Pisofttech Pilot Era is a compact professional 360 camera with in-camera stitching up to 8K 360 resolution. Here are hands-on impressions based on a prelease unit that I’ve been testing. I also show full resolution sample 360 photos and 360 videos. April 11, 2019 update: video resolution increased to 8K 24fps (firmware 4.1.1).
Updated: August 13, 2018 – added HDR shots
Updated: July 11, 2018 – added sample video
Pisofttech Pilot Era is a powerful yet compact 360 camera with 8k video, 32mp photo, and innovative features such as a built-in touchscreen. But what I think is most impressive is how quickly it can stitch 8k or 6k video. <strong>Update: added <a href=”#HDR”>HDR sample photos</a>.</strong>
The Pilot Era is very compact, with about the same dimensions as a regular-sized 16 oz. Monster Energy drink. I had a chance to use it at IVRPA 2018, and Pisofttech has sent me a beta unit (with nonfunctional audio) for testing.
Here is a product video:
Pisofttech Pilot Era Specifications and Key Features
Here are the specifications:
|Lenses||Four fisheye lenses|
|Sensor||Sony 12mp 1/2.3-inch sensor|
|Photo resolution||8,192 x 4,096* updated 7/12/18|
|Video resolution (in-camera stitching but not realtime)||7680 x 3840 @ 24fps*|
6784 x 3392 @ 30fps
5760 x 2880 @ 30fps*
3840 x 1920 @ 60fps*
|Video resolution (realtime in-camera stitching)||7680 x 3840 @ 7fps|
5760 x 2880 @ 15fps
3840 x 1920 @ 30fps
|Live streaming||3840 x 1920 @ 30fps|
Facebook and YouTube
|Video format, encoding and bitrate||mp4|
H.264 / H.265
up to 100mbps*
|Stabilization||Realtime image stabilization with AI and 9-axis gyro|
|LCD screen||3.1-inch TFT LCD|
800 x 480
|Storage||internal 64GB* +|
one Micro SD card up to 256 GB
|Connectivity||USB Type C|
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
4G (upgradeable to 5G)
Nano SIM Card
|Battery life||7000 mah |
3.5 hrs recording
|Dimensions||61mm x 61mm x159mm|
2.4 in x 2.4 in x 6.2 in
|Price and availability||$3,000 (estimated)|
Thanks to Pisofttech’s expertise in software and AI, the Pilot Era has several unique features:
1. Realtime stitching for 6K video 15fps. 6K video can be stitched in realtime, in-camera. Imagine never having to spend time stitching 6K video.
2. In-camera stitching for 8K video. With 8K video, stitching is not in realtime but can be done entirely in-camera. It takes approximately 2 mins to stitch 1 minute of video. By comparison, Insta360 Pro’s in-camera stitching takes 14.4 minutes per minute of video. Most other 8k 360 cameras can’t stitch 360 video at 8K at all and instead require a powerful desktop for stitching. If the user wishes to use third party stitchers, the camera can output to fisheye format.
As of April 11, 2019, the firmware has been updated to enable in-camera stitching of 8K 24fps video (previously, the video was 8K 20fps).
3. A hybrid stitching approach. Some cameras use simple template based stitching which is fast but can only stitch correctly at one distance. Anything farther or closer will have stitching errors. Other 360 cameras use optical flow stitching for smoother stitching but it is very processor-intensive and time consuming. Pilot Era uses a hybrid stitching approach that Pisofttech claims to be comparable in accuracy to optical flow stitching but is much faster. In the demos we did, the stitching looked smooth for anything at least one meter away from the camera. The zenith also looked smooth because the Pilot Era’s lenses are pointed slightly upward, resulting is more overlap at the zenith. The nadir stitching was less smooth but was still decent.
4. Stabilization. Pilot Era uses AI to stabilize the video in addition to an internal gyroscope.
5. Intuitive touchscreen controls. The Pilot Era has a color touchscreen with controls that are as intuitive as the controls on a smartphone camera.
