What Camera Do We Use?

Secondary only to questions related to teaching toddlers to snowboard, the title to this blog post is our other most asked question, and because we currently record with 5 different devices depending on the situation the answer is not always simple. I intend this to be a thorough explanation of what camera’s we use, why we chose them and how and when we use them so that I can start linking to this article rather than typing long winded responses to each inquiry. You can find our most up-to-date videos and photos using these cameras on OUR INSTAGRAM.

The cameras we use and the order we will go into more depth are:
1. Insta360 OneX2 (360 Camera)
2. GoPro Hero8 Action Camera
3. Nikon D3300 DSLR
4. DJI Mavic Mini2
5. Apple Iphone 12

Insta360 OneX2 (360 camera)

As a busy Architect and stay-outside dad this article is going to be pieced together as time allows but I want to make sure I cover the most interesting, asked about and fun camera we use and that is the Insta360 oneX2. The oneX2 is a 360 camera and direct competitor to the GoPro Max. I love that the same camera on a selfie stick can take the two very different style photos shown above and we will show you how that’s possible below.

(NOTE: The hyper-links associated with the Insta360 cameras in this article are affiliate links that will get you a free accessory with your purchase) Also, all videos in this post have been quality compressed due to hosting restrictions.

A 360 camera is a camera that records full spherical photos and video; it records EVERYTHING in every direction. It does this with two 180 degree lenses pointed in opposite directions that are then auto-‘stitched’ together to create virtual reality style spherical video. It is in that ‘stitch line’ where the two halves of video overlap that the software is able to edit out the selfie stick completely making video that appears as if its being taken by a floating camera. 360 video requires an extra step called ‘re-framing’ to take the raw spherical video files and turn them into the traditional ‘2-D’ format we are used to watching by playing back that virtual reality like video and choosing in what direction, at what zoom distance and in what aspect ratio you would like the camera framed before exporting that sequence to a traditional video format.

I had been resistant to acquiring a 360 camera for years; partially because I didn’t fully understand their capability and because I barely saw beyond the gimmicky nature of the ‘tiny planet’ photos and videos. Perhaps more-so than anything, the idea of editing spherical video footage seemed daunting.

Something changed a few months back when I was looking into gimbles for our GoPro and I began heavily researching 360 cameras because of the unprecedented digital image stabilization. Because it’s recording full spherical video the software can make infinite micro-adjustments to video positioning for the appearance of smoother video and when combined with the ability incorporate horizon leveling through re-framing you essentially have a built in gimble.

Two new-to-me realizations made a 360 camera seem like a good idea; the concept of [re]framing video and desired aspect ratios AFTER shooting the video and the ability to use the spherical video stitch line to delete the selfie stick, which when combined with incredible gimble like video stabilization and horizon line leveling can create drone like follow cam footage.

After deciding to commit to a 360 camera I narrowed it down to what I considered the two best options out there and after much research I chose the Insta360 OneX2 over the GoPro Max. The reality is, the GoPro max and Insta360 one X2 record with very similar stats, the two large differences are in their physical design and their apps usability.

Full disclosure, I wanted to get a GoPro, I truly did. I’ve been a life-long GoPro user, since the very first edition. I’ve been making amateur skateboarding and snowboarding films since the days of VHS and Hi8 cameras and I remember when the GoPro action camera first came out; the game was changed. I attached those little cameras to EVERYTHING; Inside derby cars, on four wheelers, bikes, kites, my head, my snowboard, etc…Always looking for a unique perspective to capture our next idea. I currently have a GoPro Hero8 so I just assumed sticking with the brand and its (at times frustrating) software would be the logical decision but after a lot of research I decided to get the insta360 for the following reasons:

