PiSofttech Pilot Era First impressions

Disclaimer: I have played intensively with this camera for two days only. Also I am by no means an expert, but this camera is not targeted at experts. My previous experience with 360 cameras is with the Garmin Virb, the Insta360 One X and the Xiaomi Mi Sphere. These camera’s target a different audience. But they have given me a insight in what is possible with 360 photography and I have learned a thing or two about workflow and what makes a camera usefull or not in which circumstances. I know what I expect from a camera in this price range. It’s about 5 times the price of the most expensive camera I owned previously. So I expect value for my money.

I have pros and cons to share. If you want to know more about this camera do read on. Come back later for some photos.

First the positive news: the image quality of this camera is amazing! So is the interface. The on camera display is really practical. You don’t need any extra devices to be able to use this camera in a practical way. As you probably already know, the on board interface is based on Android 7. But PiSofttech has adapted it for this camera. The interface is really intuitive but it still could be (a little bit?) better. And I’m sure in a couple of months it really will be. Also worth to mention is the brightness of the display. Even with sunglasses on and in sunny conditions I was still able to see what is going on. Eat this Insta360 One X! But I won’t be using this as an action cam. 🙂

It look like this company really listens to it’s users and firmware updates are released on a regular basis. And these updates aren’t just updates to keep the users happy that they get updates. No, they really add to the functionality, useability and value of this camera.

As is to be expected from a brand new camera there are still some important things missing an some other things flawed. I’m sure many of these things will get solved in time. If you want to know about the negatives of this camera, read on. But before you do, you need the previous sentence again. I’m sure many of these things will get solved in time.

Some people say that this is really negative point: there is no option to shoot in RAW. But I for one don’t miss this option. For me the photos that this camera produces are more than adequate. Maybe for photos in darker circumstances this might be useful to restore some detail, but once you are aware of this limitation, you know when you can or can’t use the camera. Camera RAW won’t be added through firmware updates. It is impossible to add as it is restricted by the hardware. An alternative could be shooting in log so we can color grade later. This is also missing.
Also it doesn’t perform great in low light conditions. Examples will follow soon.

The camera for some reason has two shutter buttons, one on each side. But it also has a shutter button on the display. I wonder what the use case is for these hardware shutter buttons. It would be nice if these were programmable. Below I will give some more ideas about what I would like them to do. But what if one of the buttons could trigger the video recording and the other one the photo camera. Or one button takes a picture after a delay of 10 seconds and the other one with a delay of 20 seconds… Nobody is going to make an instant photo using these buttons with the camera in their hand. You don’t want your hand to show in the photo. Or maybe in some very rare cases.

Another option could be adding long press to these buttons. This gives you 4 programmable functions. (Are you reading this PiSofttech?)

Another thing that is missing (for now) is the ability to make timelapses. You can take one photo with a certain delay and that’s it. It would be a useful addition if the camera could take photos at certain intervals for as long as you want it to. I don’t even need the camera to create a timelapse video out of it. Just a series of photos will do. If the camera could make a stabilized video from them, even better. A couple of paragraphs lower you read about the shutter speed. Something I would use in conjunction with the interval setting.

This is sold as a professional camera, but there is no manual shutter speed or exposure setting for video recording. This is something that I do need. I don’t want this camera to decide what settings I want to use. Especially in changing lighting conditions. I want the shutter speed and exposure to remain the same.

The slowest shutter speed for photos is 1/15s. This is waaaaaaaay to short. I want to make long exposure shots with a shutter speed of 30 seconds or even longer. So PiSofttech, please add these shutter speeds: 1/2s, 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s, 20s, 30s, 60s.

Burst mode, taking up to 10 or 20 photos in quick succession is another thing that this camera doesn’t do. Please add this as well! There are (many) cases where you want to capture a moving object and it is impossible to time the moment of the shot exactly to the best moment of this action. This would be an awesome addition. I know this isn’t an action camera, but sometimes we need it to be.

Connecting your smartphone to the camera is not really intuitive when both devices aren’t connected to the same wifi network. It is possible though when you know how. To do this, you have to go to the settings menu, turn on the hotspot, connect to this hotspot with your phone and then if you are lucky you can go to the pilot app and connect to the camera. This doesn’t always work though. And if it works, you lose the internet connection on your phone unless you have a dedicated sim card in the camera.

