GoPro garnered attention earlier this year when it made a webcam tool for its Hero 8 Black and, now, Hero 9 Black cameras. But there’s a better option out there.
Insta360 recently updated the firmware of its One R with what might just be the best application to date of a webcam feature in an action camera.
This is a pleasant surprise, as Insta360 has a reputation for releasing software features that aren’t quite ready for prime time.
What makes the Insta360 One R webcam mode so special? There are three notable aspects here.
Simplicity is the first. To use a GoPro as a webcam you need to install a piece of software on your Mac or Windows PC. It acts as a bridge between camera and OS, and GoPro’s focus is MacOS, meaning there’s feature lag for Windows users.
The Insta360 approach is baked into the firmware. No extra software is needed. You simply switch the One R’s USB mode to “webcam” in its settings menu and the camera is recognised as a webam on your laptop or desktop. It just works, and should mean it’ll work with any video chat tool.
Insta360’s second benefit, the major one, is also rooted in this firmware-led approach. Use the Insta360 One R’s standard “4K” camera module and the view automatically tracks to frame the faces in view.
This is particularly important given it has a very wide angle lens, whose native field of view is not ideal for a webcam unless you want to fit in a whole meeting room’s worth of people. If someone else enters the scene suddenly at the edge of the frame, the Insta360 One R will zoom out smoothy to accommodate them.
Walk further away and, after a pause to avoid erratic camera movements, it’ll zoom in further to frame your face. This all operates using face recognition built into the camera.
GoPro currently only lets you choose between three “digital lenses”. These aren’t selected in the chat client you use, but the Webcam Tool app it released in July. There’s no face tracking yet.
The final Insta360 One R hit feature relates to how the camera operates more generally. It’s a modular action camera, one with 4K, 360-degree and 1-inch sensor modules.
Use the 360-degree camera and the webcam feed shows a split-screen of both sides of its view. Put it in the centre of a filled (to the limits of social distancing) board room table and everyone will be on-screen.
There’s just one disappointment. The One R’s great 1-inch sensor module does not yet support the webcam feature. When it does it will likely be the best of the lot, able to deal with fairly low-light rooms without the loss of detail and noise you’ll see using the Insta360 One R 4K camera and GoPro Hero 8/9 Black.
Already own an Insta 360 One R? I have a bonus tip. You can use it as a webcam without the battery block attached as the power from a USB 3.0 port is enough to run the camera.