Yi Action Camera review

Cheap action cameras have flooded the market but few come close to the outright quality or price of the market beating Yi

Xiaomi Yi

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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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

We liked

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.

Xiaomi Yi

We disliked

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.

Final verdict

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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Imaging Lab Manager

Ali Jennings is the imaging lab manager for Future Publishing's Photography portfolio. Using Imatest Master and DxO Analyser he produces the image quality tests for all new cameras and lenses review in TechRadar's cameras channel. Ali has been shooting digital since the early nineties and joined Future's Photography portfolio back in 2003.