Introduction and features
The Yi has made quite an impact on the action camera market. This small camera is comparable to the GoPro Hero3 Silver when it comes to video options, yet it can be purchased for as little as a sixth of the price. It may even have played a part in the demise of GoPro budget models.
Yi’s approach is altogether different from the majority of budget action cameras as it is sold by itself and all the usual extras including the waterproof housing, memory card and mounts need to be purchased separately. Even taking the purchase of accessories into consideration, the outlay for a fully equipped Yi it still less than the majority of other budget action cam kits. And to be honest, when it comes to quality, you get an awful lot more.
The Yi comes in two colour varieties, a friendly white or lurid green and yellow. Although sold body only, the camera can also be bought as a kit that includes a few accessories to help you make the most from it. In this test we looked at the Yi Action Camera Kit, which includes the camera, a very nifty selfie stick and a simple bluetooth remote. The kit is almost double the price of the base unit, but it’s worth it for those few extras. The only other essential, if you want to use the camera to capture extreme sports, is the waterproof housing. This will set you back around £20/US$20.
The design is incredibly simple, consisting of a small box body with a 155 degree angle of view lens positioned on the front, a power/mode button to the left of the lens and a Wi-Fi button on the side. The top of the camera features the shutter button and on the back is a cover that can be easily removed to gain access to the battery compartment. A separate removable cover next to this protects the MicroSD slot and USB and HDMI ports. On the base is a standard 1/4-inch thread so that the Selfie Stick from the kit, or a standard tripod base plate, can be attached.
Build and handling
The size and shape of the Yi is very similar to the GoPro Hero, it’s just fractionally larger and with a slightly different configuration of buttons and ports. The Yi gains the tripod mount on the base but loses the small screen of the GoPro, so this means that almost all settings and adjustments for the camera need to be made through the app on a connected smartphone.
The only direct controls on the camera are the shutter button to start and stop recording, a Mode button to switch on and off and between stills and video, and the small Wi-Fi activation button. When switching between video and stills you can tell which mode you’re in by the small red light that illuminates next to the shutter button – in video mode it on, in stills mode it’s off.
All other modes such as time-lapse are accessed through the app. This app can be downloaded for iOS and Android devices, and there’s also a very handy Apple Watch App that enables you to start and stop recording, although it doesn’t provide the live view stream that you get with the GoPro version.
Setup and connection through Wi-Fi is incredibly easy and Xiaomi has taken the time to add some handy guides within the app to explain the Wi-Fi connection process. Once mobile device and camera are connected, the app launches straight into shooting mode with a large red button in the centre of the screen to enable you to start recording.
There’s a noticeable delay of about two seconds before main area of the app shows a clear live view of the scene. On the left of the record button are the video options – one tap and you have direct access to the Resolution and Frames Per Second (FPS) options. The camera’s top resolution is 2k at 30fps and the lowest is 480p at 240fps. There are of course many more usable options including full 1080p at 60fps and 720p at 120fps.
To the right of the shutter button on the app display, a small icon highlights which mode you’re in and tapping gives access to all the different options. In addition to stills and video you have Timer, Time-lapse and Burst options. If you use the mode button on the camera to switch between stills and video then the icon in the app’s interface automatically switches to highlight the change.
Further settings can be accessed by clicking the cog icon in the top right of the interface. These options include adjusting the video quality, switching from NTSC to PAL, changing the device name and more baseline camera options such as date and time, time stamp etc.
Video performance and verdict
Video quality is where the Yi really stands out, and it’s exceptionally close to that of the GoPro range of cameras. Colours are well balanced without the over-saturation and excess contrast that is a common issue with many of the most recent budget cameras. Switching between resolutions and frame rates shows that the camera doesn’t just perform well in its base setting but really does have the potential to shoot decent footage at both 2k and even 480p if you feel the need.
YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEHs5gGBS4A&feature=youtu.be
- The clip show a direct comparison between the Yi Action Camera and the GoPro Hero4 Black. There is a difference in the colour of each clip but when it comes to outright quality it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two.
YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWg6mPbRzWk&feature=youtu.be
- Bright and high contrast lighting condition are no problem for the Yi, and in this shot you can see how well it captures motion and detail at close range.
YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXOAaCUj3To&feature=youtu.be
- In high contrast situations the small Yi manages to cope well with the exposure and controls both lens flare and chromatic aberration well. Moving the camera from light to shade also shows just how quickly the Yi is able to balance exposure.
YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMWC22WiyVs&feature=youtu.be
- The Yi is perfectly pocket-sized camera and an ideal companion that can be used to capture quick lifestyle shots. The simple operation and wide fish-eye lens make it easy to capture great footage even without a screen for composition.
Motion reproduction is an important factor for any action camera, especially if you want to create slow motion videos. On this front the camera again provides smooth, clean footage that, like the footage from the GoPro range of cameras, can be slowed down easily to create good quality slow motion clips.
Low light performance is an issue, but then that’s a common problem with all action cameras. Yet again the Yi just manages to control the noise, and footage shot indoors and in low light (within reason) is perfectly usable.
Changes in exposure are handled well and the camera quickly balances exposures without too much of an issue.
The small lens manages to capture a good sharp image across the frame, although if you look closely at the edges you will inevitably see slight signs of softening and chromatic aberration, though not enough to worry about. The 155 degree field of view also gives the typical fish-eye distortion which is (as ever with all action cameras) pronounced and part of this genre’s style.
Simple style, ease of use and exceptional video quality set the Yi apart from other budget offerings, as does the design of both the hardware and software. The camera itself is great for anyone wanting a personal video/stills camera; it’s small easy to use and even without a protective case feels robust enough to be safely carried in a pocket or bag without sustaining damage. The tripod mount on the base is a nice addition. If you opt for the kit that we received, the selfie stick and remote combination make a great starting set and are ideal for families or anyone wanting a good fun camera.
The software is well thought out and the smartphone app enables plenty of flexibility with the video options. Xiaomi also offers a good range of accessories, so if you want to use the camera for extreme sports a waterproof housing and other mounting options are all cheap and readily available. They also adopt the standard GoPro mount, which opens up the mounting options almost endlessly.
Features have been stripped back in some areas. For example, the lack of any type of screen means that you have to use the app to make settings adjustments. The plastic used for the body is lightweight and doesn’t have the quality feel of higher-end cameras such as the GoPro, and the two covers on the back of the camera that protect the MicroSD card slot and connection ports could be easily lost.
When it comes to the app, the overall design is well thought out, but the live view connection lags and there is a clear two-second delay between the action and what appears.
The Yi action camera stands as a real GoPro alternative. The base unit is incredibly affordable and even when adding the cost of a waterproof housing and other accessories the Yi still comes in at a price that is a fraction of the market leaders.
Amongst other budget action cameras, the Yi singles itself out as something different, with a wealth of video options that are backed by exceptional video quality and frame rates. When compared directly to the market leaders, the feature set and build quality might lag behind slightly but considering the price and quality of video, the Yi is presently GoPro’s most dangerous rival.
Once you add on the extras the initially low price rises, but even taking into account the cost of a roll bar mount and waterproof housing, the cost still comes in at less than that of most other decent budget action cameras. Video quality is excellent and unlike many of its rivals the quality of footage at all resolutions and frame rates is perfectly usable and closely rivals that of the GoPro, something no other budget camera can do.
If you’re looking for a cheap but decent action camera, then you really cannot go wrong with the Yi.
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