The Insta360 Air is a small, portable, easy-to-use and reasonably priced 360-degree camera that simply plugs and plays in your Android phone, but is it worth your money? Find out in our Insta360 Air review.
The Insta360 Air is the sibling to last year’s Insta360 Nano, which was developed for iOS devices. It’s about the size of a golf ball when housed in its rubber protective case, and even smaller when removed.
The 360-degree camera for Android users plugs into the bottom of your phone and doesn’t require charging to use. Instead, it feeds directly from your phone’s battery using a micro USB or Type-C connector, depending on what your phone uses.
The Insta360 air can capture still images at 3K resolution, and it can record 360-degree videos in 2560 x 1280px resolution at 30 frames per second.
Users can stream live video to Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, or record video and still images with one-touch controls via the Insta360 Air app. It’s worth noting that no software is required to get the full 360-degree effect in those social platforms. There are also some simple editing controls that allow you to fix horizons and fringing, as well as apply filters to your images both during and after capture.
What’s more, the Insta360 Air has a VR mode which, when used with an optional pair of VR goggles, lets you have a fully immersive experience. And all of this costs £129 / $130.
The Insta360 Air weighs just 26.5g, and comes in four colours: black, white, baby pink and a cream colour.
Insta360 Air Build Quality and Handling
The design is simple: on either side of the sphere are dual lenses with a 180-degree field of view and a maximum aperture of f/2.4. On the bottom is the USB connector.
Just above the USB connector on the camera’s base is a pinhole for updating firmware, and on top is a small LED light that turns green to indicate that the Insta360 Air is connected to your phone.
The camera is plastic, which you would expect at this price point, but it feels robust. Even the lenses are a solid, durable plastic, and I never worried about them breaking. What’s more, Insta360 supplies a lens cloth for wiping them down safely.
The only niggle with the design is that the Insta360 Air’s connector doesn’t quite extend far enough to make a connection to my phone through it’s shockproof case. The extra layer of rubber is a bridge too far, and my phone loses the connection to the camera with the slightest movement.
Of course, when I remove my phone from its case the Insta360 Air connects just fine, and is tight and secure. But it’s a little bit cumbersome having to remove my casing when I want to take a photo or video. And I think most people carry their phone in some kind of casing.
Insta360 Air Performance and Image Quality
Before you begin using the Insta360 Air you need to download the Insta360 app from the Play Store. Then, whenever you plug the Insta360 Air into the charging port on your phone, the app will open within a couple seconds, and you’re ready to shoot.
The app is quite simple and easy to navigate. On the home screen you can review your own images in an Album section, or you can view images and videos from other users. You can also choose to share your images and video from the Album section to your social media channels, as well as export them to your phone. This is all very quick and easy to do.
Then, simply tap the ever-present camera icon on the bottom of your screen to begin shooting or filming.
It’s worth pointing out here that the Insta360 Air’s direct connection to your phone, rather than Bluetooth or WiFi, is really one of its standout features. Because it physically connects to your phone, the connection between the two is reliably stable and you’re not going to lose signal while recording a video.
Of course, the downside of this is that it drains your phone’s battery quicker. But it’s not like you’re recording for hours, so the difference is minimal. The other thing to consider is that if you change phones, you’ll want to ensure your new one has the same type of connection port.
Another thing to note is that when the Insta360 Air app launches, you’ll notice the orientation of your phone reverse. This is because the Insta360 Air plugs into your charging port, which is always at the bottom of your phone. To shoot the wider world around you, the camera needs to be on top. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but it can be a minor annoyance if you have to navigate out of the app for some reason and use a different feature on your phone.
In use, the Insta360 Air couldn’t be simpler to use. After tapping the camera icon to load the shooting mode you are in the stills mode by default, but you can swipe across to video mode or live stream. One handy feature is that underneath the standard image is a panoramic view that gives you an idea of what’s around you.
One feature I would have liked to have seen, which perhaps Insta360 can add via an update to its app, is an option like the selfie mode on your phone to switch to the other camera. The camera on the side of your screen is the active camera in live view within the app, and thus this is the default orientation when you take an image.
There were a few times though where I wanted a subject to be the main feature and myself to be behind. So being able to switch between the cameras could be handy. That said, when you share the images you have the option to lock the orientation or set no default.
You can also, when sharing your images, choose the fisheye 360 look, a more spherical view or even select a tiny planet effect.
After you take an image you can adjust the horizon or add filters within the app. You can also convert the file to VR mode for viewing in a virtual reality headset.
Exposure-wise, the Insta360 Air captures balanced exposures with vibrant colours in good photography conditions, but in mixed lighting or strong sun the colours can look a little washed out. But because it captures so much more foreground than a traditional camera I found it wasn’t too bad. And who’s looking at the clouds in a 360 image anyway!
One thing you’ll notice when shooting with 360 cameras is that the one space they can’t capture is their own location. So you’ll often see images from the Insta360 Air (and other 360 cameras) with your hand cupped in an odd shape, which is of course where your phone and the camera are being held.
With 360 cameras like the Ricoh Theta 360, which have tripod mounts, you can position yourself a bit more naturally within your scene, but the Insta360 Air obviously plugs into your phone so can’t offer a tripod mount. Though you can get various clamps for your phone.
Nevertheless, the stitching in the Insta360 Air is impeccable. There were no obvious seams in the images and video I shot.
As for image quality, It’s not going to compete with your DSLR or CSC, not even with some of the high end smartphone cameras. It’s not supposed to. Images look great on your screen, but as you pinch and zoom into them you can see smudging of colours and pixellation.
But as I said, I think that’s OK. We don’t use these cameras to make prints. A camera like the Insta360 Air is for getting creative with your smartphone and making more interesting images that you can share with your friends. And it’s fun!
On phones or on the computer, the images from the Insta360 Air will keep you engaged, and you’ll think to yourself how amazing this is as you swipe through them and pore over details you might not have noticed around you otherwise. And isn’t that the point of photography?
Insta360 Air Sample Photos
Technology is still catching up, and we’re not quite yet able to host 360 images on Camera Jabber like some platforms, such as Flickr.
However, if you click here you can view a gallery of Insta360 Air sample photos on Google Photos.
Insta360 Air Verdict
On one hand it’s worth remembering that this technology is still in its infancy at the consumer level, so image quality is only going to get better. But on the other hand, we’ve never been able to shoot images like this before.
As I’m writing this I am also testing the Ricoh Theta S, which is at the higher end of the 360 camera market, and I can say unequivocally that the Insta360 Air is by far easier to use. The app works seamlessly (pun kind of intended), and the camera is so small you can take it anywhere and not notice it on your person.
Honestly, this is the most fun I’ve had taking pictures in a while. The nature of the camera and the type of images it shoots had me thinking differently about subjects and scenes, as well as what would translate into an interesting video beyond just what is beautiful.
At its price point, I can’t recommend the Insta360 Air enough. Image quality and all.