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I tested the Insta360 Go 2 action cam on my WWII-era sailboat. It blew me away

Review: Mini action cam vs. the high seas!
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer on
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
Pros
  • Super tiny
  • Easy enough for a kid
  • Multiple frame rates
Cons
  • Occasional connection issues
  • Recording time
  • Fingers in frame

Following in the footsteps of the consumer camera market, the action cam world has exploded with ever-growing functionality and quality. Depending on your view, that's either good news or unnecessary clutter that gets in the way of real craftsmanship. Can a return to basics be a step in the right direction?

That's the premise behind the Go 2 from Insta360, a novel action cam meant to be small enough to go anywhere, easy enough for a luddite to use, but powerful enough to capture stunning footage from the most intense adventures.

Video review:

Insta360 is fast emerging as a challenger brand to GoPro, the space's dominant player. The company is perhaps best known for its consumer and professional cameras that boast innovative hemispherical lenses that, together with in-system firmware, stitch together 360 degree video capture that users can edit in all manner of creative ways. The Go 2 is a departure from the brand's 360 degree video capture hallmark, and indeed a step away from general trends in the action cam market. 

Review: Insta360's X3 360-degree action cam will amaze you

Designed with simplicity in mind, the camera body has just one button and clips magnetically inside a base with just two buttons. The screen is itsy bitsy and monochrome, and the video capture options are sparse. If those sound like negatives, they bely the real power of what may be the last of a dying breed: A true action cam designed to go literally anywhere.

I spent a few weeks testing the Go 2 during a recent trip moving our WWII-era sailboat from Alaska to Mexico. How did the Go 2 fair? During several hours of video capture across multiple devices, the Go 2 emerged as the device we preferred to reach for. Check out my video review above for more on that journey or read on below. 

Specifications

Pro Video (Resolution & Framerate) Pro Video: 2560x1440@50fps, 30fps, 25fps, 24fps 1920x1080@50fps, 30fps, 25fps, 24fps
Video Video: 2560x1440@50fps, 30fps, 25fps, 24fps 1920x1080@50fps, 30fps, 25fps, 24fps
HDR 2560x1440@25fps, 24fps 1920x1080@25fps, 24fps
Timelapse 2560x1440@30fps 1920x1080@30fps
TimeShift 2560x1440@30fps 1920x1080@30fps Slow Motion 1920x1080@120fps
Video format MP4
Max clip length Pro Video: 10 mins; Video: 15 mins; FPV: 30 mins; Timelapse: Adjustable interval, record up to 110 minutes with the Charge Case for a 7-minute clip
Storage 32GB (~28GB usable),64GB (~57GB usable)
Run time Standalone: 30 mins (Video mode); 20 mins (Pro Video mode); In Case: 150 mins (Video mode); 110 mins (Pro Video mode)
35mm equivalent 11.24mm
Insta360 Go 2

The form factor is small, but don't be fooled. This is a powerful little camera.

Greg Nichols / ZDNET

Form factor

This thing has a super power. It's small. Really really small.

In both looks and size, the closed clamshell charging case, which houses the removable camera, brings to mind the AirPod Pro case. Instead of flipping open like a pack of cigarettes the base opens via a single hinge like a stapler, revealing the nested camera in one half (more on that in a sec) and the control interface in the other.

It doesn't get much simpler than the Go 2 controls. Two physical buttons serve to call up and navigate a user menu on the tiny display, which is about half the size of a postage stamp. From the menu the user scrolls through the various modes, choosing between the primary video modes (Pro Video, HDR, and video) as well as an impressive number of frame rate and HD resolution options. The camera also has timelapse and timeshift modes.

Also: Is GoPro still the best action camera? Well, it depends

The case doubles as a mount and can be held, affixed to a tripod by means of a female thread, or stood up using an integrated kickstand feature.

The camera body, which is held magnetically in the charging base and is removable by grabbing the metal rim of the lens housing with your fingernail, looks not unlike a colorless one-eyed minion, the little creatures from Illumination's Despicable Me, sans the limbs. It's uniquely small, and a potential choking hazard in the wrong hands (it even looks like a pill!).

To use the camera you first connect it to the base with the touch of a button. Once the connection is established, you record footage via the red record button on the base. Alternatively, if the camera body and base are separated, recording commences by pushing a small button on the front of the camera, prompting a haptic response to let you know you're in business.

apple-iphone-se-3rd-generation-best-phone-for-kids.jpg

We took the little action cam aboard Lindy, our 75-foot gaff rigged ketch built in 1944.

Greg Nichols / ZDNET

Mounts

Here's where this thing shines. 

