I’ve been eyeing the various 360 cameras on and off for a couple of years ever since I tried out viewing some with an inexpensive Google Cardboard VR viewer I picked up from Amazon. I’ve waited to buy because I don’t expect to use it that much… more of a novelty toy to play with. I couldn’t see paying $300 for a camera that I only took 25 pictures with. That makes for some expensive pictures.
So, when I saw the Insta360 Nano on Amazon drop to less than $100, it seemed like a good time to give it a try. The reviews are mostly favorable, averaging out to 4 out of 5 stars with over 175 reviews. Note that this camera is designed to attach to the Apple iPhone.
There are some thoughtful reviews already on Amazon, but the reviews didn’t address some questions I had before buying it. I’ll cover those issues here.
How it the photo quality?
The quality reminds me of some of the very early digital cameras (think early 1990s). In bright lighting, the quality is better but you’ll still notice the pixilation. If you plan on taking more than just a handful of 360 photos, you may want to consider one of the more expensive 4k 360 cameras. But, that will set you back more than the $100 for this camera.
How does it connect to your phone?
First, you will need to remove any cover you have on your iPhone. The camera will not fit with a cover on your phone. This is a bit of drawback since without my phone cover, my iPhone 8 is a bit slippery and easy to drop. However, the Apple silicon cover I use with my iPhone is very easy to put on and take off. If your cover doesn’t come off easily, this may be an issue for you.
How do I take the picture?
I’ve been using the camera attached to the phone only. It’s capable of being used without the phone, but you need to put a memory card in it. Some of the Amazon reviews discuss the standalone mode if you want more details. When you attach the camera to your phone, the app on the phone starts up (once you install it). The app interface is somewhat similar to the native iPhone app. Just push the big yellow button to take a photo. It will save the photo to the phone automatically. Note that the photo is not (yet) stored with your normal iPhone camera roll yet.
How do I view the picture?
There is a gallery function right in the app. You can pan around your 360 view with your finger. Note that the phone also comes with a viewer (very similar to Google Cardboard). The downside to the VR viewer is that (AFAIK) you have to take the phone out to switch from one photo to the next. But, it’s a nicer quality viewer than the $10 Google Cardboard you can get from Amazon.
What if I don’t want to be in the picture?
This camera is great for taking 360 selfies. Why? Because there is obviously nowhere to hide from the camera when you take the photo. This is evident from the sample photos posted in the Amazon reviews. What isn’t obvious is that the phone app includes a timer. If you can find someplace to get out of the picture in less than 10 seconds, you don’t need to be in the picture. But that presents another problem. If you’re not holding the phone and camera, who or what is? You need something to do that for you. You could try one of the various tripod mounts designed for phones. But you’ll still end up with the tripod in the picture. My solution? I just put the phone in a black coffee mug I had on hand. You’ll see in the picture below what it looks like. Note that the camera makes use of the gyroscope functionality in the phone so that the camera does not need to be perfectly vertical. The coffee mug approach left my camera angled at about 20 degrees off of vertical, but you can’t tell that from the photo.
How do I share a photo?
The app includes a good variety of ways to share the photo:
- File export
You can also export the photo to your camera roll on your phone. I am a Google Photos user, and this allowed me to get the photo into Google Photos. This is useful because Google Photos will detect that the photo is a 360 photo and present viewing options. Facebook also detects the photo and presents a 360 viewer.
Here’s a photo of a snowy day I took from my front porch with the phone sitting in a black coffee mug on my porch railing. This is what it looks like in your camera roll without using a VR viewer.
NOTE: The viewer above is implemented within WordPress with the WP-VR-view plugin. Kudos to the plugin developer for this handy viewer.
Overall, IMHO this 360 camera was well worth $100 as a first step into 360 photography, and I have yet to try out the video capabilities… If you have a business use for it (real estate comes to mind), this is no-brainer.
If you have plans to take more than a handful of photos, you may want to consider a camera with more resolution. For example, the same company (Insta360) sells a 4k 360 camera called the One S (about $240 on Amazon).