Skip to main content

Review: Insta360 X4 360 Camera

The latest version of Insta360’s hybrid 360/action camera offers 8K 360 footage in a tiny, consumer-friendly camera.
WIRED Recommends
Left Hand holding rectangular digital camera with the battery partially ejected. Center Black rectangular digital camera...
Photograph: Scott Gilbertson
Buy Now
Multiple Buying Options Available

If you buy something using links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more. Please also consider subscribing to WIRED



Excellent 8K video quality. Footage is sharp enough to mix with other content. Better battery life. Lens covers. Gesture controls. Large, bright Gorilla Glass screen. Can be used as 4K, single-lens action cam. Relatively lightweight and portable. Great editing software.
Low-light performance is not great.

I never found much use for 360-degree cameras until I used Insta360's new X4. The Insta360 X4's 8K video resolution is finally a high-enough resolution that you can capture 360-degree video, crop to a standard 16:9 frame, and actually have good-looking video you can mix with footage from other cameras. The X4 is where 360 footage finally leaves the action sports niche and becomes useful for filmmakers.

That's not to say the X4 isn't a great action sports camera; it is, especially with its newfound ability to capture slow-motion-friendly, 100-fps footage in 4K (single lens mode). In fact, the X4 is first 360 camera that can effectively replace your action cam, and give you some of the best 360 footage on the market.

Twin Lens Reflex

The X4 looks and feels nearly identical to the X3 (8/10, WIRED Recommends) that preceded it. It's marginally taller and thicker, and at 7.1 ounces, it's 20 percent heavier. The basic design remains unchanged. The main reason for the larger body seems to be the larger battery.

Photograph: Scott Gilbertson

There are still two lenses—which now get lens covers, yay!—mounted to the top of a body that reminds me of an old Nokia candy bar phone. The back of the camera has a 2.5-inch screen, now made of Gorilla Glass, and the buttons on the side remain the same—power and a customizable Q button. On the back there's a button to start shooting and another menu button that can be customized like the Q button.

The big news in the X4 is the jump to 8K H.265 360 video recording, up from the X3's 5.7K video. The 8K footage can be recorded at up to 30 fps. It's worth noting that the X4 has the same sensor as the X3. What's been upgraded here is the processor, which now has the power to record more detail at higher resolution and frame rates.

Before I dig into the X4's video quality, know that there are two potential use cases for 360 cameras. The first is to shoot video for virtual reality (VR) headsets, where the viewer will see everything the camera captured and can choose where to look. The second use for 360 video, which I would argue is more common, is to capture every direction at once and later “reframe” in software, with the editor deciding where the focus should be and presenting the footage in a normal 16:9 movie frame. All of my testing was done with the latter scenario in mind.

Photograph: Scott Gilbertson

In practice, this is the first 360 camera I've used where the video footage is still very sharp and clear, even when reframed to 16:9. You still have to deal with the stitch line, which is where the edges of the two lenses meet and software (imperfectly) fills in the gaps, but otherwise postproduction use of this footage feels like, well, just editing video. I mixed it with footage from a Sony A7R II, GoPro Hero 12, and Insta360 Ace Pro, and aside from the wider angle of view, it's hard to tell the footage apart.

That alone is enough for me to say that this is the 360 camera filmmakers will want. The 8K footage still doesn't reframe to 4K (you'll have to wait for 12K footage before that's possible), but it looks good enough for anything you're going to put online.

It's not just the high-end specs that have changed in the X4 either. Frame speeds have been improved in lower-resolution footage, with new options to shoot 5.7K video at 60 fps, 4K at 100 fps, and 4K at 60 fps when shooting in wide-angle mode. None of that is earth-shattering, but it does give you some better slo-mo options, thanks to the higher frame rates.

The color profile options remain the same as the X3: Standard, Vivid, and Log (for those who prefer to color in post). I shot primarily in Standard and found the colors to be nicely rendered, perhaps a little on the warm side. I find Vivid too garish, and of course if you plan to mix footage with other cameras, you'll want to shoot everything in Log and do your coloring in software.

