The first thing you will notice about the camera is how lightweight the body is. At less than four ounces, you can feel comfortable carrying it everywhere. Its minimalistic style is both classy and functional.
The Button, Push The Button
The next thing you notice is that the Yi 4K has only one control button on its body.
This button controls both power and the start/stop recording functions. This can be a bit tricky if you tend to hold buttons too long as the recording requires a quick touch of the button and holding it down powers the camera off. Once you get your fingers to be less persistent, this design makes recording easy. You don’t miss any action trying to find the correct buttons.
All other controls for the Yi 4K are available on the touch screen. This capability is a lot less confusing than trying to memorize which buttons control which functions. The touch screen is easier to see, allowing for less eye strain and fewer errors in settings.
This does create some problems, however:
- You need to change settings in the shade or indoors because the glare of the sun makes it difficult to see what is on the screen.
- The biggest issue we saw with the touchscreen was changing between still mode and recording. It could result in some lost footage until you get a fair idea of the screen layout and can manage without a clear image of the controls.
- Also, when we had the camera in its waterproof casing, there was no way to switch from video to still without removing the camera from its case. I tried to do that in a swimming pool – the process involved shaking water off my hand and blowing on it in an attempt not get water on the touchscreen.
What Does it Come With?
Erm… Not much. On the SJCAMs you get waterproof housings, various mounts, buckles, a cable and a battery. Oh yes and 3M stickers. On the GoPro Hero 5 you get mounts, buckles, a cable and a battery. On the Yi you get the camera plus the essentials like a battery and a charging cable, but no mounts or buckles.
As for battery life, the battery lasted almost (but not quite) two hours while testing. This is excellent.
Behind 7 all-glass layers sits a 1/2.3″ Sony IMX377 F2.8 aperture sensor.
We compared the stills to stills taken with a SJCAM SJ5000x Elite, the first action cam to implement Sony’s IMX078CQK true 12 megapixels image sensor, a seriously good competitor.
Please excuse the difference in viewing angles, we only found out later we could widen the SJ5000x’s angle to mirror the Xiaomi.
From the images it seems that the SJCAM has better colors, but which reproduction is more accurate? The vibrance looks overprocessed in the SJCAM shot, the green of the lawn and the blue of the sky too pronounced.
The color reproduction on the Xiaomi once again feel more accurate. The SJCAM once again has the vibrance dial set too far to the right with a blue-ish tint included.
Shadow detail is clear, even with bright sunshine streaming in from the background. Unfortunately the highlights are blown out with clipped detail. But to be fair, even $1000 Nikon or Canon lenses would lose detail under similar conditions. Image also suffers from chromatic aberration or purple fringing if you look at the light coming through the branches.
Sunlit pictures are normally the easiest to take and this camera was no exception. The colors and details both came out clear. Unlike some cameras, however, the sky was true to color with the Yi 4K. This is truly the mark of a high-quality color processing system. Glare was at a minimum and there was only one instance when camera glare required retaking a shot. Considering we shot nearly 300 photos on a day where the sun was bright, this was a pleasant surprise.
Who turned the lights off? Did we miss some setting on the SJ5000x Elite? We couldn’t see much detail at night, while with the Xiaomi it feels like daytime (well maybe late afternoon). We can even see the windmill peering out above the tree line.
Dim Light Conclusion
Action cameras seem to mainly be made to excel in ideal lighting situations. This is not so with this camera. The quality of recording in dim lighting was just as high as in the daylight.
When we played back this fast moving video with VLC player on our graphic accelerated I7, it seemed at first that the camera could not handle the frame rate – the video was jerky and slow. We then went looking for a better player and realized it is not the camera but the player that was at fault. Good old Windows Media player handled this job swimmingly.
This is the first 4K 30FPS camera we have tested and it feels like the extra 6 frames really make a difference, lending the video a smoother feel. We need to add that Youtube does not quite do justice to the footage we recorded – what we uploaded does not look as good as what we actually see from the directly recorded MP4 file.
We had a walk-around with the camera. Once again the camera’s dynamic range impressed us, the detail even in shadows was clearly visible, highlights were not blown out too much (even when aiming at the sun). Unfortunately the waterproof casing kills most sound, but then again we were not expecting more than that.
We took the Yi 2 to uShaka marine world where you can snorkel with Sharks in the hold of the old ship. As with photos, the Yi’s performance is stellar in low light is spectacular. We saw a slight graininess in the image as the Xiaomi bumped up the ISO to compensate for less light, but video remained clear throughout. This is one of the best cameras out there for low light video.
Video is where this camera truly excels. Dynamic range is excellent. The microphone picks up the sound and records it clearly. There was no excess static to be heard. The action is smooth, indicating the internal shake-control is of top quality.
The same app used for sharing still photos can have your video playing on YouTube. In fact, you can live stream with this camera, allowing your audience to experience the excitement with you.
The app for your phone makes sharing the photos easy. It is self-explanatory and will create no issue in figuring out what you need to do. In only a matter of minutes, your newly captured images can be viewed by everyone who you allow access. There is even the ability to remotely control the camera from your phone. This works great for selfies and in positions where you want a different viewpoint than from your own hands.
Both continuous shooting and the set timer are easy to set up. We were pleased with the number of choices available in the timer mode. It was easy to adjust for delayed shooting without everyone sitting around with a forced smile that was becoming painful. The continuous mode made it possible to capture enough shots to get the perfect shot that brought the moment to life. Overall, we could find nothing needing improvement with either of these.
The Xiaomi Yi 4K action camera promises to become the favorite action camera before long. It’s quality rivals the best that are out there, at a price that sometimes comes in at under half the cost of others. Don’t let the lower price fool you. Being somewhat camera snobs, it isn’t often we find a camera we can honestly say is worth much more than it is selling for. This camera satisfied the snob in us completely. It also showed that you can’t judge quality by price.
The ability to edit from the camera is limited to only a few tweaks, but that is all most photos need when you are sharing. The video editing capability was a welcome surprise, as many times you need to transfer the video to a separate program for editing and this wasn’t necessary with the Yi 4K. It is our final decision that this camera is one that will more than meet the needs of the majority of action photographers.
GoPro Hero 5
Like Apple to Xiaomi’s Android, The Hero is the gold standard that all action cameras aspire to. The Hero 5 can go down 10m without an additional watertight case (which the Yi 2 4K can’t), it can shoot in RAW (which the Yi 4K can’t) it has voice commands (which the Yi 4K does not have), it has a color touchscreen (which the Yi does have) it has electronic image stabilization (which the Yi has) and… its image quality is a smidgen of a photo-finish-millimeter ahead of the Yi. It’s price is almost to the cent double that of the Yi 2 4K. Is built-in waterproofing, RAW and small improvement in image quality worth it? We’d rather get the Yi.
Garmin VIRB Ultra 30
The VIRB also has a color touchscreen (The Yi has this, check), 4k 30FPS (check), Wifi (check) and can take full 12 Mp photos (check). But price is also exactly double that of the Yi 2, without many features that make it stand out. Why bother?
SJCAM SJ5000x Elite
It’s 4K performance is only 24FPS, and the low light performance is visibly lacking compared the Yi. Don’t underrate the SJ5000x Elite though. At +- $125 it is considerably cheaper than the Yi.