  1. I like the more slender and symmetrical camera design and feel it is better and makes it easier to quickly get it in and out of pockets and backpacks.
  2. The simple 1/4″ tripod screw mount on the bottom is so much better and easier and less bulky than GoPro’s interlocking fingers and big thumb screw. Most importantly the threaded screw mount guarantees the camera will attach perfectly parallel to the stick which is required for the selfie stick to be hidden in the stitch line, where as with the pivoting gopro interlocking finger system you have to pay careful attention to the alignment of the camera with the stick our you will look back at your footage at the end of the day and realize improper alignment left part of the selfie stick visible in all of your footage.
  3. In online head-to-head reviews it seemed like the stitch line quality was a touch better, perhaps a result of the symmetrical back to back lens placement rather than the offset design of the GoPro max.
  4. The battery is good. Like REALLY good. I knew that it had good reviews but after a year of use I have never killed the battery despite using it mostly in winter while snowboarding.
  5. The Insta360 app does not require you to move the large spherical video files onto your phone before re-framing (like GoPro does) so you can leave and edit the files on the camera rather than having the files take up storage on both the camera and your phone.
  6. The Insta360 app seemed much better and easier to use for reframing video. I will go into more detail in the Re-framing segment below but the ‘deep-track’ and ‘free-capture’ tools are cutting edge and really make the daunting task of re-framing easy for all of us using one hand.

So, despite my skepticism, I was blown away in just the first couple of days having the camera and after a year of use I can unequivocally say that the 360 camera has absolutely transformed the game, as much or more than when GoPro exploded onto the market with that tiny little waterproof action camera that could be mounted anywhere.

A lot of people ask ‘is it worth it?’ and is it a better option than a GoPro Hero action camera?

These are good but subjective questions. The short answer is that a 360 camera for me is not a cover all camera and has its place along side, rather than in front of any of our other cameras. Yes this 360 camera has absolutely been worth every penny and while it won’t replace the GoPro completely, I find myself reaching for the 360 camera 90% of the time for snowboarding right now. It is just too fun to be able to go ride with our kids and not think about where to point the camera and whether I want to pan left or up to start or end a shot, etc…Instead I just hold the stick and record and then re-frame the video (and choose the aspect ratio, I.e, square, vertical, horizontal, etc) after the fact which is pretty mind blowing. The reason it wont completly replace our traditional action cam is because 360 cameras can not match the quality and frame rate of traditional action cameras which can shoot 240 FPS and what not (most 360 cameras max out around 100 FPS). So for beautiful slow motion I’m defiantly grabbing the GoPro.

You may also be interested in Insta360’s incredibly tiny ‘GO’ action camera (that also comes in a newly released Minion edition) we’ve just started to experiment with and is the size of your thumb or their one of a kind Insta360 OneR camera which is a modular camera where you can basically swap out the lens cube to switch from a GoPro style/quality single direction action cam to a 360 camera lens cube to do 360 cam recording. You basically get both options for far less money than buying both a GoPro and a 360 camera. 

The video below offers a first peak at the onex2, talks about the important difference in how it mounts to the selfie stick vs. the GoPro and covers two must have accessories you’ll want to have with the camera.

HOW TO FILM WITH THE INSTA360 ONEX2

There is a wealth of information out there that dives into and breaks down all of the different ways you can use these camera’s so I am going to use my limited time as efficiently as possible and only hit key points here to get your mind rolling about the potential of the 360 camera.

An important thing to know about 360 cameras: The further the camera is from your hand and other objects that you mount it to, the more accurate and clean the ‘stitch line’ will be. The insta360 selfie stick is designed to extend out to the perfect distance for proper recording in order to achieve a clean stitch line but you can choose to not extend the stick and hold the camera close to your hand, the result will be some video overlap distortion at your hand because of is proximity to the camera, which may not even matter if you’re reframing the video to not include the direction of your hand in it anyways.

Snowboarding

My biggest suggestion with any type of filming is to be selective. Many people mount a camera to their helmet, turn it on and proceed to document an entire 10-15 minute top to bottom run at their ski resort. Chances are, nobody is going to want to watch all of that mundane cruising footage, you are far less likely to sift through that giant, long video file for the ‘good parts’ and it’s going to kill your battery very fast. Instead, just bring the camera out when you see something you would like to record like a nice powder stash or when the light is really beautiful, or for a photo of video clip while riding the chair lift with friends, etc… I know people are worried about missing a random moment on camera but once you kill your battery you’re not going to be recording any moments period. I take the camera out and holde it on the selfie stick for a couple minutes at a time throughout the course of 3-4 hours as shown in the videos below and the battery rarely gets below 50% before leaving the mountain.

