360 Camera Reviews

Pisofttech Pilot Era 8K 360 camera hands-on first impressions; sample videos and photos (updated May 8, 2019)

Pisofttech Pilot Era sample 360 videos in 8K and 6K
Pisofttech Pilot Era sample 360 videos in 8K and 6K

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.  May 8, 2019 update: now live on Indiegogo.  April 11, 2019 update: video resolution increased to 8K 24fps (firmware 4.1.1).

Pilot Era 360 camera HDR samples
Pilot Era 360 camera HDR samples
Pisofttech Pilot is an 8K camera with realtime stitching
Pisofttech Pilot is an 8K camera with realtime stitching

Updated: August 13, 2018 – added HDR shots
Updated: July 11, 2018 – added sample video


Here is a product video:

Background

At CES 2018, I met Pisofttech’s CEO Mr. Shen and CPO Mr. Gao and they explained that Pisofttech specializes in software and has been working with 360 camera manufacturers for a few years now but has finally decided to create its own camera, hence the Pilot Era.

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. Update: added HDR sample photos.

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:

LensesFour fisheye lenses
Aperturef/2.4
SensorSony 12mp 1/2.3-inch sensor
Photo resolution8,192 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*
*updated 7/12/18
Video resolution (realtime in-camera stitching)7680 x 3840 @ 7fps
5760 x 2880 @ 15fps
3840 x 1920 @ 30fps
Live streaming3840 x 1920 @ 30fps
Facebook and YouTube
Video format, encoding and bitratemp4
H.264 / H.265
Bitrate:
up to 100mbps*
*updated 7/12/18
Audio4 microphones
Ambisonic sound
StabilizationRealtime image stabilization with AI and 9-axis gyro
LCD screen3.1-inch TFT LCD
touchscreen
full color
800 x 480
Storageinternal 64GB* +
one Micro SD card up to 256 GB
*updated 7/12/18
ConnectivityUSB Type C
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Ethernet (Gigabit)
4G (upgradeable to 5G)
Nano SIM Card
Mount1/4-20
Battery life7000 mah
3.5 hrs recording
removable battery
Dimensions61mm x 61mm x159mm
2.4 in x 2.4 in x 6.2 in
Weight565 grams
1.2 lbs.
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 24fps 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 9-axis IMU.

5. Intuitive touchscreen controls. The Pilot Era has a color touchscreen with controls that are as intuitive as the controls on a smartphone camera.

6. Google Street View video mode. The Pilot Era has a dedicated Google Street View mode that records video with the necessary GPS data, which can be uploaded to Google Street View. GSV then automatically extracts frames from the video and posts them as linked 360 photos.

Pilot Era Google Street View
Pilot Era Google Street View

7.  Long duration recording.  The Pilot Era has a 512GB internal storage and a huge 7200 mah battery.  It has a 6.5 hour recording capacity (at 8K) and a 3.5 hour battery life, possibly the longest I’ve seen for any 360 camera.

8. Standalone live streaming; concurrent recording.  The Pilot Era can live stream without being connected to a computer, via Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or a 4G cell phone signal.  It is also one of the few 360 cameras that can record the video while streaming at the same time.  This enables the user to upload the recorded video after the stream for better quality.

9. In the future, they will add additional AI features, such as face recognition, gesture recognition, and being able to generate a depth map from a 2D 360 video.

 

PISOFTTECH PILOT ERA SAMPLE 360 VIDEO

Here are samples.  This one is by McLarty Films:

Here are older samples: In this montage, the first 2 clips are at 8k 22fps.  Starting around 0:45 there are four sample clips at 6K 30fps

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 (at the time these were shot, the frame rate was 20fps, but it is now 8k 24fps):

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:

Pilot Era 360 camera HDR samples
Pilot Era 360 camera HDR samples

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 and a SIM card slot for live streaming.


PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

The Pilot Era MSRP will be $2600, but is now on Indiegogo with a few units available at the Early Bird price of $1799 (no longer available) $1999.  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.

 

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Mic Ty

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