Insta360’s first foray into the world of webcams could be a real game changer
- Fantastic image quality
- Packed with features
- Compact build
- Very expensive
- Mediocre microphones
- Can run quite hot
The Insta360 Link is a feature-laden 4K webcam with an innovative twist. Clearly keen to make its mark, Insta360’s debut webcam is far from your standard USB streamer.
Equipped with one of the largest imaging sensors available in a webcam and a full three-axis motorised gimbal, the Insta360 Link offers crisp 4K streaming with face tracking. Using AI face recognition, the camera is designed to follow you as you move around, ensuring you’re always perfectly positioned within the frame. It offers selectable views for top-down and portrait recordings as well as a nifty whiteboard mode, which automatically zooms into a marked spot on the wall.
The Insta360 Link is easily one of the most interesting webcams on the market right now. While its top-tier image quality makes it an excellent all-around streaming solution, its tracking and AI smarts really set it apart from the competition. Given its lofty list price, it’s certainly not going to be for everyone, but there’s certainly not much else like it.
Insta360 Link webcam review: What do you get for the money?
The Insta360 Link comes as a “Standalone Kit” for £319, bundled with a 1.5m USB-C cable, a USB-C to USB-A adapter and a set of four adhesive whiteboard markers. For an extra £29 you can pick up the Insta360 Link “Tripod Kit” which, in addition to the above, includes a collapsable miniature tripod.
Design-wise, the Link is rather unusual. The camera unit is built into a raised, three-axis gimbal arm that bears more resemblance to the DJI Pocket 2 action camera than a typical webcam. The gimbal offers rotational pan, tilt and rotational adjustments and sits atop a broad, square base.
The base houses two front-facing noise-cancelling microphones, a touch-sensitive pad and an LED indicator strip. A fold-out rubberised monitor clip is built into the bottom of the unit, along with a standard 1/4in tripod thread.
The camera itself is very well equipped. It has a 1/2in imaging sensor – one of the largest you’re likely to encounter in a webcam – along with a bright f/1.8 lens that offers a 79.5-degree field of view. Streaming is supported at up to 4K at 30fps or 1080p at 60fps.
The Insta360 Link offers plug-and-play compatibility for both Mac and Windows systems and even supports full gesture-controlled face tracking without the need to download any additional software. Insta360’s companion Link Controller app will, however, enable you to get the most out of the device.
The app allows you to take full control over the camera’s brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness, along with the ability to custom set the white balance. You can also manually focus the lens, change the resolution and toggle HDR. On the gimbal side of things you can adjust the tracking speed, dial in preset camera positions and take full manual control of where the camera is pointing.
Insta360 Link webcam review: What do we like?
Straight out of the gate the Insta360 link offers some of the best image quality I’ve ever seen from a webcam. The image is clear, richly detailed and the colours are spot on. Additionally, Insta360’s Link Controller offers plenty of control, so you can fine-tune the image to your liking.
The camera captures plenty of dynamic range in its standard mode, and in HDR mode it’s able to tame very intense highlights while maintaining natural-looking contrast levels on faces. Whether it’s down to the Link’s large 1/2in sensor, some smart processing or a combination of the two, the camera also performs very well in low light environments. Switching between my MacBook Pro’s built-in camera (Intel 16in, 2019) and the Link while in my dimly lit home office reveals a near night and day difference, although that’s not particularly surprising given the laptop’s camera only captures at 720p.
The Link’s standout selling point is its three-axis gimbal and face-tracking tech. Diving into the Link Controller app you can toggle between dedicated modes for face tracking, overhead, desk view and whiteboard views, along with a streamer-centric portrait orientation setting.
The face-tracking setting is very effective, automatically locking onto your face and following you as you move about behind your desk or around the room. You can tweak the tracking speed to suit your particular presentation and you can even set the digital zoom to maintain a consistent head, half-body or full-body crop.
Whiteboard mode is something I’m yet to encounter on any other tracking webcam. Place a set of four included adhesive markers around the corners of a whiteboard – or any rectangular object – and the camera is able to quickly lock on and jump to it. The Link zooms to fill the frame with the marked object and will even correct the perspective to make it look as if the camera is positioned directly in front of the board. This is a neat trick that could be a real benefit to teachers or team leaders leading streaming classes or presentations.
The overhead and desk view modes involve the camera pointing straight down, flipping the scene and again correcting the perspective to allow you to easily demonstrate what’s going on in front of you. While I can certainly foresee situations where this could be useful, it does require a little more planning in how and where you set up the camera.
The Link also supports hand gesture recognition, a feature that can be used to trigger face tracking, launch into digital zoom or switch to whiteboard mode without having to open up the app, although its effectiveness is mixed. Starting and stopping face tracking works well, but hopping out of the more zoomed-in modes is a little trickier to achieve as the camera won’t always be pointing at you or your hands.
Insta360 Link webcam review: What could be better?
While the Link’s image quality is truly top notch, the onboard microphones don’t offer quite the same level of performance. Although reasonably clear for the most part, they capture audio in way that leaves recordings sounding overly processed and compressed, which is rather disappointing at this price point. While the Link’s mics will do in a pinch, I found the in-built mics in my MacBook Pro offered far cleaner results.
In use the camera runs quite hot, too. Given the technology Insta360 has crammed into such a small device, some heat output is inevitable, but it can begin to border on gaming laptop hot during extended use. Oddly, I even found it heating up in standby mode while attached to an idle laptop, which doesn’t bode well for the lifespan of the product.
It’s also worth noting that, at launch, there’s no support for either HDR or higher frame rate video at 4K resolution. In fact, HDR support tops out at 1080p30. This isn’t necessarily a huge deal as the Link’s video stream looks great in both non-HDR 4K and Full HD but, given that Insta360’s promotional content extols the virtues of both HDR and 4K, it’s worth being aware that you can’t use them together.
The Insta360 Link’s main drawback, however, is its premium price. I’ve found myself crowning a number of webcams, “the most expensive I’ve ever tested” recently, and with the Insta360 Link that record is being broken once again.
If you can do without the AI smarts and simply need a solid webcam for work there are plenty of excellent options available for significantly less. Alternatively, the Obsbot Tiny 4K and Obsbot Tiny 1080p webcams offer face tracking for a fair bit less.
Insta360 Link webcam review: Should you buy it?
The Insta360 Link is unique. While there are other webcams with tracking capabilities, no other camera I’ve tested can quite do what the Link does or as well as it does it, either. The image quality is very much up there with the best webcams available and its extensive, innovative feature sets it apart from everything else.
It isn’t entirely without its flaws. The onboard mics are no match for a half-decent dedicated USB microphone, the heat it kicks out is less than ideal and its list price pushes it beyond the reach of most people.
For casual video calls and indeed most hybrid work environments, the Insta360 Link is likely overkill. However, for teachers, managers and online streamers that can make full use of the Link’s extensive feature set, this may well be the best webcam available right now.