The Insta360 X3 shoots massive 72-megapixel stills, 8K timelapse and 120fps bullet time

Sep 8, 2022

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

The Insta360 X3 shoots massive 72-megapixel stills, 8K timelapse and 120fps bullet time

Sep 8, 2022

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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It’s that time again. Insta360’s announced another camera. This time it’s the Insta360 X3; the successor to the Insta360 ONE X2 (review here) – although they’ve dropped the “ONE” bit from the naming system now. But how does it compare to its predecessor? What’s different? What’s new? Is it really any better?

I’ve had the opportunity to test one for the last couple of weeks and in some ways, it’s definitely an improvement over the ONE X2. It comes with some very useful new features including upgraded 1/2″ sensors that shoot up to 72-megapixel 360° stills, 8K timelapse, a larger touchscreen display and some new shooting modes.

The Insta360 X3 in a lot of ways is very much like its predecessor. It still shoots 5.7K footage at up to 30 frames per second and it still offers waterproofing down to a depth of 10 metres without a separate underwater housing (although you’ll want one for easier stitching if you do a lot of underwater shooting – blame Refractive Index). But many things have also changed, both inside and out. Let’s take a look at them.

The differences on the outside…

On the exterior, both the Insta360 ONE X2 and the new Insta360 X3 have some obvious visual differences, although their overall dimensions are quite similar. They’re perhaps not similar enough that your ONE X2 cages will work with the X3, though. But despite their similarities, a lot has changed on the X3 over the previous generation.

The display

Most noticeable of those changes is the huge touchscreen display that covers a massive chunk of one side of the camera. While the addition of the touchscreen display on the ONE X2 was nice, something much larger (and not round), like that of the X3 was something that people had been hoping for. Well, now, it’s finally here.

This bigger screen is fantastic. It makes going through the settings and actually seeing what you’re doing so much easier. If you have chunkier fingers and struggled with the size and touchscreen features on the ONE X2 this definitely answers your prayers.

Above the screen is a slightly redesigned lens than that of the ONE X2, although it’s not so different that it immediately jumps out at you. You only really notice when you see the two cameras side-by-side. It’s certainly not as massive a difference as the Insta360 ONE RS 1-inch Leica 360 (Review here) – now there’s a camera that needs a shorter name!

The buttons

Below the screen, we see two buttons. One is to start and stop recording while the other lets you switch between front or rear single camera mode or 360° mode. This is very handy when you want to switch between basic flat selfie or action camera modes to 360° without having to hunt through menus. You can get up to 4K resolution flat video from each individual lens or 5.7K 360° video when using the two together.

There’s also a “Q” button on the side. This is a quick menu, allowing you to create, delete and access settings presets. If you’re regularly switching between different modes, settings and formats, this is an invaluable feature that lets you swap things around on the go.

The other side (good news and bad)

On the other side of the camera, we see the USB socket cover and the battery. This side of the camera is probably going to upset existing ONE X2 users. Twice. Ok, one of them is definitely an improvement, but you’ll still probably be upset. Let’s get that one out of the way first.

The USB socket cover has had a complete redesign. Instead of being held in by a flimsy bit of rubber that easily falls out and gets lost, it’s a removable hinged door. This is fantastic news for anybody who’s ever accidentally pulled out the USB socket cover on location and dropped it, never to be seen again.

It’s fully removable, meaning that it won’t get in the way if you want to use the Insta360 Quick Reader or microphone adapter but – and here’s where you’ll be upset – it requires a new Quick Reader and microphone adapter (the latter of which doesn’t appear to have been announced yet). Because of the redesigned cover, the existing vertical reader and microphone adapter that work with the ONE X2 will not physically fit on the X3. So, you’ll need to buy new ones. On the bright side, the new Quick Reader does show an improved design, encasing the microSD card inside the rubber cover that also protects the Lightning plug making it less likely to fall out and become lost in the throws of adventure!

Side note: The new Quick Reader doesn’t fit on the ONE X2, either – or the ONE RS 1″ Leica 360.

