Surf Essentials Review 01 - GoPro 9 V Insta 360 One R

Disclosure - We were given both of these cameras, not for testing but for use in films. We have been using both in a variety of conditions for six months.

If you want to delve into nerdy image quality tests, measuring dynamic range and data rates, google either camera on YouTube and disappear down that rabbit hole, but if you want to know which one of these is best to capture your surfing and general life read on.

First off both are very capable cameras, they are a step up on anything that has gone before, including the Hero 8, so both are worthy of adding to your gear, and if you're thinking of either of these over any other model of action cam, they both win over everything else. But here are five areas which we believe are most important for use for surfing .

1. Ease of use.

The GoPro takes this one, for two reasons. Firstly I think we're all pretty well used to them by now, and that familiarity, even if you are back on a three or four, continues to the 9, and thus that makes the GoPro easier. However there is also a huge advantage of the size of screen, the modularity factor of the bat/brain/lens combo on the Insta automatically makes it trickier to operate, especially in cold water (with gloves forget it). Although both menu systems are simple and easy, the size of GoPro screen gives it the big edge here.

Having said that, both touch screens when we got the cameras back in December 2020 were a bit laggy, and at times so frustrating to open and change settings when in the water. To their credit Insta 360 did a firmware update which partially addressed this, so at least they listen.

2. Image Quality

First up the the 5k on the GoPro comfortably out performs the Insta 360 One R 4k, there is no comparison. However when surfing we'll mostly be using in a slow motion mode, which takes the 5k out of the equation. The GoPro 4k 60p footage is smoother than the Insta 360 One R 4k 60p footage, would you really notice? I think you would, the GoPro is better on that. However it's when you drop to the 2k 120p mode when the GoPro really pulls away, it is remarkable footage for a tiny camera, and beats the Insta 360 hands down when in the comparable 2k100p mode. When you go even faster to 240p at 1080 on the GoPro and 200p on the Insta 360, things get a little closer, neither is great. 

In low light neither camera shines, these cameras have tiny sensors, and when you're doing slow mo you need a lot of light really. That said the GoPro handles the low light and extra noise, but we'd cap the top ISO setting at 800. 

Still image wise the GoPro is awesome in good light, and easier to use than the Insta 360 One R, so if you're into getting stills the GoPro wins. 

3. Battery Life

It's pretty close on this, but the GoPro edged it, just, in the depths of winter when we had those cold windy big swells the GoPro battery lasted about twenty minutes longer than the Insta. In warmer conditions though there is little difference. 

4. Cost/Value for money

This is where the Insta 360 starts to come back. At the moment taking the deal where you subscribe to GoPros services you end up paying £379 for a GoPro 9, for £379 you get two mods for the Insta 360 One R, the standard 4k mod, which is what we have been talking about, plus the 360 mod. The 360 camera which we won't go into is very good, and if you're into that sort of thing, then suddenly the Insta is pulling more level with the GoPro.

5. The Curve Ball

Here is the thing though, Insta 360 One R is a modular system, generally you'll buy it as the twin, the 4k mod and the 360 mod, but there is a third mod, the 1 Inch mod. The 1 Inch refers to the image sensor in the camera, now a 1 inch sensor is roughly 4x the size/area of the regular 4k mod or the GoPro. Suddenly we have a much more interesting proposal. 

The 1 Inch suddenly competes much more with the GoPro 9, it has 5k which is lovely, and it's 4k slow mo and 2k is comfortably as good as the GoPro. Where it really pulls ahead though is in low light. The size of the sensor simply makes it a better option and the Leica Lens is a beauty. If the GoPro is to make big strides of improvement in the future it surely has to go up a sensor size.


If you want a companion to surf with and capture those moments, quickly and in good quality easily then go the GoPro for sure. If you want a 360 camera and the 4k camera and are on a budget go the Insta, but know that it is harder to use in the water. If you don't need the 360 cam, we would definitely say go the GoPro every time.

However, if you're in anyway serious about shooting and film making, and you know that light is going to be an issue, then we'd strongly suggest the One Inch mod, although its £200 more than the GoPro, is worth a look.

The most exciting thing is that GoPro has some serious long term competition, and has to improve.

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