Insta360 Link review: This webcam takes center stage

One of the biggest trends in webcams is software that automatically keeps you in frame as you go. Apple popularized it on the iPad and Studio Display with its own Center Stage feature, and even bustling startups like Opal offer it as an option on their dedicated webcams. But this approach has always been compromised – in order to make these software solutions work, they require aggressive cropping and produce a significantly worse image than when the feature is disabled.

This is where the new Insta360 link comes in. Instead of using software to animate the image digitally, the link sits on an actual angle, inspired by DJI’s Pocket Camera 2. This allows the link to actually move to keep you in the frame without having to crop the image or produce a lower quality image. It also gives the link some unique tricks that you won’t find on other webcams.

At $299.99, the Link is a high-end webcam that stacks right up against the Opal C1, our current recommendation for the webcam with best image quality. While it may not undermine Opal, it does offer better value – not to mention you don’t need to wait for an invitation to buy one through the Insta360 website. The Link has great image quality, polished, feature-packed apps for macOS and Windows, and its 3-axis pivot lets it do things Opal can’t match. It’s just a fun little gadget amidst a sea of ​​other boring webcams.

Here’s how the edge Reviews and records products.

Where it doesn’t reach the Center Stage, it accommodates more than one person in the frame. Caroline Chang from Insta360 . said the edge The camera simply prioritizes whoever takes a larger face than the frame and then focuses and follows that person. I’d like to see improvements here in the future, but don’t get this camera if you make a lot of FaceTime calls with multiple people in the frame.

Try to fit two people in the frame In the link, I prioritize myself over Vox Media IT Supervisor Eric Arredondo.

Like the Center Stage, the Link has a head tracking mode that keeps you in frame as you go. In the Link Controller desktop app, the tracking speed can be adjusted, ranging from slower to faster, the latter of which can be embarrassing or intimidating, depending on your use case. The gimbal can keep up with movements well on its own, but you can supplement it with one of three AI-powered auto-zoom features. When turned on, it can zoom in on your head (it will zoom in to find it if you’re not in front of your computer), adjust the zoom to keep the upper half of your body in the frame, or try to frame your entire body. Each of these modes works, although they sometimes make very fine zoom adjustments when it’s not necessary.

The link has some optional AI features, including three gestures to activate or deactivate different functions: Showing your palm briefly will drop the link whatever it does and start following your head as it moves. The peace sign display will switch to whiteboard mode (more on this in a moment), with the link searching for label guides. Finally, making the letter “L” with your thumb and forefinger will gradually make the link larger or smaller depending on whether you raise or lower your hand while making the gesture. You will know when a gesture is recognized because the green LED on the base of the link will flash blue. As far as accuracy is concerned, Linkers have an easier time seeing gestures when there is a lot of contrast behind your hand, and in those circumstances, a response is usually quick.

Zoom feature and head tracking test

The base of the gimbal has two noise-canceling microphones, an LED to let you know when the webcam is on (green, off blue), and a monitor clip with a quarter-inch tripod thread to give you more mounting options. It includes a USB-C to C cable to connect to your computer with the USB-C to A adapter. Double-clicking the Insta360 logo on the front of its base brings up the gimbal. Despite its quirky design, the Link is as easy to attach to the top of a monitor or laptop cover as many other webcams.

The camera itself uses a 0.5-inch sensor (Insta360’s Zhang mentioned it as a Sony sensor but declined to share the exact model) capable of capturing 4K resolution at 30 frames per second (fps) or 1080p and lower at 60 frames per second. It has a diagonal field of view (DFOV) of 79.5 degrees, which isn’t particularly wide, but the field of view is essentially identical to that offered by the Opal C1.

