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Insta360 Link review: This new 4K webcam means business

Insta360's first webcam combines the best of its existing camera tech with AI smarts to deliver a high-end, practical tool for business professionals, educators, and content creators.
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Written by June Wan, Tech Editor on
Pros
  • Crisp 4K video with motion tracking and auto-focus
  • Quick and easy installation via USB-C
  • Whiteboard and DeskView modes are practical
  • Light enough to hang on laptops
Cons
  • Pricey at $299
  • Webcam orientation may need manual adjustment
  • Warm to the touch after an hour or two of use

We're currently living in the golden age of webcams. As business professionals, educators, and consumers alike take to videoconferencing for their collaborative needs, webcams have become sharper, clearer, and more functional than ever to meet the demand. 

Insta360 is best known for making 360-degree, pocket-friendly action cameras -- in case the name didn't give it away -- but its latest innovation marks the company's foray into the bustling webcam market. The Insta360 Link is a compact camera that's powered by a delightfully intelligent AI system and Insta360's infamous gimbal stabilization, with a listing price of $299 to cover all that tech. 

That's a bold ask for a computer accessory. But after testing the webcam for the past two weeks, my hot take is that the Insta360 Link has no business being this good for a first-generation product. 

Specifications

Dimensions69x41x45mm (2.71x1.61x1.77in)

Weight

106g (3.73oz)

Video resolution

4K@24/25/30fps, 1080p and 720p@24/25/30/50/60fps

ISO

100-3,200

Shutter speed

1/8,000-1/30s

White balance

2,000-10,000K

Aperture

f/1.8

Fixed FOV

67 to 79.5 degrees

Microphones

Dual noise-canceling microphones

System requirementsWindows 8 or later, macOS 10.10 or later, 2GB RAM


Design

Fundamentally, the Insta360 Link is like every other webcam; it's a bite-sized gadget that sits atop any monitor, laptop, or desk setup and connects via a USB-C cable. Its gimbal-like figure separates it from the pack with a stabilized camera that sways back and forth when not in use -- sort of like a bobblehead. The 3-axis gimbal, as Insta360 calls it, allows the camera part of the webcam to rotate left to right, up and down, and diagonally.

On paper, the Link's field of view peaks at 79.5 degrees, which is a smidge narrower than competing webcams that boast ultra-wide lenses. But when you consider the Link's ability to swivel and spin, the shorter viewing distance is easily forgettable. More on that later.

insta360-link-hero2

The webcam is literally a mini gimbal!

June Wan/ZDNet

The Link is not as heavy as you'd expect, even with the motorized parts. It weighs 106g which, given its premium, all-aluminum construction, is a pleasant surprise. I tested the webcam on my beefy 34-inch monitor and had no trouble keeping the gadget still and balanced. More impressively, the Link sat just as snuggly on my 13-inch MacBook Air and 16-inch MacBook Pro. In both scenarios, the laptop displays never felt like they were being dragged or weighed down by the webcam. 

In fact, I found the 16-inch MacBook's notch to be the perfect indicator to station the camera. The Insta360 Link ends up covering the MacBook's ambient light sensor, but it's nothing that manual brightness adjusting can't solve. 

Also: Best webcams in 2022

insta360-link-macbook-notch

It's like the two were meant to be.

June Wan/ZDNet

The only other design element worth mentioning is the LED ring that surrounds the base of the Insta360 Link. The ring glows green when the webcam is in on, blue when it's in standby mode, and yellow when there's a software issue. It's a practical indicator of whether the camera is rolling or not. 

Setup

Using the webcam is as simple as clasping the rubber-tipped mount onto your screen. The backside of the Link has a springy mechanism that allows it to hold onto any surface firmly, which you can then connect a USB-C cable from it to your computer. 

As most manufacturers do, Insta360 recommends using the included USB-C cable to power the Link. But to my surprise (and laziness), I found the webcam just as functional -- including all the nifty camera tricks that I'll go over later -- when paired with third-party cables (see image below). That's oftentimes not the case with webcams, as my previously tested Elgato Facecam only worked with its proprietary connector.

One thing to note: No matter what cable you use with the Link, expect the gadget to feel a bit warm to the touch after an hour or two of use. This can be a cause for concern, especially if you plan to keep the webcam constantly plugged into a desktop. But given the constant power consumption and high-resolution output, a little overheating is not surprising.

insta360-link-camera-side

It's not the most subtle webcam setup, but it sure looks different.

June Wan/ZDNet

Companion software

Besides the plug-and-play aspect of the Insta360 Link, there's also a companion program that Windows and Mac users can take advantage of. The Link Controller software lets you modify the finest levels of the webcam's output, including the white balance temperature, contrast, saturation, and more. Heck, there's even a curve graph to set exposure levels. 

Within, you will also find a directional pad (labeled "Gimbal Control") to control the webcam manually. This was particularly handy whenever the Link lost its calibration and became off-centered -- which happened once or twice per day.

insta360-link-software-settings

Thumbs up for the plethora of settings and adjustments in the Link Controller app.

