Insta360 Link review: This webcam takes center stage

One of the biggest trends in webcams is software that automatically puts you in the frame as you move around. Apple made it popular with its Center Stage feature on iPads and studio displays, and even buzzy upstarts like Opel offer it as an option on their dedicated webcams. But this approach has always been compromised – for these software solutions to work, they require the image to be aggressively cropped and produce a significantly worse image than if the feature was disabled.

That’s where the new Insta360 link comes in. Instead of using software to transfer the image digitally, the Link sits on an actual gimbal, which is cribbed DJI’s Pocket 2 Action Camera. This allows the link to be physically moved to place you in the frame without the need to crop the image or produce a lower-quality image. It also gives Link some unique tricks you won’t find on other webcams.

At $299.99, the Link is a premium-level webcam that stacks up right on top of Opel C1Our current recommendation for webcam with best image quality, While it can’t undercut Opel, it does offer a better value—not to mention that you don’t have to wait for an invitation to buy one through Insta360’s site. Link has great picture quality, polished, and feature-packed apps for macOS and Windows, and its three-axis gimbal lets it do things 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 up to center stage, the frame is accommodating more than one person. Insta360’s Caroline Zhang explains ledge That the camera only prioritizes the person whose face takes up the most amount of frames and then focuses and follows that person. I’d love to see improvements here in the future, but this camera doesn’t get it if you make FaceTime calls with multiple people in the frame.

trying to fit two people in the frame The resulting link preferred me over Vox Media IT supervisor Eric Arredondo.

Like Center Stage, the Link has a head-tracking mode that keeps you in the frame as you rotate. In the Link Controller desktop app, tracking speed can be adjusted from slow to fast pans, the latter of which can potentially be awkward or hilarious, depending on your use case. The gimbal can keep up with movements well on its own, but you can complement it with one of three auto-zooming features that rely on AI. When switched on, it can zoom in on your head (it’ll zoom in to find it if you’re not right in front of your computer), to keep the upper half of your body in the frame. Adjust the zoom, or try to frame your whole body. Each of these modes works, although they sometimes make little adjustments to the zoom when it isn’t necessary.

Link has some optional AI features, including three gestures to activate or deactivate various functions: Briefly showing an open palm will cause Link to quit whatever it is doing and start following your head. . Displaying the peace sign will be flipped into whiteboard mode (more on this in a bit), the link is searching for a sticker guide. Finally, making an “L” with your thumb and forefinger will cause the link to gradually zoom in or out, depending on whether you move your hand up or down while pointing. You will know when a gesture is recognized because the green indicator LED will glow blue at the base of the link. As far as accuracy, the Link has an easier time seeing gestures when there’s a lot of contrast on the back of your hand, and in those situations, it’s usually quicker to respond.

Testing Zoom and Head-tracking Features

There are two noise-canceling microphones in the base of the gimbal, an indicator LED telling you when the webcam is on (green on, blue off), and a monitor clamp that has a quarter-inch tripod thread to give you more mounting options. gives . It includes a USB-C to C cable for connecting to your computer with a USB-C to A adapter. Double-tapping the Insta360 logo on the front of its base reveals a recent gimbal. Despite its awkward design, the Link is as simple 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’s a Sony sensor, but declined to share the exact model) capable of capturing 4K resolution at 30 frames per second (fps) or 1080p and Down to 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 the same as the Opel C1.

Its picture quality rivals that of the Opel C1, and sometimes the Link simply beats it. It’s one of the best in a webcam, although each company’s algorithm for what a perfect image should look like varies greatly. Where the C1 delivers a more contrast-y image, the Insta360 model delivers a more true to life but slightly dull image. Switching to the Link’s HDR mode lets out more heat, and it helps make my apartment’s windows less visible. I tested both sides at 1080p resolution (the difference between 1080p and 4K is negligible with both models – it’ll be compressed by Zoom, Teams, etc. anyway). Take a look at the images and clips surrounding this article to get an idea of ​​how each basic scene in our NYC office is handled.

With head-tracking mode enabled, Link will turn your 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 active, it can put other objects in focus much faster than I expected, although at times the Link lost true focus as I stood still. Insta360 says it uses a phase-detection autofocus (PDAF) sensor to achieve fast refocusing, which is found in many phone cameras these days. Opel C1 is slow in fast refocusing by comparison.

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 spec. You can see the difference in the photo slider below, which shows how clean the Link’s image is in our office with the lights turned off, as well as the vaguely low-light photo that the Opel C1 was able to take.

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

The gimbal enables a few other features that give the Link a unique edge. 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 prowess or whatever else you want to display. There’s also an overhead mode, which tilts the camera down completely. It is intended for those who mount the base of the link 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 at up to 4K/60fps on mobile-friendly Portrait Mode (9:16 aspect ratio), which is also called Streamer Mode. It should end well with creators who like to build stuff on their PC rather than on their phone. When long resolution is selected in OBS, the gimbal rotates the camera 90 degrees. For (home) office drones, there’s a mode to make it easier to show the whiteboard. Four reusable stickers are included in the box, and when Whiteboard Mode is toggled on in the desktop software, it searches for and stays focused on those stickers as a visual guide.

Displaying How Whiteboard Mode Works (Weirdly)

The Link does not have a privacy cover for the camera; Instead, it will tilt the camera all the way down when it’s not active and will activate when you start using it. It’s not as sure of a shutter solution as a physical cap can be, but it can’t be lost or forgotten to be reattached.

The app offers a surprising amount of depth, yet is easy to use. This is where you can control the position of the gimbal via the digital joystick as well as its zoom level. The app allows for up to six angle and zoom presets, making it easy to snap to the right spot with a single button press. I didn’t have much use for them, but they would be very useful for those who take advantage of overhead, deskview, and whiteboard modes. It switches between presets quickly, and they’re easy to access from the on-screen toolbar that hovers over the app to minimize it.

in this clipI’m toggling between three camera location presets.

Between the Insta360 Link and the Opel C1, I’d be happy to have either one on my desk for video calls in terms of fidelity, but it’s a toss-up in terms of other qualifiers. The Opel C1’s design looks cooler (and certainly less fragile 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 the same office mate’s voice in from about 30 feet away. The Opel C1’s microphone sounds more natural, while the Link appears to use a more strict noise gate. The biggest difference between the two clips is that the C1 let in the fan noise of my very noisy 2019 Intel-based MacBook Pro, while the Link did not. Still, my advice is to use a dedicated microphone or headset.

The Insta360 Link certainly isn’t the first to deliver webcam picture quality, but in addition to that feat, the company leveraged its expertise with hardware and software to uncover a range of features that’s hard to come by for $299.99. defeated for

For anyone looking to step up their webcam game, the Opel C1 has been my favorite recommendation. But, with more features at the same price and less hassle of actually buying one, the Link took its place.

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