The other thing that’s probably going to make you go “ugh!” is that while it does feature a very similarly designed battery to the ONE X2, they are not the same physical dimensions. The X3 battery actually has a higher capacity than the ONE X2 battery (1800mAh vs1630mAh) but it’s not as wide and it’s a little bit thicker. This means that you can’t reuse your ONE X2 batteries with the X3. They just won’t fit inside the slot. So, again, if you used to carrying a bunch of spares, you’re going to have to buy new ones.

A couple of features that have been retained, though, are that it stores the microSD card inside the battery slot. So, there’s no way it can accidentally fall out – well… unless your battery also accidentally falls out, but I think if that happened, you’d notice long before the card worked itself loose.

Also underneath we have the familiar 1/4-20″ socket for mounting it to one of Insta360’s array of invisible and otherwise selfie sticks or to a monopod, tripod, suction cup mount or whatever else you want to attach it to.

The other stuff

Included with the X3 is a neoprene pouch which takes that new USB door into account. The camera gets slotted lens-first into the pouch and then the USB cover can be opened and the USB port accessed through a little hole in the side, letting you charge it while keeping those lenses protected. Is that a collective scream of “YAY!” I hear?

As the X3 is a little thicker than the ONE X2, the optional rubber lens cover has also seen a little bit of a redesign. The ONE X2 cover does actually fit over the X3, although it is very snug, so you’ll want to make sure that it’s completely free of any dirt or debris inside if you try to use that one.

The new cover designed specifically for the X3 is much easier to get on and off and provides some separation between the lenses and the cover itself. It’s still a good idea to ensure it’s clean inside before putting it on your camera, but the chances of any dirt damaging your lenses while you put the cover on or take it off are reduced.

One other great design feature of the new lens cover is that it has slots up the side, letting you not only access the USB port for charging while using it, but you can even put it on when you’re using the Quick Reader (and presumably the new microphone adapter) and it won’t interfere with it at all.

If you’ve not yet invested in the ONE X2 or bought the Quick Reader and microphone adapter to use with the 1″ Leica 360, then these design changes won’t negatively affect you. You’re starting off from scratch and there’s nothing you need to replace. But existing ONE X2 owners thinking about upgrading will want to think long and hard about whether the new features and benefits outweigh the cost of rebuying all the accessories you already own for a new camera.

To be clear: The older Quick Reader is electronically compatible with the X3. You can still use it with a USB extension cable and it will still work and function as an external microSD card slot to record to – just as you can with vertical QR with the Insta360 ONE R and ONE RS (review here) via USB extension cable. They just don’t physically fit into the newly designed USB socket cover area directly.

The differences on the inside…

Things have changed quite a bit on the inside. There’s been a few hardware changes, but the software sees quite a few notable features over its predecessor. Let’s take a look at both.

The new sensors – 72-megapixel!

The photo up above of the X3 next to the 1-inch Leica 360 should answer your first question about the camera’s specs. No, the Insta360 X3 does not include 1″ sensors. It does have new 1/2″ sensors, though, which are higher resolution than the sensors in the ONE X2, which allows the X3 to capture 8K timelapse and massive 72-megapixel stills.

The two new 1/2″ sensors feature 6.7mm equivalent lenses with an aperture of f/1.9 – a hair brighter and wider than the 7.2mm equivalent f/2.0 lenses of the ONE X2 – and let you shoot massive stills at 11,968 x 5,984 for a total of 72-megapixels. There is also an 18-megapixel mode which lets you shoot 5,952 x 2,976 pixel stills for when your needs are a little smaller.

The 72-megapixel raw files are pretty huge, which I’ll get to a little bit later, but the fact that it can shoot images this high resolution as DNG raw files is pretty awesome. And they’re not bad, either. They’re certainly high enough resolution for a lot of uses.

Is it going to be the same quality as shooting a similar resolution image with a DSLR or mirrorless camera and stitching it in PTGui, Hugin or similar software? Well, no, probably not, but it will give you something to use as an environment map in 3D software, or a fairly detailed view from your last holiday destination in a VR helmet, and it’s certainly sharp enough if you’re going to be scaling it down anyway for social media.

