, while my coach had the same descent (slightly faster!) on an Amazon special. Same resolution capture, but much more blocking on the cheaper camera.

babychaos's picture