The image quality rivals that of the Opal C1, and sometimes Link easily surpasses them. It’s among the best in a webcam, although each company’s algorithm for what the perfect photo should look like varies a little. While the C1 camera provides a more contrast image, the Insta360 model offers a more realistic but slightly blurry image. Turning on the Link’s HDR mode brings more warmth, and helps make my apartment windows look less bloated. I tested both side by side at 1080p (the difference between 1080p and 4K is negligible with both models – it will be compressed by Zoom, Teams, etc anyway). Take a look at the photos and clips around this article to get an idea of ​​how each of them handled a basic scene in our New York City office.

With head tracking mode enabled, the linker will turn its head to keep you centered in the frame.

Two things that really impressed me about the link are how fast it focuses in autofocus mode. Even with face tracking activated, it could bring other objects into focus much faster than I expected, although there were times when Link lost perfect focus while I was standing. Insta360 says it uses phase detection autofocus (PDAF) sensors to achieve fast refocusing, which is found in many phone cameras these days. Opal C1 is slower at rapid refocusing by comparison.

The link is also good at retaining detail in low light. The sensor has an f / 1.8 aperture, but the results are more important than the specifications. You can see the difference in the image slider below, which shows how clean the Link image was with the lights off in our office, along with the low-light blurry image the Opal C1 was able to capture.

This slider compares similar low-light shots taken with Link (left) and C1 (right).

The gimbal enables some other features that give the link a unique advantage. There’s a desktop viewing mode that directs the camera down to reveal your desk (with a slightly distorted field of view) so you can show off your gaming skills or whatever else you might want to show off. There is also an overhead mode, which tilts the camera completely downward. It is for those who mount the Link Base on a tripod parallel to the ground.

Then there’s something called Streaming Mode, which, when enabled in the program, unlocks the ability to output video in apps like OBS in mobile-friendly portrait mode (aspect ratio 16:9) at up to 4K/60fps, which should It goes well with creators who prefer to create things on their computers rather than their phones. When selecting the longer resolution in OBS, the gimbal simply rotates the camera 90 degrees. For (home) and office drones, there is a way to make it easy to show off your whiteboard. Four reusable stickers are included in the box, and when the whiteboard mode is toggled into the desktop software, it looks for those stickers as a visual guide and will stay focused on them.

Explain (oddly) how whiteboard mode works

The link does not have a privacy cover for the camera; Instead, it will tilt the camera completely when it’s not active and then come to life when you start using it. It’s not quite as sure a shutter solution as the physical cover might be, but it also can’t be lost or forgotten to reinstall.

The app offers an amazing amount of depth, but is easy to use. It’s where you can control the position of the gimbal via the digital joystick as well as the zoom level. The app allows for up to six renameable angles and presets, making it easy to snap to the correct location with the press of a button. I haven’t had much use of it, but it’s probably very useful for people who take advantage of the top view, desktop, and whiteboard modes. It switches between presets quickly, easily accessible from the on-screen toolbar that hovers when the app is minimized.

In this sectionI’m toggling between three camera location presets.

Between the Insta360 Link and the Opal C1, I’m happy to have one on my desk for a video call in terms of fidelity, but it’s a omission in terms of other qualifications. The Opal C1’s design looks cooler (and certainly less brittle than the Link with its pivoting arm) but I prefer the Insta360 Link’s feature set. However, the noise-cancelling mics that both offer aren’t great. I recorded the same clip from each camera, and they let in the same office companion’s voice from about 30 feet away. The Opal C1 mic sounds more natural, while the Link seems to use a stricter noise gate. The biggest difference between the two clips is that the C1 allows for very annoying 2019 Intel-based MacBook Pro fan noise, while the Link doesn’t. However, my advice is to use a dedicated microphone or headphone.

The Insta360 Link certainly isn’t the first to offer the incredible image quality it’s a webcam, but in addition to this feat, the company has leveraged its hardware and software expertise to launch a hard-to-beat set of features for $299.99.

The Opal C1 has been my go-to recommendation for anyone wanting to step up their webcam game. But, at the same price with more features in towing and with less hassle actually buying one, the Link just took its place.

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