- Great image quality
- Long battery life
- Quality touchscreen display
- Super-reliable Wi-Fi connectivity
- No mounts included
- No waterproof case included
- Fiddly one-button control makes underwater use difficult
- 1/2.3in sensor
- 155-degree wide-angle lens
- Up to 4K/30fps
- 12-megapixel still images
- 2.19-inch touchscreen
- Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi
- Android and iOS companion app
- Manufacturer: Yi Technology
- Review Price: £250.00/$375.00
WHAT IS THE YI 4K ACTION CAMERA?
When it comes to action cameras, GoPro undeniably leads the pack. The company’s cameras are so well known that “GoPro” potentially risks becoming a generic term. However, there are plenty of alternatives out there that give GoPro’s Hero cameras a serious run for their money.
One such model is the Yi 4K Action Camera. On paper it goes toe-to-toe with GoPro’s Hero4 Black, and in some area even manages to best it. Of course, the playing field has now changed somewhat with the launch of the GoPro Hero5 Black.
Nevertheless, the Yi 4K Action Camera remains impressive on count of its selling price. This feature-packed camera can be picked up for around £250, or even less if you look at imports from the Far East. As low as £200. That seriously undercuts GoPro.
While it doesn’t quite manage to sneak up and steal GoPro’s crown, it’s still worthy of consideration if you’re looking for an action camera that’s packed with features for not so much money.
YI 4K ACTION CAMERA – DESIGN AND ACCESSORIES
The Yi 4K Action Camera has a similar rectangular shape to GoPro’s Hero range, but is fractionally wider at 65 x 42 x 30mm. The fact that the depth, including the protruding lens, is the same as that on the Hero4 Black is impressive considering the inclusion of a 2.19-inch touchscreen LCD protected by Gorilla Glass. A touchscreen display is only available as an optional extra for GoPro’s Hero4 Black and adds to its overall size.
The display has a 640 x 360 resolution and is plenty bright and sharp enough to compose shots, as well as change settings on the camera. At its maximum brightness it’s just about viewable in extremely sunny conditions, but it can still be a bit of a struggle to see.
The touchscreen is a necessity since there’s only one button on the Yi 4K Action Camera. While GoPro’s designs feature three buttons to change settings and toggle between modes, you’ll rely only on the touchscreen here to do anything beyond turning the camera on and off or capturing video and still images.
This becomes a problem if you opt to use the Yi 4K Action Camera inside a waterproof case. Not that a waterproof case is even included as standard. It’s the first of a few omissions that chip away at the value-for-money proposition of the camera. Still, a case is a relatively inexpensive addition: there are a number of third-party options available or you can get one from Yi itself for about £20/$30.
But returning to the waterproof case conundrum. With only a solitary button available, you’ll need to open up the case to access the touchscreen to make any adjustments – which, for obvious reasons, isn’t always a good idea nor always possible.
There is an Underwater mode that lets you swap between still image or video modes by holding down the button, an action that normally turns the camera off. But with this mode engaged, there’s now no way to turn the camera off without opening the case.
Besides, you’ll still need to open the case to access the other modes, such as timelapse or timer modes. I took the Yi 4K Action Camera swimming and snorkelling while on holiday, and having to change settings proved irritating and resulted in some water ending up inside the case; plus, there was plenty of juggling the camera outside of the water.
There are no mounts, either; you literally only get the camera in the box. As a bare minimum, pretty much every action camera I’ve ever tested also included adhesive mounts; there’s nothing here.
The Yi 4K Action Camera has a standard quarter-inch tripod thread on its underside, so you don’t have to use proprietary mounts if you don’t want to. I ended up picking up a tripod-to-GoPro adapter for around £4, in order to be able to use my own existing mounts and accessories.
The lack of included accessories is a frustration, so factor this in if you decide to pick up one of these cameras immediately before a trip; otherwise, you’re going to be left hand-holding the camera at every turn.
A small speaker on the top of the camera allows you to set the device to beep at various volumes in order to indicate that the camera is recording or capturing an image. Even at maximum volume, however, it can be very difficult to hear if it’s inside a case. There’s a multi-coloured LED on the front as well as integrated into the top button, but these can be a little tricky to spot in bright light. As a result, there’s still occasional uncertainty as to whether the camera is recording.
YI 4K ACTION CAMERA – CONNECTIVITY AND SOFTWARE
There’s just a micro-USB port tucked away behind a flap on the side used to charge the battery. There’s no way to output to a display, nor to connect an external microphone – both functions available on a Hero4 Black. The latter is an important omission for anyone wanting better-sounding audio from their recordings. A microSD slot is used for storage.
The camera also supports dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for an optional remote control. The Wi-Fi pairing with the Yi Action app was actually the most reliable I’ve experienced with any action camera I’ve tested to date. The camera and app paired flawlessly and swiftly every time, and I didn’t encounter any problems transferring images and videos to a smartphone.
