Life in 360

Dan Papworth-Smyth
Apr 5, 2017 · 4 min read

A couple of months ago I saw the Kickstarter page for a new 360 camera, specifically for Android phones, called the Insta360 Air.

I love 360 video as much as the next person but always found the price a bit of a barrier for me. I wasn’t really able to dip my toes into creating this sort of content without getting some serious and expensive kit. However, the Insta360 Air was the first sub-£100 360 camera I’d seen (that was the Kickstarter price, it’s now around £130). For someone looking to give 360 a go, but without having to commit to diving head first, it didn’t seem like a bad deal.

The device itself is more of a phone ‘lens’ rather than a camera in its own right as it can only be used when plugged in through my phone’s USB port (an iPhone model is also available). It also draws power from the phone and has no internal memory so all videos and images are stored on the phone.

First impressions were good though, it came in a cool, minimalist box with the camera, USB cable (for all those 360 video conferences you’ve been wanting to do) and a guide. To protect the dual lenses, the camera itself comes in a handy rubber case which you can prop it up in.

The camera connects to your phone through its USB port and comes in either micro USB or USB C (I went for the latter to fit my Pixel). Unfortunately, it’s quite a snug connection so you do need to remove the case before use, which can be a bit of a pain.

Once it’s connected, it automatically opens the Insta360 app on your phone and flips the screen’s interface upside down. This is so the camera goes from being at the bottom of your phone up to the top to avoid all sorts of headaches with working out which way is up. The app itself is basic, but means it’s super straightforward to get right into and use. You have 3 options:

  • Still image (3008 x 1504)
  • Video (2560 x 1280)
  • Live video through YouTube, Periscope and now Facebook Live too

There’s also a feed of other people’s videos from around the world, kind of like an ‘explore’ feed, as well as your own album.

Perching on its protective rubber case

For those of you that don’t know, I work for Teenage Cancer Trust. They’re a brilliant organisation who want to make sure young people’s lives aren’t derailed by the chaos that is cancer. Our largest fundraising event each year is a series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, and every night young people with cancer who’ve come down to the shows get to go out on stage before the headline act. It’s always amazing to watch and gives the young people an experience they’ll never forget.

Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes

During this year’s shows I gave my Insta360 Air to one of those young people, just as they were about to meet the crowd at the Royal Albert Hall. You can actually see her holding it in the photo above. The great thing about using it in this situation is that it doesn’t require any training or knowledge on how to use, other than how to hold a smartphone. Something we’re all pretty familiar with anyway.

The quality of the video isn’t amazing and the lighting isn’t helped by the massive spotlight on them, but I do think it captures a really special moment and allows the viewer a small glimpse as to what it feels like up on that stage.

The Insta360 Air in action, onstage at the Royal Albert Hall

I’m pretty inexperienced at editing 360 footage so this is straight out of the camera, unedited. Hence why you see me in shot for a while, and also why it’s 50 seconds before the young people actually start walking onto the stage. Things to work on in the future! I’m sure it’s the first of many moments captured this way so with time and practice I’m sure you’ll be seeing much more polished content from me.

For a cool little piece of kit you can throw in your bag and keep on you in case something awesome happens, you can’t go wrong with this.

If you’re interested in VR/360 video and how it can be used in the charity sector, here’s a blog I wrote earlier on some great virtual reality work WaterAid have done:

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