Here’s a confession: I think the brouhaha surrounding virtual reality—be it VR headsets, VR movies, and VR cameras—are mostly just hype. The reality is VR headsets are generally annoying and cumbersome to wear, and VR footage isn’t hi-res enough to be truly immersive. I get headaches from wearing VR goggles for more than five minutes at a time, and I don’t think I’m alone.
With that said, however, I have been a big fan of Shenzhen-based Insta360’s One X camera, which shoots 360-degree footage, a.k.a. the type of content usually consumed through VR headets. I make an exception for the One X because Insta360 built a software that allows me to turn existing 360 footage into a “normal,” 2D video with panning and zooming to my liking.
The One X was critically acclaimed, and Insta360 is back with an upgrade. Technically, the new camera, named Evo, is a new product category, but it is really just the One X with a new form factor and software that gives it another new shooting trick: 180-degree 3D videos.
The Evo, which Insta360 has begun selling for $420, has the same specs and lenses as the One X: two f/2.2 fisheye lens with 180-degree field of vision that can capture 18-megapixel stills or 5.7k/30fps resolution 360 footage, the latter when in its “default” cube form. Unfold the device so both lenses face the same direction, however, and the Evo can shoot 180-degree photos or videos that have a holographic, 3D effect.
These 3D media can be viewed on traditional VR headsets, but can also be viewed on an iPhone courtesy of a $30 case by South Korean brand Holoframe. Simply flip the case around—so the back side covers the phone’s screen—and footage will “pop” off the iPhone’s screen. This works by using an eye-tracking algorithm designed by Holoframe, which Insta360 has implemented into its native software.
All the old features from the One X returns, including the aforementioned ability to turn a 360-degree footage into a moving 2D video that can be shared on Instagram. The ability to capture 360 footage at 5.7k was a big selling point for the One X and will likely be for the Evo, too, as other consumer level 360 cameras usually only shoot at 4K, but since I prefer viewing footage on a smaller canvas (phone or computer screen, compared to a VR headset), I can downgrade to shoot at 4K and not lose image quality. The benefit of shooting at 4K is that the camera can then bump up framerate to 50fps, which makes footage feel more fluid.
As I said at the beginning of this post, part of what makes Insta360’s products appealing is its software, and the Evo’s companion app is again well designed. Shooting videos or photos is a breeze; the viewfinder stretches the entire display of the phone; and in future updates the app will allow users to shoot and publish directly to Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR. As of now, you can share content to Instagram or Facebook immediately.
I don’t think the Evo will convince me to consume more VR content; nor do I think I’ll use the 3D video option much beyond showing friends. Ultimately, what makes the Evo appealing in my opinion is what made the One X great: you can shoot a video without worrying about where to point the camera, because the camera is capturing 360 degrees, and then you can turn that footage into a standard video with perspectives and angles you choose, like the footage below.