PISOFTTECH PILOT ERA SAMPLE 360 VIDEO
In this montage, the first 2 clips are at 8k 22fps. Starting around 0:45 there are four sample clips at 6K 30fps
Here is an older sample.
To me, the video samples have impressive detail. The dynamic range could be better, but it’s not bad. I also like the natural-looking colors and contrast. Stitching is better than I expected for a camera of this size, and looks quite smooth except at the nadir.
Here are sample videos I’ve taken with my prerelease unit, which has non-functional audio:
PISOFTTECH PILOT ERA SAMPLE PHOTOS
Here are sample photos from the Pilot Era, shot by Pisofttech at IVRPA 2018:
New HDR photo samples
Pisofttech provided new HDR samples, showing a wider highlight and shadow range for HDR shots:
According to their representative, users can select the exposure interval for the HDR shots, up to +/- 4EV.
Here are the HDR 360 photos:
How to use Pilot Era; hands-on first impressions
Pisofttech sent me a prerelease version of the Pilot Era, which I have been testing. Here are my first impressions.
The camera is very compact compared to other professional 8K 360 cameras I’ve used such as the Insta360 Pro, Insta360 Pro 2, Kandao Obsidian, or Detu Max. It is also much more compact compared to the Z Cam S1, a professional 6K 360 camera that also uses four lenses, like the Pilot Era. The Pilot Era’s compact size makes it easy to bring it everywhere and shoot with it without drawing too much attention.
Besides the Pilot Era’s size, the other major difference compared to other 360 cameras is its large 3.1-inch touchscreen. The touchscreen is similar in image quality to a smartphone screen. Indeed, the Pilot Era runs on Android and its icon-based interface is very similar to a smartphone, and is very intuitive and responsive. The touchscreen not only provides an easy interface for controlling the Pilot Era, but is also useful for live view and for reviewing photos without having to connect to a smartphone.
Shooting with the Pilot Era is very intuitive. The screen shows four shooting modes: photo, unstitched video (with four dots), stitched video, and Google Street View. For each shooting mode, you can choose your desired resolution and framerate. The photo mode also has an HDR option. For video mode you’ll also be able to adjust the stitching distance. As of April 2019, the stitching appeared to be purely template based, albeit adjustable. I did not see evidence of a hybrid stitching feature.
For stitched videos, the videos will be immediately viewable on the gallery, which you can access either from the thumbnail on the bottom left corner of the live view screen, or from the main menu. For unstitched videos, you’ll see an outline of a jigsaw puzzle icon, which indicates it is unstitched. Tapping on the jigsaw puzzle icon initiates stitching, which is quite fast for an 8K video (around 2:1 ratio). The workflow is very convenient, and it is actually easier to use than most consumer 360 cameras (and professional 360 cameras), although I wish that it had batch stitching.
As for image quality, the videos look detailed although the dynamic range does not appear that much different from consumer 360 cameras. Another issue is the stabilization. Although the video is stabilized, the four lenses seem to follow their own stabilization, which do not seem to move in sync (as of the March 2019 version). I will be conducting further tests to compare the videos to 5.6K and 8K cameras including Insta360 One X, GoPro Fusion, and Rylo.
With respect to storage, Pilot Era doesn’t use an SD card. Instead it has a large 512GB internal memory (enough for 6.5 hours of 8K video). I transfer videos to my hard drive through a USB Type C cable. In addition to its large internal memory, Pilot Era also has a very large 7200 mah battery (sufficient for 3.5 hours of 8K video recording), which is removable and can be charged in-camera via the USB Type C port.
Pilot Era also includes a base stand accessory that can be used to add an Ethernet jack for live streaming.
The Pilot Era is estimated to be around $2600, and will launch on Indiegogo in early May, with a few units available at the Super Early Bird price of $1799 (a discount of $800). For more news on the Pilot Era, including an upcoming video of the Pilot in use, please bookmark this page. In the meantime, here is Pisofttech’s official webpage, where you can sign up to be notified when their Indiegogo campaign goes live.