There is some basic video and photo-editing capabilities, but annoyingly, this adds watermarks to the end result. There’s also a social media side to the app that apes Instagram, but it wasn’t something I felt the need to use, instead choosing to export to actual Instagram.
The app can also be used as a live view, and there’s minimal delay between what you see on-screen and what’s being captured by the sensor. You can also use the app to change settings remotely.
Some early reviews mentioned sights of some peculiar English or leftover Chinese in the app, but the version of the app I tested seemed to have corrected such issues. The app is completely frustration-free and turned out to be one of the Yi 4K Action Cam’s strongest features.
YI 4K ACTION CAM – VIDEO AND AUDIO QUALITY
The Yi 4K Action Cam is equipped with a Sony IMX377 12-megapixel 1/2.3in sensor, which is supposedly a newer version of the sensor found in the GoPro Hero4 Black. As far as I know, GoPro doesn’t disclose the actual model of its sensor. In any case, in terms of resolution and shooting modes, there isn’t a lot to separate the two cameras.
Both cameras have a 155-degree field of view lens, but Yi 4K Action Cam doesn’t offer any way to adjust the angle in the way you can with a GoPro camera. You can at least turn on lens distortion correction, which tones down some of the barrel distortion that results from a wide angle lens.
Both the Yi 4K Action Cam and Hero4 Black top out at 4K resolution at 30fps, something even the newer GoPro Hero5 Black has yet to beat. Drop the resolution down to 1080p and you have 1080p at up to 120fps. Go down further to 720p and there’s even 240fps, allowing for slick slow-motion edits.
Actual image quality from the Yi 4K Action Camera is excellent, but it doesn’t quite match the Hero4 Black for detail and colour vibrancy. GoPro’s ProTune options will also further benefit videographers, but for your average holidaying adrenaline junkie the Yi 4K Action Camera applies itself well. Images are crisp and sharp; even low-light performance is respectable, if not remarkable. Electronic image stabilisation is present here, but in truth it doesn’t have a huge impact on the results.
What the camera lacks is the one-button operation mode available on rivals, including GoPro. These can turn the camera on and instantly begin recording with only a single button press, making capturing footage a far swifter experience. Otherwise, the Yi’s power on time is reasonably quick.
It’s with audio quality where the Yi 4K Action Camera loses points, especially when it’s encased in its waterproof shell. It’s a complaint that’s levelled at most action cameras when in a case, however; but it seemed even more detrimental with the Yi camera.
Still images can be captured at up to 12-megapixel resolution, and timer and timelapse functions are included too, alongside burst modes. Images look great, with plenty of detail and a lack of chromatic aberration, artefacting or vignetting.
A Timelapse Video mode saves you from having to stitch together a video with all of the captured frames at the end, but this mode offers only a video as an end result, there are no individual still images alongside it. There is a Video+Photo mode, however, which captures standard video and timelapse still images at the same time, but the intervals are more limited (5, 10, 30, 60 seconds) than in the standard timelapse modes (0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, 60 seconds).
If capturing sunrise or sunset timelapses, you might also want to set white balance mode – rather than relying on auto – since the changing light can make for some janky transitions.
YI 4K ACTION CAMERA – BATTERY LIFE
One area the Yi 4K Action Camera has the GoPro Hero 4 Black soundly beaten is in terms of battery life, which is helped by its large 1,400mAh battery. It managed a staggering 2hrs 35 mins when recording 1080p at 30fps. That’s a good hour longer than I’ve seen from the Hero4 Black. Even 4K video recording approached 1hr 30mins, around half an hour longer than the Hero4 Black. Note that the battery is removable, so you can also carry spares.
SHOULD I BUY THE YI 4K ACTION CAMERA?
Imitation is the greatest form of flattery as they say, and in this regard GoPro should be having an “aww… shucks” moment. Fortunately for the company, however, while the Yi 4K Action Camera apes many of its best features, the Hero4 Black would still be my recommendation if your budget can stretch.
The pro features, superior image quality and easier controls still make it the better choice, and it should drop in price in light of the Hero5 Black’s release. I’m yet to test GoPro’s latest and greatest action camera to see how that compares, however, so stay tuned.
However, if your budget won’t allow then there’s a great deal to like about the Yi 4K Action Camera. It’s only frustrating that there are so many hidden costs in order to get it action-ready.
Even so, it’s a fantastically well-built action camera offering great performance, which is marred only by an annoying control system that’s too reliant on the touchscreen – the touchscreen is still a very welcome inclusion, however.
The Yi 4K Action Camera manages to ape the GoPro Hero4 Black on many fronts, but its lack of included accessories is a shame.