A number of mounts are available for the camera. In my opinion, none is as cool or useful as the magnetic pendent. About the size of a silver dollar, the pendent is worn around the neck and slipped inside your shirt. The camera body is remove from the magnetic base and adheres to the pendent with a satisfying magnetic *click*. 

insta360-go-2-worlds-smallest-action-camera-2
Insta360

The genius of this setup is that it allows hands-free POV capture that's unobtrusive enough that you don't have to think about it. It's also a safe bet that any people in your shot will quickly forget about the camera, which is immensely valuable if your aim is to capture organic footage. Let's face it, wearing an action cam mounted to a hat brim is awkward (for you and whomever you're filming). Holding a pistol-grip mount requires devoting one hand to manning the camera. The magnetic pendent is a really clever solution.

Also: The best GoPro accessory? It's not what you'd think

It does have its limitations. It works great under a t-shirt, but the magnet isn't powerful enough for comfort to keep the camera clipped through thicker material, such as a puffy jacket or thick sweater. If worn on the outside of the clothes, the pendent has a tendency to swing with movement, ruining shots. I similarly ran into trouble wearing a button-up because the buttons interfered with the natural resting place of the pendent.

Insta360 Go 2

Cats love it.

Insta360

Several other mounts are available that allow you to adhere the camera to a solid surface, strap it to a harness, wear it in a headband, or screw it to a tripod. Because of the size of the camera, there are a lot of creativity possibilities, including affixing the Go 2 to a pet's collar, using it onboard a drone (including smaller drones with very limited payload capacity), or attaching it to everyday objects for interesting experiments in perspective (a spoon, say, or a cell phone).

The footage

Of course, any action cam is ultimately going to be measured on the strength of its footage capture. Fortunately the Go 2 performs like a premium action cam should: It provides crisp, footage in a number of frame rates and HD resolutions, all aided by frankly astounding image stabilization and lots of post production color and effects options via the Insta360 app.

On the stabilization front, I'm amazed at how well this little camera performs. The user can choose to keep the horizon stabilized, whereupon no amount of normal twisting, flopping, shaking, or shimmying that my crew was able to throw at the camera could cause the slightest bit of footage wobble. One of the great opportunities this created was the ability to hand the camera to my kids, who are 6 and 3 respectively and who can't hold still for more than a nanosecond at a time. With the stabilization in play, the kids could run amuck during our passage through Alaskan and Canadian waters filming wildlife and crew antics. Incredibly, lots of that footage was usable.

The video quality is also very impressive. At times we noticed a little choppiness, particularly when panning while shooting moving objects in the basic video mode. You can select between wide angle, which we found too wide for all but the most panoramic of nature shots, or narrow angle, which was our preferred shooting mode. With 57 usable gigabytes of storage we didn't have to worry about filling the camera midday, aiding what I think is this camera's single best feature: It's "don't give it a second thought" usability.

Insta360 Go2 on my boat

Aboard Lindy.

Greg Nichols / ZDNET

Some quibbles

Is it perfect? Not quite.

Simplicity does have its cost. Navigating the menu with two buttons is clunky, recalling an earlier time when consumer cameras operated much the same way. I also ran into some connectivity issues between the charging base and the camera. These were infrequent and easily overcome by reconnecting the two, but it happened more than once.

Using the charging base as a handheld mount is very convenient, particularly because of the extra battery life it affords you, but we found that oftentimes the camera's wide angle captured the shooter's fingers wrapped around the bottom of the base, effectively ruining that footage. 

Also: DJI Osmo Action 3 and GoPro Hero 11 Black compared

We also didn't love the max clip length (10 minutes for pro video, 15 minutes for basic), which felt constraining as we were trying to grab slice of life footage such as dropping and setting anchor or entering into dramatic inlets whose long approaches often took all the allotted time on a clip. The camera was often left unattended while we busied ourselves with the responsibilities of the voyage, and we occasionally missed great shots due to maxing out the shooting time.

Bottom Line

The standalone 32GB Go 2 is $300 as of this writing. The all-purpose mount kit, which I would highly recommend, is another $65. That's not cheap although it compare favorably to cameras from the likes of GoPro. For $30 more you can bump up the storage to 64GB, which is well worth the investment if you're planning to go on multi-day adventures.

This is as powerful an action cam as you're going to need in all but the most professional of uses. Given its size and sharp footage the camera occupies a unique space as a true creator's tool that paradoxically (or perhaps fittingly) is simple enough for a child to use. In fact, what makes the camera worth it is just that: It's got tons of tech under the hood to ensure stunning footage but the user experience is phenomenally uncluttered. That equates to more time spent getting creative than fussing with the camera.

Alternatives to consider 

If you need fewer compromises and don't mind paying a premium, the GoPro is the leader in the category for a reason.

Insta360 is making some really creative products, like this one, which features two hemispherical lenses for 360 degree capture and incredible editing choices.

See our review here

Gimbled and compact for buttery smooth action footage.

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