Insta360 Link review: This webcam takes center stage

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

This is where Insta360’s new Link comes in. Instead of using software to digitally move the image, the Link relies on a real gimbal, keyed from DJI Pocket 2 action camera. This allows the Link to physically move to keep you in frame without needing to crop the image or produce a lower quality image. He also gives the Link some unique tricks that you just won’t find on other webcams.

At $299.99, the Link is a high-end webcam that compares perfectly to the Opal C1our current recommendation for the webcam with the best image quality. While it doesn’t undermine the Opal, it offers better value for money – not to mention you don’t have to wait for an invite to buy one through Insta360’s site. The Link has excellent image quality, polished, feature-rich apps for macOS and Windows, and its three-axis gimbal lets it do things the Opal can’t match. It’s just a fun little gadget among a sea of ​​other boring webcams.

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Where it does not stack, Center Stage can accommodate more than one person in the frame. Insta360’s Caroline Zhang said The edge that the camera simply prioritizes the face of whoever takes up more of the frame, then focuses on and follows that person. I’d love to see improvements here in the future, but don’t get this camera if you do a lot of FaceTime calls with multiple people in frame.

Trying to fit two people in the frame resulted in Link prioritizing me over Vox Media’s IT supervisor, Eric Arredondo.

Like Center Stage, the Link has a head tracking mode that keeps you in frame as you move. In the Link Controller desktop app, the tracking speed can be adjusted, ranging from slower panning to faster panning, the latter of which can be potentially annoying or hilarious, depending on your use case. The gimbal can track movements well on its own, but you can complement it with one of three AI-powered auto-zoom features. When on, it can zoom in on your head (it’ll zoom in to find it if you’re not right at your computer), adjust the zoom to keep the upper half of your body in frame, or try to frame everything your body. Each of these modes works, although they sometimes make very fine zoom adjustments when not needed.

The Link has a few optional AI features, including three gestures to enable or disable different functions: briefly showing an open palm will cause the Link to drop whatever it’s doing and start tracking your head as it moves. The peace sign display will switch to whiteboard mode (more on that in a bit), with the link looking for sticker guides. Finally, if you make an “L” with your thumb and index finger, the link will gradually zoom in or out depending on whether you raise or lower your hand while making the gesture. You’ll know when a gesture is recognized because the green light on the base of the Link will flash blue. As far as accuracy goes, the Link has an easier time seeing gestures when there’s a lot of contrast behind your hand, and in those conditions it’s generally quick to respond.

Testing the Zoom and Head Tracking Features

The base of the gimbal contains two noise-canceling microphones, an LED indicator to let you know when the webcam is on (green on, blue off), and a monitor clamp that has a quarter-inch tripod thread to give you more visibility. mounting options. . It includes a USB-C to C cable to connect to your computer as well as a USB-C to A adapter. Double-tap the Insta360 logo on the front of its base to re-center the gimbal. Despite its odd design, the Link is just as easy to mount on top of a monitor or laptop lid as many other webcams.

The camera itself uses a 0.5-inch sensor (Insta360’s Zhang said it was a Sony sensor but declined to share the exact model) capable of capturing 4K resolution at 30 frames per second (fps) or 1080p and below 60fps. 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 what the Opal C1 provides.

Its image quality rivals that of the Opal C1, and sometimes the Link easily beats it. It’s one of the best on the market in a webcam, although each company’s algorithm for what an ideal image should look like differs a bit. While the C1 offers a higher contrast image, the Insta360 model offers a truer but slightly duller image. Enabling the Link’s HDR mode provides more warmth and helps make the windows in my apartment look less overdone. I tested both side-by-side at 1080p resolution (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 images and clips around this article to get an idea of ​​how each handles a basic scene in our New York office.

When head tracking mode is activated, the Link will rotate its head to keep you centered in the frame.

Two things that really impressed me with the link include how quickly it finds focus in its autofocus mode. Even when the face tracking feature is on, it can bring other objects into focus much faster than expected, although there were times when the Link lost perfect focus when I stood still . 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 fast refocus by comparing.

The Link is also good at retaining detail in low light. Its sensor has an f/1.8 aperture, but results are more important than specs. You can see the difference in the photo slider below, which shows how clean the Link’s image looks with the lights off in our office, alongside the blurry low-light image Opal C1 was able to pick up .

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

The gimbal enables other features that give the Link a unique advantage. There’s a deskview mode that tilts 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 display. There’s also an aerial mode, which tilts the camera completely downward. It is intended for those who mount the Link base on a tripod parallel to the ground.

Then there’s something called streamer mode, which when enabled in software unlocks the ability to output video in apps like OBS in mobile-friendly portrait mode (9:16 aspect ratio ) up to 4K/60fps, which should exceed well with creators who prefer to do things on their PC rather than their phone. When the highest resolution is selected in OBS, the gimbal simply rotates the camera 90 degrees. For office (home) drones, there is a mode to make it easier to display a whiteboard. Four reusable stickers are included in the box, and when the whiteboard mode is activated in the desktop software, it looks for these stickers as a visual guide and stays focused on them.

Demonstrate (awkwardly) how whiteboard mode works

The Link does not have a privacy cover for the camera; instead, it will fully tilt the camera when not active, then come to life when you start using it. It’s not as secure of a plugging solution as a physical cap could be, but it also can’t be lost or forgotten to be reattached.

The app offers a surprising amount of depth, but it’s easy to use. This is where you can control the position of the gimbal via a digital joystick as well as its zoom level. The app allows for up to six renameable angle and zoom presets, making it easy to snap to the right spot with the press of a button. I haven’t used them much, but they’ll probably be very useful for people who take advantage of overhead, desktop view, and whiteboard modes. It quickly switches between presets and they are easy to access from the on-screen toolbar that hovers when the app is minimized.

In this extractI switch between three camera location presets.

Between the Insta360 link and the Opal C1, I’d be happy to have either on my desk for a video call in terms of fidelity, but that’s a problem in terms of other qualifiers. The Opal C1’s design looks cooler (and decidedly less flimsy than the Link with its gimbal arm) but I prefer the Insta360 Link’s feature set. That said, the noise-canceling mics offered by both aren’t great. I recorded the same clip from each camera, and they let in the voice of the same co-worker from about 30 feet away. The Opal C1’s microphone sounds more natural, while the Link seems to use a tighter noise gate. The biggest difference between the two clips is that the C1 lets in fan noise from my very loud 2019 Intel MacBook Pro while the Link doesn’t. Nevertheless, my advice is to use a dedicated microphone or a headset.

The Insta360 link is certainly not the first to deliver incredible image quality, but in addition to this feat, the company has leveraged its expertise in hardware and software to unleash a range of hard-to-beat features. for $299.99.

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

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