360-degree video is not a new thing anymore topside. There are already lots of affordable 360 video cameras available for the hobbyist. These cameras usually shoot at the (so-called) 4k to 5.7K 360-degree resolution and are decent enough quality for fun use. True Hi-definition 360 cameras that offer up to 11k resolutions are still very expensive and really aimed for the Pro market. However, affordable 360 cameras you can take underwater with you have been pretty much non-existent until now. Insta360, a giant of the 360-camera world, has now brought out an underwater housing for their popular One X camera. This combo is probably the cheapest of its kind you can take diving with you.
Insta360 One X camera features
The Insta360 One X is a tiny, weighing only 115 grams, dual lens 360-degree camera that comes with Android and IOS apps, plus a free desktop editing software. The camera itself only has two buttons so all settings will need to be done with the apps prior to shooting. The One X has an 18mp stills and 5760 x 2880, 30fps spherical video resolution. It also comes with a built-in gyroscopic stabilisation system that provides steady footage even in fast action situations. The camera has a tripod socket for a pole or any GoPro-style mount. The Insta360’s own straight pole is probably the best way to get started as this will never be visible in the footage.
Although you can use the footage for your headset, the One X camera is designed for dynamic “flat-screen” video rather than the VR experience. If you have never used a 360 camera before the idea behind it takes a few minutes to sink in and using the camera is quite different from a normal video camera. Rather than pointing the camera to frame things, you will just need to hold it, on a pole for example, near something you want to capture. All the framing and editing is done in the post, where regular 16:9 video frames are extracted from the spherical “raw” footage. This opens an astonishing amount of possibilities and views that are impossible to capture with a regular video camera. A good example is a shot of a person jumping while the camera is being thrown (with a special throwable dart accessory) under his legs. In the post, the video is framed so that the camera, while moving/flying underneath the jumper, follows him during his jump. You can see these videos online taken with the One X. The resulting video is stupendously effective and would have taken days of planning and riggings by a film crew armed with standard cameras.
Although the Insta360 One X camera is advertised as a 5.7K camera this does not mean you will get very high-resolution end results. The total resolution refers to the spherical resolution and once a “flat” frame is extracted the resolution is much less. There are so many ways of re-framing and zooming in to the footage that the final resolution can be almost anything. The 5.7K, however, means that without going to the extremes the end image quality is decent. With this camera, the content and the action are what matters, not necessarily the fine UHD resolution image quality. More importantly, the camera offers various extremely useful modes for special effects like timeshift and hyperlapse. The One X also comes with a very good HDR video mode for balancing highlights with shadows.
One X housing features
The 30m rated One X housing is a simple unit with two buttons and a tripod socket for a pole or a mount. It has a hatch in the bottom from where the camera slides in and a bubble port element that allows the two lenses to see the 360-degree view... Or to be precise almost 360. Without the housing, the One X produces a full spherical image with just tiny and often unnoticeable stitching seams. With the underwater housing, due to its design, where two sides of the bubble port are clamped together, the view is not exactly a full sphere. The housing edges are visible in the footage. There is a special setting or housing mode in the software that crops out the visible bubble edges, but this makes the stitching seam somewhat more visible at times. This design is probably down to cost as making a full acrylic sphere would have pushed the price of the housing up. When using the housing you will also lose more of the bottom as the camera can’t see under the casing base. But considering that the housing costs only £79, it still functions extremely well.
Using the Camera in water
Using the Insta360 One X camera underwater presents a few interesting challenges. Filming on a pole would probably be the best thing as having the camera near your body can be difficult for the stitching. For best footage, and for easy edit, in general, you should not be following the target with the camera as this all will be done in the post. Especially, for a VR experience, it would be best to keep the camera as still as possible. The viewer will then choose where to look himself. However, knowing that the One X underwater housing will leave some stitching seams at the sides I’d personally plan my shooting so that the most important material would not fall at the sides where the seam will be.
Colour balance is another thing to keep in mind. The camera does not have any underwater colour correcting modes and lighting a 360-degree angle shot is near impossible. With a camera like this, you would need to rely on the ambient lighting so all colour correcting would need to be done in the post. Luckily there is a plug-in available for Adobe Premier so even pro-level colour correcting can be done. Although the housing is rated to 30m I would try to use it nearer the surface where the light is good. An ideal situation to use this kind of camera would be when there is lots of action around you. Imagine what you could do with One X when a troop of sea lions or pod of dolphins are swirling around you!
360 video is here to stay and it is heading underwater also. Shooting 360 footage underwater presents new challenges and before paying a ridiculous amount of money for true UHD capable rig the One X camera is the perfect kit to get started with. The camera itself is pretty simple in the end. Most of the clever tech is packed into the software. The camera package with underwater housing costs only £485.00, which is an unbelievable value in my opinion. Everybody can now be a part of the next revolution in underwater image making!