Software and workflow

With the Pro 1, offloading footage was very straightforward since the camera recorded everything to a single SD card. In contrast, the Pro 2 has individual cards for each lens, so Insta360 has come up with a couple of workflow solutions.

Solution 1 is to use Insta360's optional card reader and USB hub accessory. Solution 2 is perhaps the more practical solution, converting the camera itself into a proxy card reader for your computer. Basically, you install a driver and use a (provided) adapter to connect the camera (ethernet) to the computer (USB) to create an ad-hoc network between the two. It's a bit of a process, but is fairly painless and effective.

The included software, Insta360 Stitcher, is a feature-rich stitching application with a very minimal and easy-to-navigate interface. Simply drag and drop the file folders from your camera or hard drive and choose your stitching parameters. You can choose to add the job to a batch list, or stitch right away. Insta360 Stitcher uses technology developed by high-end software company SGO, and is based on its industry standard Mistika VR stitching software, so you can be confident it has everything necessary to output excellent results.

The Insta360 Stitcher desktop app is powerful and easy to use, and uses stitching technology based on industry-standard Mistikia VR software.

Within the software, controls are plentiful. You pick between monoscopic and stereoscopic, optical flow or scene-specific stitching method, and a variety of other encoding options. You can also choose to turn on stabilization and pick in and out points for the render (as you’ll quickly realize, you don’t want to render more than you absolutely have to, both because of time constraints and hard drive space).

You can output projects using standard codecs such as mp4 (h.264 and h.265) or ProRes, and can specify your intended bitrate. Still images can be exported in JPEG or PNG format. You also have the option to export the audio file independently – an especially nice feature if you’re dealing with spatial audio and are mixing with an external DAW.

The results are mind-bendingly good for an out-of-box solution. For the most part, you’ll be able to use just about everything it puts out, a feat near impossible from any out-of-box software just two years ago. If you really need to get surgical in some of those stitches, the Pro 2 comes with a three month license for Mistika VR, an incredibly intuitive piece of professional-grade software that gives you full control over the stitches.

The results are mind-bendingly good for an out-of-box solution.

It’s also worth noting that Insta360 has worked with Adobe to provide a 'no-stitch' plugin for Premiere Pro, downloadable from its website. The plugin creates on-demand proxies so you can begin editing in Premiere Pro before stitching full-resolution footage. Upon output, it uses the full resolution files, saving tons of time.

The plug-in has a few small bugs, but overall works quite well, and the Insta360 team is diligent about engaging with their community through their forums and on Facebook groups to help remedy potential issues. They even issued a patch within a week for an issue I raised about sound not transferring via the plugin.

FlowState stabilization works very very well. Utilizing a 9-axis gyroscope, the Pro 2 offers one of the better in-camera stabilization results I’ve seen from a turnkey stereoscopic rig. Here are a couple before and after examples using FlowState, one while simply holding the tripod through my sunroof, and the other holding the camera above my head as I walk down a street.

Editors note: YouTube encoding significantly degrades the quality of the video samples in this review. For an accurate representation of video quality from the camera we recommend downloading the Insta360 Moment app, which will allow you to view the footage with the benefit of Insta360's CrystalView encoding.

Download links for use with Insta360 Moment app: iOS, Android, Gear VR, Oculus
Download links for use with Insta360 Moment app: iOS, Android, Gear VR, Oculus
The above videos illustrate the effectiveness of the FlowState stabilization system. In each one, the first half of the video is shown without FlowState, and the second half with FlowState enabled. It's also a good demonstration of why you'll probably want to record audio with a separate recorder if there's any wind.

The Pro 2 can record spatial audio, and like most rigs with built in spatial mics, it does a great job if there's no wind. But, once wind is introduced, you'll start to hear the expected distorted muffle. It's great under perfect weather conditions, but otherwise it's a good reference and I suggest using an off-camera recorder, such as the Zoom H2N with a dead cat, for primary audio.

CrystalView encoding

One other great feature is CrystalView encoding, which is some serious algorithmic wizardry. Even though 4K headsets are not even a thing yet (at least not on the affordable mass consumer side), Insta360 has somehow figured out a way to make it possible to view near 8K quality video on iOS or Android devices, as well as today's most popular consumer headsets, the Samsung Gear VR and the Facebook Oculus Go. Essentially, they've developed an algorithm and accompanying app that forces all the pixels from the 360 sphere into the area that the viewer is looking. When the viewer moves his or her head to look elsewhere, the pixels are then concentrated in that area.

Even though 4K headsets are not even a thing yet, Insta360 has somehow figured out a way to make it possible to view near 8K quality video on today's most popular consumer headsets.

This is how Insta360 explains it: "CrystalView starts by converting a 360 video into a special format that breaks it down into many segments, each representing one small area of the full spherical panorama. Then, by selectively rendering the segments of this video that a viewer is actually looking at, while down-resing the parts they’re ignoring, high-resolution playback is made possible — even on smartphones that wouldn’t otherwise be up to the task."

The difference in quality is quite striking, and converting for CrystalView is very easy - you simply upload your full resolution edit into Insta360Stitcher’s CrystalView Video Encoder output tab, then play back that file in a supported headset using Insta360's Moment app. It’s currently compatible with Gear VR and Oculus Go. Insta360 allows you to encode any footage shot on any camera system, so long as it's 6K or above.

Key takeaways:

  • Insta360 Stitcher is feature-rich and based on industry standard Mistika VR stitching software
  • CrystalView encoding striking video quality with compatible headsets
  • FlowState image stabilization is impressively good
  • Supports spatial audio, but microphone are susceptible to wind noise

Video and image quality

Image quality, for a camera with these specs and in this price range, is, quite frankly, superb. Even when I was using the Insta360 Pro 1, I would often be concerned about certain situations, especially when shooting indoors in less than optimal light and at lower ISOs, or in high contrast situations, and just about always pleasantly surprised when I see the results.

The Pro 2 only improves on what were already impressive results from the previous model. The dynamic range renders such scenes very very well. This is one considerable difference in using a professional camera like the Insta360 Pro versus a consumer 360 camera like a Samsung Gear 360 or GoPro Fusion, in which images or video shot in anything but optimal lighting conditions will show very visible noise and/or blocky artifacts.

Download links for use with Insta360 Moment app: iOS, Android, Gear VR, Oculus
The above video provides an example of video shot using Log gamma on the Insta360 Pro 2.
The Insta360 Pro 2 captures a lot of detail for this type of camera. Download links: DNG, Jpeg

While it may not be as discernible when viewing on a mobile device or in a browser, it is impossible to ignore when viewing in a head mounted display (HMD), whether that be an entry level headset like Google Cardboard, a mid-level headset such as Oculus Go or Samsung Gear VR, or high-end headsets like HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.

Furthermore, while the colors that the camera outputs automatically are always acceptable, shooting in Log mode offers impressive flexibility in post, especially when it comes to color grading, if you choose to do that yourself.

Key takeaways:

  • Image quality is superb for the price, but best results will be seen when viewed on a head mounted display
  • Delivers better dynamic range than consumer 360 cameras
  • Offers Log video for flexible color grading