360 video mode

In regular 360° video mode – again, this’ll upset a few people – it shoots 5.7K resolution video at up to 30 frames per second. Yup, I know, a lot of people were hoping for 8K resolution or 60fps frame rates at 5.7K, but it just wasn’t to be. When you go into single-lens mode, you do get 4K video at up to 30fps or 3.6K, 2.7K or 1080p video at up to 60fps.

You get the usual INSP or DNG raw formats for stills as well as INSV video for 360° footage or MP4 for the flat single lens footage. You also get the usual Standard, Vivid and LOG colour modes and the usual array of shooting modes – along with some new ones.

YouTube video

4K Single Lens video mode

We’ve touched on this a teeny tiny bit already, but one of the new shooting modes is the 4K Single Lens Mode. As the name suggests, it lets you use just one of your two lenses to record regular flat footage. It’s ideal for a first-person view when you’re not interested in capturing the full 360 view around you but just what’s in front of you as flat, easy-to-digest (and edit) mp4 footage. And you can access this right from that little button on the front of the camera at the bottom right. Tapping it cycles through the three modes.

You get two field of view options in Single Lens mode – “Default”, which provides up to 4K resolution and a decent field of view and in-camera image stabilisation and “FOV Plus”, which is the ultra-wide 170° field of view mode. In FOV Plus mode, you do get a wider field of view, although the resolution is limited to 2.7K. There’s also no stabilisation with it, so you’ll have to do this in post in Insta360 Studio (or the smartphone app) which will likely bring you down to around 1080p. You do get stabilisation in the regular Default field of view, even when shooting 4K.

Me Mode (16:9 or 9:16 selfie videos)

While you can choose either lens for the 4K Single Lens Mode in order to be able to shoot selfies, there is another new mode designed specifically for this purpose. That’s the new “Me Mode”. It allows you to put your camera on the Invisible Selfie Stick and it will combine images from both lenses to create a flat video file just pointed back at you.

In Me Mode, the camera shoots two files as normal and then stitches them together to create a 180° video pointed towards the user. It has the benefit of providing full-length footage unhindered by selfie sticks – which can’t really be done in the single lens modes – but also doesn’t require you to reframe the footage manually in Insta360 Studio or the smartphone app, as you’d have to do with 360° footage. You can also shoot Me Mode in either 16:9 horizontal or 9:16 vertical format for social media.

360° Active HDR

There’s a new 360 Active HDR mode. It’s not entirely new to the Insta360 lineup as this feature is also available on the Insta360 ONE RS, but now it’s come to the X3. While this can be handy in some situations, I’ve personally found it to be a little strong under some conditions.

In fairness, on the side of the frame that doesn’t include the sun in the shot, it’s not too bad, raising the shadows up and bringing the highlights down to somewhat realistic levels. But in great extremes, you might get more pleasing footage if you’re not using Active HDR and just let the sky blow out or shadows go to black.

120fps Bullet Time

The bullet time feature introduced with the original Insta360 ONE X (review here), a feature that was notably lacking from the Insta360 ONE RS 1-inch Leica 360 Edition for obvious reasons, is back again and comes with bit of a frame rate boost letting you shoot that bullet time at 4K resolution at up to 120 frames per second.

You can shoot your bullet time footage with the X3 using either the Bullet Time Cord or the Bullet Time Handle with the invisible selfie stick.

8K (and even 12K) timelapse

While the overall video pixel resolution of the X3 hasn’t increased over the ONE X2, with both shooting 5.7K 360° footage, the increase in stills resolution has led to some improvements when it comes to timelapse. The X3 bumps the 360° timelapse resolution up to 8K, for a noticeable improvement in quality over its predecessor.

But, if 8K’s not enough for you, interval timer shooting is also still there on the X2 and it utilises the full 72-megapixel resolution fo the camera, so, if you wanted to, you can still shoot timelapses using the X3’s full 11,968 x 5,984 (12K) resolution. You can even shoot these with full manual exposure control as DNG raw files, meaning you can edit them right inside DaVinci Resolve as a 12K CinemaDNG video sequence. Of course, you’ll have to inject your 360 metadata into it afterwards.

Note: A little word of warning, those 72-megapixel DNG RAW files are huge. They come out of the camera at around 140MB each but Adobe DNG Converter does a great job of losslessly compressing them. I got them down to around 50MB/file. Still, for a long video sequence, that easily adds up to a fair few GB!

