Insta360, the Shenzhen 360° camera hub, has launched a new camera. It’s designed to work with two popular DJI drones, opening up possibilities for your aerial video and photography that simply couldn’t be done without it.
Cameras that shoot in 360° are great. And they’re particularly cool when on a drone. Why is that? Because, when done right, the drone becomes invisible and you really have a “flying camera”. Not only that, but in editing you can play director, choose what you’d like to show from virtually any angle, and even transition between two completely different points within that sphere. You can literally make endless different edits from a single flight. Dive into some other editing genius, and even an amateur pilot doing slow, painstaking flight can look like a pro.
The product is called “Sphere”. It clips around the body of the DJI Air 2 and Air 2S, with convenient holes so as not to block downward-facing sensors. Here’s a look, and a few things worth noting:
- The closing mechanism is located at the top, above the battery, but without blocking the power button.
- The cameras protrude above and below the drone’s body. This makes landings a bit awkward, but there is a workaround that we’ll explore later.
- The power and record buttons plus electronics are in the module seen on the right, between the top and bottom lenses
- The battery and charging port are seen here on the left
This is how Insta360 describes the product:
“The new Insta360 Sphere is a 360 degree invisible drone camera, the ultimate tool to enhance your content production with DJI Mavic Air 2/2S. With Sphere attached, the drone becomes totally invisible in the resulting images, while the camera’s lightweight, unibody build and intuitive operation make 360 aerial filming easier than ever. Creators can take advantage of powerful editing tools like 360 cropping, auto-tracking and more to effortlessly capture otherwise impossible shots and effects.”
How does it work
To create a true 360° image, you must be able to capture the entire world around you. In this case, the product has two cameras, each capable of shooting a little more than 180 degrees. One of these cameras, when attached, sits just above the top of the Air 2 or Air 2S. The other is just below flush with the bottom, meaning they collectively capture the world above and below the drone. When those two halves are combined and stitched together, you end up with a single file that captures the entire space around the drone at 5.7K. If you look at the photo below, you’ll see how much those lenses stick out.
Wait a second
Wait a minute, you might say. How will the drone sit on the ground with a contraption like that? The answer? it won’t. In fact, when Sphere is attached, the drone sits a bit like a tripod, balancing on two legs and the bottom lens.
Does it look like this.
And once again, from the side:
So yeah, it does look a bit gawky. And you might be thinking: How am I going to get off the ground? And I won’t scratch that bottom lens?
Both good questions, but don’t worry. The Sphere ships with lens protectors as well as a collapsible Insta360 landing pad that’s made to not affect that glass (although you’ll want to make sure the pad is sand-free before you fly). And the drone, of course, compensates for that lopsided takeoff angle with its flight controller. The drone straightens up, level with the horizon, as you take off. Of course, the extra weight of the Sphere will cut into your flight time a bit, so plan accordingly and keep an eye on your battery level.
As for shooting, it couldn’t be simpler to operate. Turn on the camera just before the flight, then press the record button. (Minor quibble: those buttons must have been intended for Really little fingers.) When your flight is complete, you can edit with the free mobile app or desktop app. And that’s where the magic really kicks in. It can look like you’re flying inverted, for example, something that is clearly impossible with the Air 2 or Air 2S. With enough patience, the possibilities are endless. Check out this Insta360 video, it really highlights the capabilities. (Great job Gene Nagata!)
We’re working on our own video review for the future, so stay tuned. But this really shows what Sphere can do.
Unsurprisingly, the Sphere lenses are ultra wide angle The 35mm equivalent focal length is 7.2mm. The maximum video bit rate is 100 Mbps, with a maximum execution time of 48 minutes. Shoot 5.7K resolution at 24, 25, or 30fps. If you’re looking for some slo-mo action, you can shoot 50fps at 4K and higher frame rates at a lower resolution.
Weight-wise, the Sphere clocks in at 192 grams, which is about a third of the weight of the Air 2 and Air 2S. Therefore, it will reduce the flight time, and Insta360 recommends bringing the drone home a little earlier than normal. Here’s a more complete look at the specs:
With Flowstate stabilization, captured video is silky smooth, although we can probably support DJI on this as well. But what will really elevate your video production is Insta360 desktop software, available for Mac or PC. It allows you to take that insv video file and do wonders.
The Insta360 software (desktop and mobile) is really feature packed and intuitive, which is great for free software. And Insta360 has tons of tutorials and templates (even on the mobile app) to help you get up and running. The company has a great history of interaction with its users. And free? Your software is amazing. I’ve only done limited editing on the desktop app (more familiar with the mobile app), but enough to see if it offers incredible creative control. We’ve said it here before, but you can edit countless different movies from that one source file. The only limit? Your own creativity.
For whom is this?
Well obviously anyone who owns an Air 2 or Air 2S and is interested in shooting quality 360 footage and unlimited editing possibilities. That’s a fact.
But the Sphere 360, in my opinion, is much more than that. Previous efforts with 360 cameras and drones have shown promise, but have always had drawbacks. With conventional drones, like DJI, 360 systems have generally been attached to the bottom or top of the drone. That means the drone itself enters the scene. Of course, with editing you can choose a variety of shots that you don’t not include the drone, but the versatility you will get with this system has clear advantages.
The other problem is that many drones built for 360 have been FPV. There have been some clever efforts, including one from BetaFPV, which placed the ONE R right on the drone body, with one lens poking above the chassis and one below. But that also exposed the lenses to potential damage on landing, even for experienced FPV pilots.
Easy to use
The Sphere will change that, allowing even weekend DJI pilots to fly very comfortable missions and still use Insta’s desktop editing software to produce videos featuring barrel rolls, inverted flight, even screaming dives with crazy transitions. As you saw in the Insta360 video, it’s no exaggeration to say that even a basic pilot will be able to export some pretty amazing movies. Insta360 says the following in its launch material:
Insta360 Sphere delivers immersive visuals, without the need to buy a new drone or have professional flying or editing skills. Powered by Insta360’s industry-leading software, Sphere unlocks endless ways to create amazing content from drone footage.
And you know what? That is not an exaggeration.
The Sphere is available to order in the US and China starting today. The retail price is $429.99. Not bad, for a world of possibilities.
Subscribe to DroneDJ on YouTube for exclusive videos