I’ve never been a fan of helmet mounting cameras and instead prefer to hold the camera while snowboarding, a decision that makes even more sense now that these 360 cameras can auto delete the selfie stick and appear like drone follow cam footage. By holding the camera I have infinite freedom of choice about whether the camera is in front of or behind or above me and my arm acts as a stabilizer creating even smoother video than when it’s mounted to your body.

I also created a unique insert for my backpack that allows the camera and stick securely stick out of the pack either forward or backward for a true hands free video experience which looks really cool, especially when I’m co-riding with our children as seen in the last video above.

Mountain Biking

The other thing I’ve really enjoyed doing is mounting the camera to the handlebars of our mountain bikes to capture an up-close, floating camera perspective of the person riding. When combined with our MAC RIDE co-ride seat that our 18 month old son rides on, its such a fun a memorable camera perspective! I’ll start with a quick video of how we attach the 360 camera to our bike and follow it up with a few more recent videos of it in action!

The onex2 is also great for photos or even screen captures out of video clips to preserve isolated memories. I love that you can get creative with super wide angle and tiny planet photos or get that more traditional perspective of your family all on the chairlift together. Just like when reframing video, you can edit the photos just like the video by choosing the direction, aspect ratio and zoom distance for the photo while the selfie stick is auto deleted too.

HOW TO REFRAME 360 VIDEO

I actually only know how to do a fraction of the things this camera and app are capable of. I’ve also never read the manual or watched any videos about using the app, on day one I simply opened it up and started figuring it out on the fly. That’s how intuitive it was. There are all sorts of cool pre-programed camera recording tricks and auto-edit features that you may find super valuable but you’ll have to experiment with them on your own as I am only going to cover the main tools I and many others use to re-frame my 360 video and export it in a traditional video format to then edit and share on social media. There is a detailed text description below that covers the same material I talk about in the video.

I want to start this by reiterating, as I do at the beginning of the video above, that the Insta360 app does not require you to move the large spherical video files onto your phone before re-framing (like GoPro does) so you can leave and edit the files on the camera rather than having the files take up storage on both the camera and your phone. This difference and benefit can not be overstated.

The three methods of reframing 360 video using the insta360 app are by using ‘Keyframes,” the ’deep track’ tool or the ’viewfinder’ tool.

Key Frames: For context, In the past, framing video has been done by choosing a starting point and where the camera is looking on the videos timeline and then adding a key frame to lock in that information in that particular moment. This process is then repeated a second time further along in the video timeline with a new direction you want the camera to look and after adding a key frame to save that info you can replay that clip of video and the camera would smoothly pan from your first key frame view to your second key frame view. This process would then be repeated, potentially hundreds of times in a complex video edit which can be a daunting and cumbersome process. While it is complex, it still is a great way to professionally and acutely edit video but a majority of us are simply trying to capture memories and share them with friends and family on Social media platforms, which is what makes the insta360 reframing tools an incredible option.

The ‘deep-track‘ feature allows you to choose a person or object and have the video re-frame itself with that object in the center of the frame the whole time. Just drag a highlighted box over your object or person of focus and left the software do the work.

The view finder feature, allows you to, with one hand, begin playing the video by placing your thumb on the red button and then slide it left or right to zoom in or out while simultaneously moving the phone around, in a virtual reality manner, to re-frame how you want to see the video. Let off the button when your done, export the video and you now have one iteration of that video saved. Want to reframe it in a different way? Go back to the clip and retry it as many different ways as you’d like. Want the video horizontally this time so it’s better for YouTube rather than an IG story, click the aspect ratio and re-export it. Because it’s captured full 360 spherical video, it always has all the data/video available for any changes in the future.

I’m not a pro and rarely edit on a laptop but I do pump out a ton of content for a variety of applications, almost exclusively from my phone, with one hand, while a child sleeps in the ergo on my chest…Having an app that allowed me to access and edit these daunting 360 videos with ease was important and after using the insta360 app for the last year I have been able to do everything I need with ease. I then put those clips into the free VIDEO SHOP app I use and trim and edit them to music before sharing them on social media.

My biggest suggestion is to just get out and shoot with it a bunch and start playing with the app. Nothing beats experience and you have to start somewhere so get out there and experiment! And if you’re interested in getting the Insta360 OneX2 make sure to use THIS AFFILIATE LINK to get the invisible selfie stick for free!

The Rest of this article detailing our other 4 cameras will be completed as I have time.

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