“It’s probably him the most beautiful webcam I’ve ever tested on you,” remarked one of my colleagues over Zoom the other day as I stared into the eye Insta360 link cam. A chorus of approval filtered through my computer speakers from the rest of the team. I am zoom, zoom, zoom more workdays than not, so it’s a great way to test out webcams. Two birds, one stone.
A great many cameras have graced the space above my laptop screen and monitor over the years and I’ve been quite happy during my time with the Insta360 Link. It’s from A Company known for its action cameras– which we really like – so this webcam has a lot to offer. Well, apart from its eyebrow-raising price.
Connect the Insta360 Link to your PC using the included USB-C to USB-C cable (there’s a USB-A adapter if you need it). The first thing you’ll notice is the motorized head – the camera lifts up and looks around before settling into a straight-ahead gaze, much like the Pixar lamp did afterward it crushes the “i”. The link is mounted on a gimbal that allows nearly 360 degrees of horizontal rotation, as well as some vertical rotation. It’s not so heavy that it doesn’t cause any problems even on the top of a laptop screen.
This type of movement comes in handy when you frequently lead presentations and need to move around a room, or even to perform a dance routine. The Link can recognize faces, so it tracks yours and automatically keeps you in the center of the frame. It will also zoom in and out so you aren’t too far away or filling in too much of the shot.
You can use a series of hand gestures to issue wordless commands to the link. A gesture zooms the camera in and out. Another switches to whiteboard mode, which forces the Link to recognize rectangular surfaces (whiteboards or blackboards) and train its focus there. In whiteboard mode, it frames the board and doesn’t track you when you decide to move out of the way, giving viewers a better view of the board. You’ll have to apply four reusable stickers (included) framing the whiteboard for the Link to recognize what you want to focus on, but that’s a minor inconvenience.
Then there’s Overhead mode, which focuses on an object you’re presenting on your desk by pointing the lens almost straight down at the surface your monitor or laptop is resting on. When you demonstrate something — play the piano, draw, show blueprints — it recognizes that and automatically frames everything you do for the best shot. It works way better than I expected. You place your materials right side up in front of you so you can read them, and the link flips the video so other participants in the call can also read it right side up.
The camera is controllable via the Link Controller app (available for Mac and Windows), which has a simple, clean interface that explains everything. Have you forgotten how zooming works with gestures? Press the “?” next to the menu item and a short, silent explanatory video is played. Arrows and a zoom slider let you manually control the link, and you can also move it with your mouse. All the controls are hidden so they are really meant for anyone who doesn’t feel overwhelmed by them. A sidebar lets you tweak white balance, contrast, brightness, saturation, and sharpness, although I never wanted to. The video quality is amazing.
Most webcams have an image sensor between 1/4 and 1/3 inch. The Link outperforms them with a 1/2-inch sensor. That’s probably why the video quality looks so much better than the competition. A larger sensor can collect more light in a shot, delivering better low-light results with better colors and more detail. The Link’s video quality is so vivid and sharp that my video feed feels less like I’m seeing myself through a digital screen and more like I’m looking through a window into my own apartment.
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