Film Crew in a Box

Testing action cameras is always one of the best parts of this job, but it was especially fun with the Insta360 X4. I don't even like shooting 360 video, but shooting 360 video knowing that I can crop, reframe, and still get sharp, clean footage with lots of detail and smooth pans? Yes please.

In many ways the Insta360 is like adding a small film crew to your bag, especially if you get Insta360's hilariously oversize 9.8-foot selfie stick, which makes it possible to fake surprisingly realistic boom shots.

At $99, the new Extended Edition Selfie Stick isn't cheap, but is well worth it for the versatility it creates when paired with the X4. Fully extended and held behind you while you walk, it mimics a low-flying drone tracking shot, but without the whole crash-in-the-trees thing.

Speaking of trees, shade, and shadow, the X4 excels in bright sunlight. High-contrast scenes like a forest floor at midday are more challenging (this is true for any camera). HDR mode can help sometimes, but then you lose the ability to shoot Log.

Photograph: Scott Gilbertson

Once you move into low light, or indoors, the X4 starts to show considerable noise and there's a noticeable loss of detail. It's still usable footage in most cases, but this is not the camera I would reach for if shooting in very low light or at night. Then again, no action camera is really any good in low light situations. The nature of the tradeoff between size and image quality means small cameras will always struggle in low light.

Audio in the X4 is largely unchanged from the previous model. There's Auto Wind Reduction (the default), Active Wind Reduction, Stereo, and Direction Focus. I found that Active Wind Reduction did the best when mounted on my bike, but you really want a high-quality external mic for the best sound. You'll need Insta360's USB-C mic adapter to connect external mics.

While most people will likely buy the X4 for video, it does still images as well. Photo resolution is the same as it was in X3—18-MP 360 images, with an option to do 72-MP composite images of scenes where nothing is moving. When using it in what I think of as action camera mode—that is, just one lens—you can shoot 9-MP stills or 36-MP high-res images.

Insta360 has also introduced hand gestures to stop and start recording. These mirror what I tested in the Ace Pro (8/10, WIRED Recommends) last year. I much prefer gestures to voice control (voice control is still there if you like it). Because it's a 360 camera, gestures are even more useful than an action cam since you don't need to be in front of the camera; it'll pick up your gesture no matter where you are in the shot. (Side note: The hacker in me could not help testing to see whether you can also use these gestures to stop someone else's X4 from recording, and the answer is yes, you can. Use that information responsibly, kids.)

Photograph: Scott Gilbertson

If you're thinking that 8K recording must take a toll on battery life, you're half right. It does, but it's not significant compared to the X3 because Insta360 has increased the battery size in the X4. Insta360 claims 75 minutes of shooting time when recording at 8K 30 fps in lab conditions. I didn't get quite that much in the real world, but I was consistently able to shoot more than an hour of footage without needing to recharge. So far, it's still cool where I am so I wasn't really able to test overheating, but the X4 definitely gets hot when shooting 8K. It never shut off on me, but the ambient temps during testing were never more than 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The X4 is waterproof to 33 feet (10 meters); just make sure the camera's battery cover and USB port cover are securely in place. If you're going deeper than that, you'll want to pick up the dive case ($100).

As always, Insta360's editing apps, both desktop and mobile, are best-in-class for free apps. Both have seen minor updates for the release of the X4, and there's a new plugin for Adobe Premiere.

The X4 is hands down the best 360 camera on the market right now. There are other 8K 360 cameras out there, but none of the ones I've tested can match the X4's video quality. That said, it'll be interesting to see what Insta360 does with the One RS 1-inch 360 camera (8/10, WIRED Recommends), if it gets a version 2. With a larger sensor, and better lenses, the One RS stands to quickly usurp the X4 if it gets 8K video, at least in image quality.

However, the One RS is not much of an action camera, and is expensive enough that I'd be uncomfortable strapping it to my handlebars. A more direct competitor for the X4 will likely be the GoPro Max, which is overdue for an update. For the time being, the X4 is a fantastic 360 camera well worth the investment if you're looking to shoot 360 footage.