Hey everyone, it’s Hugh from CreatorUp here with another review, this time of a new 3D 360 professional VR camera – the Tech-E Phiimax 3D. This is a great camera with some great features, like having a standard SSD drive for storage, saving time for onsite DIT and minimizing the risk of SD card failure. This camera is built with professional VR filmmakers in mind – so let’s get into the in-depth review!
A little while ago, Tech-E sent me a beta unit of the Phiimax 3D for testing. I used it a bit in Kauai, and wanted to review my experience – this is not sponsored content, and the unit is for testing only. I have been using a beta unit, so the final production unit should be even better.
If you have not heard of Tech-E (short for technology for everyone), here is another review of their 720 Pro 360 camera. Like the other Tech-E cameras, the Phiimax 3D has an impressive build quality, and doesn’t feel cheap. And like the Insta360 Pro 2, it also uses 2 antennae to boost the wifi signal so you can use the cellphone app to control the camera. The farsight is not as far as with the Insta360, but the antenna is bigger and higher quality. The camera is easy to carry around with a ‘lunchbox’ design, the handle on top of the camera.
You can mount your spatial audio device directly on top of the camera. The Phiimax 3D has internal audio capture, but they recommend using an external spatial audio mic like Zoom H3VR – which I have a review of right here.
On the front panel of the camera, you can do simple operations, but it does not have an LED display like the Insta360 Titan or Pro 2 – so it is recommended that you control the camera using the mobile app. This is a professional VR camera, so the app includes full manual control, individual lens exposure, ISO-priority and shutter speed priority. One cool feature is that the preview includes stitch line grid overlay, which helps the DP know who and what is in the stitch line – very useful on set for blocking and directing.
The major advantage of choosing this camera is the storage. Phiimax uses standard SATAIII SSD drives – which provide faster read and write speed both using the camera and when offloading footage. Using a single SSD is safer than using 9 SD cards like you would need with the Insta360 Titan. As a professional DIT, I love this feature, because it solves the on-set DIT nightmare.
If you are the sound guy, you will also love this camera! It uses no fans or vents, instead using a fully sealed, aluminum enclosure to dissipate heat. This means no fan noise!
Another feature of the design of this camera that I really appreciate is the attention to detail. If you look at the power supply system, you’ll see that it uses pins and a screwable ring to secure the connection. So if someone steps on the power cable while shooting, it won’t unplug!
You can also tell that the camera is designed for more than just 360 users by the other connections on the bottom. It includes an Ethernet cable for livestream, GPS antenna for Google street view, and an HDMI 2.0 out for video village or live video monitoring. It also has a more stable mounting option, comparable with the FLIR Ladybug spherical camera system.
I also noticed the interchangeable lense design here, which indicates the possibility of swapping different F-stop lenses or adding an ND filter, like their Tech-E 720 Pro camera, but this is just my guess based on their other cameras.
Now, the design means totally nothing if the camera cannot produce professional quality image. The RAW camera video is encoded in H.265 with a total bit rate of up to 600Mbps, which is equivalent to 900Mbps for H.264 encoding. The Insta360 Pro 2 compresses in H.264 with 120Mbps per lens, in total 720Mbps, so Phiimax has around 20% more data than Pro 2. It’s also notable to mention that the Phiimax tells you what sensor is being used on their camera – six Sony Exmor R CMOS sensors that share the same clock signal. The Sony Exmor R sensor performs better in low light, which is what I found in my testing of this unit.
Check out this Phiimax 3D sample video I created (watch with your Oculus Go or Quest VR headset if you have one!), which shows a fair perspective of the footage I got. It ended up looking mostly great with good details and low compression artifacts. Low light is clear with minimal noise.
However, there are a couple of things that are not so great. Currently the dynamic range is a weakness, especially the blowout highlight compared to other VR cameras.
Another thing to be careful of is that the camera can get pretty hot during filming, so when this happens you should not touch the body of the camera, just the red handle bar on top.
The battery is built inside the camera, which is kind of a bummer, because this means there is no replaceable battery. The built-in battery is pretty good, however, and the camera can film continuously for two hours. Tech-E says that the reason the battery is built-in is to ensure that the camera is water and dust proof. This could open up lots of cool VR possibilities (think of being underwater or even under something like a waterfall!), but I’m not 100% sure that the camera is really waterproof, so don’t take my word for it.
There are also stitching issues, but I stitched using Mistika VR, since their software was not ready at the time I demo-ed this unit. The lens on Phiimax 3D is 200 degrees – so it has a good amount of overlap. Tech-E says that their own stitching solution can do 1-meter optical flow stitching, but I cannot back that, so I will be very interested to see when their software is released.
There are a few basic or anticipated features that are missing from my beta unit. For example, 12K monoscopic 360 photo, in-camera stabilization, RAW photo mode, and at least in the current mobile app version, 120fps video mode in 4K and Livestream mode are also missing.
Overall, I think I got a good basic feel for the camera, even with a few things missing. It can capture some great footage, and has some cool new advantages that totally make this new professional VR option a good one, even with a few flaws.
Thanks so much for reading this review. My friend Mic Ty from 360 Rumors created a list of the detailed specs of the camera, which I will link here. I’m going to be putting the Phiimax up against some other 360 cameras soon, like the InstaPro360 and the Kandao Obsidian, so stay tuned! Make sure to subscribe to the CreatorUp Newsletter to get reviews and tutorials like these delivered to you email. See you next time!