Loop mode – Motorcyclists rejoice!

Another new mode that a lot of people have been asking for (and that a lot will stop hope comes to the ONE X2 in a firmware update) is loop mode. This allows you to continually record but only keep the last segment of the video (from 1 up to 30 minutes).

It’s basically as it sounds and it’s designed primarily for things like motorcyclists (and regular cyclists) who want to capture what’s going on around them on the road but don’t want to have hours and hours of endless footage where nothing’s happening. It lets you keep only the important bits while automatically deleting the boring stuff.

You don’t have to be on some form of bike to take advantage of this feature, though. You could use it for any such adventure where you want to leave it recording and not worry about having to predict the future to capture something exciting happening. But it does lend itself particularly well to bikes – regardless of whether or not they have engines.

Pre-Recording Mode (Coming soon?)

This one I haven’t been able to test as it doesn’t quite exist yet. The unit I’m using is running on pre-production firmware. This feature is expected to be in the release firmware available when the camera officially launches, so it may be live by the time you read this review.

In theory, though, this feature essentially has the camera constantly monitoring what’s going on and pre-recording everything, a bit like the loop mode, but without saving anything. When you do hit that record button, though, it’ll save the last 15 or 30 seconds of video that led up to you actually hitting record.

So, if you’re trying to monitor a situation and you have your camera out and in position, you can wait for the thing to happen, then hit record without worrying about whether you hit it in time or not. I can see this being very useful for activities that are largely quite boring but something occasionally exciting happens – like maybe fishing or certain sports.

The Apps

As with pretty much every other Insta360 camera, files from the X3 are supported in the Insta360 Studio desktop application for Windows and Mac. And as with pretty much every other Insta360 camera (except the EVO), it’s supported by the Insta360 Smartphone app, letting you access all of the weird and wonderful tracking features and AI modes that only the smartphone app offers.

I rarely use the smartphone app, preferring to work on the desktop when I’m at home and comfortable with a nice hot coffee. Most of the smartphone app features really don’t appeal to me, especially with as awkward as it is working on a tiny smartphone screen vs a big 28″ 4K monitor on my desktop, but I really hope that Insta360 manages to work some of its features into the desktop app at some point. It would be nice to play around with some of them but with a bit more fine-tunable control that only a desktop application can really offer.

You will need to update both your desktop and smartphone apps to work with the X3’s proprietary INSV and INSP files. You’ll also need Insta360 Studio to stitch convert those DNGs over to equirectangular files for working with in Photoshop or other applications, too. Of course, for the 4K Single Lens MP4 files, you don’t need any of this and can just drag them straight into your video editor of choice.

Thoughts on using the Insta360 X3

There isn’t much to say about using the Insta360 X3. It’s pretty much just like using the ONE X2, only way easier. The presets with the Quick Menu button on the side make life so much easier when you want to be able to regularly switch between different settings. Maybe you shoot a lot of daytime video and nighttime timelapse and have very different settings for both. Well, now you can quickly and easily swap between the two. It removes the chance that you forgot to change one of those settings properly and messed up a bunch of your shots.

Being able to very quickly switch between 360° mode and the new 4K Single Lens mode is also fantastic. I can see this being very popular amongst social media users and vloggers. Not everything requires 360° field of view and just switching modes on the X3 is even more convenient than being able to swap lenses on something like the ONE RS – although, I still think that if you’re primarily shooting flat content rather than 360-degree content, the ONE RS is probably a better way to go.

And when you do need to go into menus or use the touchscreen to change settings, the massively increased size of the display is a massive boost to productivity and workflow. Everything is much bigger and easier to see and select, it’s very responsive and you’re not constantly having to fight the screen to get to where you need to be.

Even little things like the new neoprene case that comes with it and the optional rubber lens covers are fantastic. I no longer have to try and find a mini tripod or something soft to rest the camera on if I need to plug it into my computer to transfer files because I forgot to bring my card reader. I can just open the side flap and plug in the cable without having to take the camera out of its protective case.