A camera like this without the ability to remotely control it is a lot less useful.

I was able to get it to work once without problems. The other times I needed to restart the camera, reboot the phone, disconnect, reconnect, turn the hotspot off and on again and jump through a couple more hoops to get connected. What I would like to see on the homescreen of the camera is an extra button to connect to the phone. This button would turn on the hotspot without going two levels deep into the menu. This could also be a function for one of the shutter buttons on the sides of the camera.

Update: Tried again today (day 3) and it’s the same MO. Rebooting camera + phone and then after 3 tries it connects.

By the way, as you may have guessed from my poor writing, I’m not a native English speaker. Guess how one of my kids read the company name. Wait for it…

Piss Off Tech. Yes, I think that’s funny. But this does in no way reflect how I think of this company!

Continuing with my feature requests. This camera has built in Google Streetview Support which is great. Really, it is. It works flawlessly. The one drawback if you make a Google Streetview video (7 fps in 8K) is that the files are huge! A 30 minute walk resulted in a 18GB video. So uploading takes a really long time and it also takes Google Maps a long time to process them. But the results are amazing and it just works. Or does it? Well yes, it does but there is one thing I would like to see changed. I would like to have the ability to trim the result. A couple of seconds of the start of the video when I’m still setting up and a couple of seconds of the end of the video when I’m taking the backpack off don’t need to be uploaded to Google. I’m not sure if this is possible with a video that contains GPS data, but I think it should be.

Also if you upload photos to GSV they first are private and only you can see them and you could edit out the ones you don’t want. If you do the same with the video from the Pilot Era, you have no control over the result. The photos are public from the moment they are uploaded.

Last but not least: HDR photos. I won’t complain about the quality. Really, I won’t! It’s really great at least compared to what I’m used to. I’m new to this game so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. But It takes a long time to take the three photo’s needed to create the resulting HDR photo. Any (even slow) movement in the picture results in artefacts or blur. I don’t know if it is possible, but if they could shorten the time between the three photos this would make the HDR even better. The rendering of the HDR photos and the in camera stitching by the way is super fast.

The app

The app on my android phone has some really basis functionality. Once you manage to connect to the camera, IF you manage to connect, there are two things you can do: use the app to take photos or video and browse through the gallery on the camera. If you want to change any settings, you need to use the camera display.

Just to be clear: if both the camera and the phone are on the same wifi network, it connects easily. But in the field you more often don’t have a wifi connection.

I think the app will improve as well. My main issue with it is that it doesn’t allow the user to select the location where to download the photos from the camera to. Most android phones have the ability to use an SD card to expand the memory. Since this files this camera produces are pretty large, it isn’t a luxury to be able to save the photos to the phones SD card.

Another issue I have is browsing the gallery. On the camera you get thumbnails (well kind of) of the photos and videos, but on the phone you can only see them one by one. It takes a long time for one photo to load and if you want to look at photo number 20 you have to wait for all 19 photos before that to load. Adding thumbnails (square ones) and caching these would help immensly. It wouldn’t take up a lot of space if these thumbnails were stored on the camera and it would make browsing the gallery a lot faster.

To recommend or not to recommend

Would I recommend this camera? Yes! I am really happy that I got this. Even with it’s flaws and missing functionality.

I was hoping for more, that is true. I think timelapse, burst mode, manual shutter speed, slow shutter speed (30s), fast HDR, and easy connecting a smartphone to the camera are basic things to ask for in a camera that is sold as a professional 360 camera.

Why am I so happy? It takes amazing photos, it has a great on camera interface, you can preview shots in 360 mode, flat mode, and yes… even tiny planet mode. I love tiny planets! You can live stream to Youtube, Facebook and your own server. It has a removable battery! You can upload photos directly to your Google Drive. (PiSofttech, please add Dropbox as well) It is compact, it comes in a beautiful hard case.

Oh, about the case. 🙂 Yes one more slightly negative point. Actually two more. The insert foam is cut for an American style power adaptor only. The ones for Europe don’t fit. And I really miss a shoulder strap. But these are minor points.

Oh and what is also missing is a separate charger. I would like to able to charge the extra battery on the go without the need of putting it in the camera. But this may be for the Pilot Era V2.


One word: Yes.

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