June Wan/ZDNet

Controls aside, I'm very satisfied with the robustness of the Link Controller software. There's enough fine-tuning here that effectively renders the native settings on Zoom, Google Meets, and all obsolete. And for the best results, if your computer (and recipient) can handle it, the video resolution output can be scaled up to 4K (3,840 by 2,160).

Also: Google Meet vs. Zoom: What's the better video conferencing software?

Performance

So how good is the webcam's video exactly? I'd go as far as to compare the Insta360 Link's 1/2'' sensor to a DSLR camera, like the ones that suddenly became high-quality webcams during the pandemic. Seriously. 

The Link's larger sensor allows it to capture more details and dynamic range than the standard webcam, delivering an output that's effectively balanced, natural in color, and optimized for bright and low light environments. As someone who has helped most of his family members set up their WFH systems over the past two years, I was especially impressed by the Link's default color settings, which gave off a lively reflection without overdoing the sharpness and saturation. 

insta360-link-focus-quality

True Focus makes the Link the perfect YouTube thumbnail camera. 

June Wan/ZDNet

Speaking of sharpness, Insta360 says that the Link is using "Phase Detection Auto Focus and auto exposure technology for near-instant focusing." I can attest to the statement, particularly the near-instant part, because while the webcam can detect subjects (living and non-living) moving towards the sensor, it sometimes takes a second or two longer to shift focus. In the case that the Link fails to dial closer, a slight wiggle should troubleshoot it.

The Link's autofocus feature, called True Focus, is ideal when you're moving around, say, during a presentation or showcasing a product in hand. Basically, the webcam is excellent for taking YouTube thumbnails. 

Also: Cheap and easy tricks to help you look great on video calls

AI smarts

Insta360 has equipped the Link with a series of AI-driven capturing modes, all of which can be prompted by hand gestures. Here's a brief run-down of each one:

  • Gesture Control/AI Tracking: For work presentations, online lectures, and virtual gatherings, AI tracking (similar to Apple's Center Stage) uses the Link's 3-axis gimbal to follow you as you move around a room. The feature can be turned on or off by waving at the camera for about two seconds, and it's unsurprisingly smooth with the panning.
  • Whiteboard Mode: By placing the four provided recognition markers on the corners of your whiteboard, the Link webcam effectively adjusts the contrast of the board to prevent overblown whites when recording. This makes the written text a lot more discernible. 
  • DeskView/Overhead Mode: If you're doing a demo that involves writing or scanning a physical document, then this feature is for you. DeskView angles the Link webcam just low enough to capture what's on your desk. The reliance on image processing here makes flattened subjects appear more natural than ones with depth and height (see the cup in the image sample below).
insta360-deskboard-mode

For the best DeskView output, stick to flatter objects. 

June Wan/ZDNet

Lastly, there's Privacy Mode, which resolved my biggest concern going into this review. For every ten seconds of inactivity, or when the Insta360 Link switches to the blue LED, the camera will automatically swivel downwards to prevent unwanted video-capturing. I'm a big fan of how aggressive this feature is, with the webcam proactively hiding soon after every one of my Zoom meetings. All that's missing now is for someone to make a camera cover.

Bottom line

For its first webcam, Insta360 hit it out of the park. I've tested a handful of webcams during the pandemic. None of them check as many boxes as the Insta360 Link does. From professional-looking video quality to smart features that are as practical as advertised, there's not much to complain about here. At $299, business users and remote-working educators should find the most value from the Link. If video-conferencing is not as essential to you, then I'd look to some of the more affordable (yet effective) webcams on our best rankings list

Alternatives to consider

Besides the Insta360 Link, here are four worthy alternatives that you should consider:

Looking at the Insta360 Link, it's difficult not to draw comparisons to the Obsbot Tiny PTZ 4K. Released months ago, the Obsbot also features a rotating, gimbal-like 4K camera, with similar AI tracking and gesture-based features as the Insta360. Oh, and it also ducks down when not in use, just like the Link's Privacy Mode. The Obsbot Tiny PTZ 4K is as good of a 1:1 as you'll find in terms of alternatives. 

I mentioned the Elgato Facecam earlier in the article, which remains as one of the better webcams for your money. The camera is equipped with a Sony STARVIS CMOS sensor to capture crisp and vivid imagery, even in darker environments. Gamers and streamers will find the 1080p/60fps output ideal for broadcasts and general video chats. 

With the imminent launch of iOS 16 and macOS 13, Ventura, iPhone, and MacBook users will soon be able to take advantage of Apple's latest Continuity Camera feature. The duality feature, which works best with a MagSafe mount, lets you use your iPhone's rear cameras as the primary input source on your MacBook. That means higher quality video and a DeskView-like mode that records what's on your tabletop.   

I reviewed the AnkerWorks B600 Video Bar shortly after its CES unveiling earlier this year. Since then, I've yet to see a bar-style webcam that comes with the same fill light-microphone-speaker setup as the B600. At $219, the webcam is not cheap. But for all that you're getting -- and all the desk space that you're saving -- it may be worth the investment. 

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