And speaking of that newly designed side flap for the USB socket, while upsetting for existing ONE X2 accessory owners, like the Quick Reader and microphone adapter, is fantastic. The new accessories fit much more securely and when you’re not using them but just want to open the flap to access the USB socket, the cover doesn’t accidentally fall out and disappear. But, it does come off easily when you need it to.

Even if you take away the new major features, the quality of life improvements that the new design brings to your workflow, although each is small individually, add up to a much better overall user experience.

Conclusions

There are some distinct advantages for the X3 over the ONE X2, objectively speaking. But whether those advantages are advantages for you really depends on your own needs. For my own situation, I think the X3 is a win.

I’ve tended to favour the ONE RS over the ONE X2 due to the fact that I’m mostly shooting flat footage and when I do specifically want to shoot 360° content, I’ve generally already grabbed the ONE RS 1-inch Leica 360 before I’ve even considered the ONE X2 due to the increased quality those 1″ sensors provide.

That being said, though, this may change. The massively increased resolution of stills from the X3 and the user interface improvements to speed up the workflow, not to mention the fact that it easily slips in my pocket (vs the Leica 360) give me reasons to pick up the X3 when I’m heading out the door at times when I wouldn’t have bothered to bring a 360 camera at all.

The ONE RS 1-inch Leica 360 still has the X3 beat in terms of overall image quality but the X3 has the Leica 360 beat in terms of convenience. I will still pick the Leica 360 for important things, but I’ll probably be taking a 360 camera with me to more places now where I wouldn’t have in the past.

Pros

  • Huge 72-megapixel (12K!) resolution stills
  • Much larger and easier to see/use touchscreen display
  • Easy access Quick Menu button
  • 360°/Front/Rear camera swap button
  • Loop Mode – a long-requested feature, although I’m still hoping this comes to the ONE X2 at some point
  • Me Mode – For social media users, especially those on vertical video platforms, this is a huge benefit
  • Improved USB door cover & improved neoprene case to match

Cons

  • If you’re upgrading from the ONE X2, you’ll have to buy all your accessories (Quick Reader, microphone adapter, cages, spare batteries, multi-battery chargers, etc) again.

That’s really the only downside to switching to the X3 for me, is if you’re an existing owner and you need to replace all your extra bits. And if you are an existing ONE X2 owner, this might be a dealbreaker alone. Even if it’s not, the new features and new design may not offer enough of an advantage to upgrade. If this sounds like you, then it makes sense to stick with what you’ve got.

For other ONE X2 owners, though, things like loop recording, massively higher resolution stills and timelapse, Me Mode, and other features (especially Pre-Record Mode once it’s implemented) can become vital features. These combined with the time savings of the improved workflow speed through the larger display and extra buttons can be enough that upgrading justifies the cost.

For those who don’t own the ONE X2 and you’re thinking of buying a dedicated 360° camera, particularly for active or underwater use, then there’s really no reason to buy a ONE X2 now – except perhaps that the camera and its accessories might be discounted for a short while until retailers run out of stock. Even if the ONE X2 is cheaper for a little while, though, I’d still recommend going with the X3. It’s going to see more frequent updates than the ONE X2 that will enhance or improve features as well as potentially implement new ones.

The Insta360 X3 is available to buy now for $449.99 and is shipping worldwide.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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2 responses to “The Insta360 X3 shoots massive 72-megapixel stills, 8K timelapse and 120fps bullet time”

  1. G Daniels Avatar
    G Daniels

    Thank you for the great review, it’s one of the best I have read so far on this new Insta360 X3 camera. One thing that I don’t hear about in any of the reviews is does it have any GPS and other telemetry functions? And can the app or desktop software add it to show maps and gauges? I guess it’s not in-camera or that would have been mentioned in the specs or reviews, but can you get it by connecting with a cell phone while shooting then import it into the photo and video files later somehow, or does this camera (like the new DJI cameras) just leave out GPS telemetry files completely?

  2. Michael Nielsen Avatar
    Michael Nielsen

    So which takes the best 360 photos ? The RS 1 inch or the X3 ? I am struggling to find that answer anywhere. Beside that this i a great thorough article, i enjoyed reading it.