Why you can trust ZDNET : ZDNET independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Our process

'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?

ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.


The most versatile camera I've tested costs $499 and is not from Sony or Canon

The new Insta360 X4 brings meaningful upgrades that enthusiasts and even first-time users will appreciate. Here's what more you should know.
Written by Ant Pruitt, Contributing Writer
Insta360 X4
Ant Pruitt/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Insta360 X4, priced at $499, can capture up to 8K 360-degree video for the most flexible editing. 
  • It's accommodating accessories, including the Invisible Selfie Stick and Utility Frame, make it a fantastic camera for most environments.
  • Just be aware of scratching the lens as both sides protrude out.

Most talk in tech today revolves around AI in some shape or form, but not too long ago, VR and 360-degree video were the hot topic. When it comes to 360-degree video, the team at Insta360 has been the standard -- at least in my opinion. As previously mentioned on ZDNET, I was able to get my hands on a demo unit of the latest offering from the company, the Insta360 X4, and here are my biggest takeaways after weeks of testing.

View at Amazon

The X4 is an impressive piece of hardware. The body is roughly five inches long and an inch and a half wide, so it's quite easy to pack in the pocket of your backpack or even jeans and shorts. The body has a lens on each side that uses a ½-inch sensor to capture images and video. Thanks to the taller form factor, Insta360 was able to fit a two-inch touch screen to assist with navigation and shot framing.

Also: My 9 must-have gadgets for creating quality YouTube videos

The camera body also includes a few physical buttons that aid in navigating the OS. I'm particularly fond of the button placement (and how weather-resistant the material is), which feels natural and easy to use. For an added bonus, attach the X4 to the "invisible" selfie stick to capture higher or further distances without the accessory getting into the final footage.

Insta360 X4

Weather-resistant enclosures protect the USB-C and microSD card ports.

Ant Pruitt/ZDNET

Back to the image sensor. The ½-inch sensor is capable of capturing 8K resolution in 360-degree video and up to 72 megapixels for still images in 360 degrees or flattened. I'll put an asterisk next to these huge megapixel specs because not all megapixels are created equal. Still images on a full-frame (35mm) image sensor at 20 megapixels will look far better than images on a ½-inch 72MP image sensor. The photosites are different. Fortunately, the X4 still captures some fantastic footage for what it is, a 360-degree action camera.

I'm quite satisfied with the Insta360's on-device software too, as it ran smoothly no matter which shooting mode I was in. Keep in mind that that was the case even when I was shooting in 8K, a resolution tier that taxes the camera's processor heavily. Heck, even my beloved Canon initially (prior to firmware updates) had a hard time finding a balance in OS performance and recording in 8K. With the X4, it's hard to notice a dip in performance regardless of the resolution I shot in. 

Flattened 360-degree Photo from the center of a football field.

Flattened 360-degree photo taken from the football field at University of Oregon's Autzen Stadium

Ant Pruitt

The mobile app is just as easy to navigate and can be connected to your X4 via a private Wi-Fi connection. Once connected, you can control the camera's shooting modes as well as download and edit your footage to suit your needs. 

Using the X4 is a simple and straightforward process. There's no battery anxiety with the X4 as the over 2,000mAh capacity allows you to shoot for well over an hour, up to 135 minutes of record time depending on the mode used. For the aspiring (or professional) content creator, the X4 also allows you to connect a better, external microphone with its 3.5mm jack adapter.

Also: I streamed with Logitech's Mevo Core camera and it nearly beat out my $3,600 Canon

What impressed me the most was what Insta360 calls the "Utility Frame," which is similar to a traditional camera cage used to protect the device within and allow for accessory attachments. The camera also comes with a silicone lens protector.

The additional protector is very much a necessity because the Insta360's lenses are so fragile that I somehow got micro scratches on them after just three days of usage. With any camera gear, you really have to hope that scratches are never deep enough to affect the captured footage. That hasn't been the case with the X4, but I've experienced the issue before with other devices.

Insta360 X4
Ant Pruitt/ZDNET

Another area for improvement is the Utility Frame. I know; I mentioned that I love the idea of it, and putting the X4 into the protective cage is much easier than anything I've worked with from SmallRig or Tilta to protect camera bodies. Unfortunately, once the X4 is in the cage, the battery port isn't easily accessible. So if your battery is low and you'd like to quickly swap it out during a shoot, you must detach everything before that happens. Is this a non-starter? No. Is this inconvenient? Yes. 

Also: The most underrated iPhone camera feature you should never turn off (and how I use it)

As far as the software goes, I didn't have the best time editing within the Insta360 app. With 360-degree cameras, the "easy" part of the editing experience is the shooting portion. So when you're shooting video, you aren't required to move or point the camera toward your subject because you're working with so much real estate in your 360-degree frame. 

But when you're in the video editor, you have to work through setting the position of the video frame to work best for your final presentation -- panning here, zooming there, and so forth by utilizing the keyframes feature. I find this to be much easier in a non-linear video editor such as Premiere Pro. But then again, I'm a professional video editor. Your mileage may vary. Fortunately, there is an AI option in the app that's just good enough to help piece together a first edit. 

ZDNET's buying advice

At $499, the Insta360 X4 is a handy, well-built camera, but I believe there are some things to consider before purchasing. First, what type of creator are you? If you're a creator who is used to working with mirrorless cameras on a tripod for your A-roll and B-roll, then the X4 is a great solution as it allows you to have all of that footage within one frame. Just pull the footage into an editor and start cutting and blending the footage to work for you.

And if you're a creator looking for a second camera, the X4 is a great option because of how creative you can convert 360-degree footage, including POV and drone-like shots. And it doesn't require a Part 107 certification

On the other hand, if you're someone like me who doesn't do a bunch of vlogging, the older X3 model, now at a discounted rate, may be the better way to go.

Editorial standards