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Yi 4K UHD Action Camera Review

by on September 5, 2016
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Overview

If you’re looking to go for an action camera which can also manage 4K video recording and deliver it to a high degree of quality for a decent price, then maybe the new Yi 4K action camera is just the shooter for you. Yi may not be a brand that’s particularly famous in the U.S market in the way that GoPro manages to be but in the case of this latest product in the action camera market, released in August of 2016, the brand Yi has definitely delivered the goods superbly.

After giving the new Yi 2 4K Action camera a spin we can vouch for its quality and will even go as far as to say that, remarkably enough, the little deice actually delivers superior performance to what we’d found in the GoPro Hero 4 Black 4K UHD Action shooter we’d tested earlier when that older camera emerged on the market.

Yi first launched their Full HD Yi Action Camera in early 2015 and the first attempt at penetrating this market by the brand was definitely on the underwhelming side. As a sort of GoPro copycat shooter, the older HD version of the Yi camera performed moderately well but was nowhere near the product that many rival 1080p action shooters then available were. Happily though, Yi seems to have learned its lessons for 2016 and has seriously applied them to this latest offering in the Yi 4K camera. Not only does this little shooter deliver superb 4K UHD video footage (as you’ll see with our sample video further below), it also does so with superb quality and accompanies this ability with superb still photo shooting chops. Best of all, the Yi 4K camera is very reasonably priced.

The Good

For starters, the Yi 4K Action Camera is a superb little shooter. We repeat again, we found the camera’s basic performance to be superior to that of GoPro’s own Hero 4K Black camera and this is no small achievement for a device that is only Yi’s second attempt at creating a marketable action shooter. While we didn’t have an opportunity to test the new Yi 4K at the more extreme conditions of undersea shooting with its protective case to see how good it is against immersion in deeper water, we did run the little shooter through some more regular tests of how well it shoots both still photos and 4K videos and on both counts, the Yi delivers fine results, with a new 12 megapixel sensor from Sony compact 4K camera technology and the ability to record 4K video at a perfectly decent 30 frames per second. On top of this, the Yi can handle 1080p Full HD recording at 60fps and even delivers 720p footage at 120 and 240fps, allowing for some very decent slow motion recording if that’s something you’re into.

Another awesome upgrade to the Yi over its decidedly weak predecessor is a new LCD touchscreen that Yi has installed on the back of the 4K model. Even the GoPro Hero 4 Black doesn’t offer this extra feature and the Yi 4K not only does but also gave the little display touch functionality, which means some much easier manipulation of photo and video settings during recording or for in-camera basic editing of shooting parameters. What we also like about the UI on the Yi is that it’s been built for high ease-of-use, with a nice simple and intuitive design that it takes only a few minutes to fully get familiar with. Moving through shooting modes is a simple matter of circling through the possible settings and as soon as any one shooting mode is opened up, it can be quickly fine-tuned on its core parameters through the on-screen settings menu.

What we also love about the Yi 4K Action Cam is its larger than ever before battery, which offers up twice the recording time of its predecessor and seriously gives the rival from GoPro a rin for its money at how long it can handle video shooting in 4K or Full HD video. In the case of 4K UHD shooting in the Yi 4K, we could manage up to a little over 100 minutes of video shooting and several times that in Full HD recording, both being confined more by internal storage limitations than battery life.

Aside from this, the Yi 4K shooter is also well built in that it feels tough, fairly light (despite being a bit of a bigger camera than its rivals from GoPro) and also comes with the benefit of an integrated tripod mounting slot right in its own body instead of just the external protective case that you cn get for the little shooter. Furthermore, the Yi 4K cam comes with dual microphones, full 5GHz WiFi connectivity and even manages to throw in electronic image stabilization of a slightly limited sort, since it only applies to 1080p video at 30fps.

Finally, the Yi 4K action camera is simply very good at what it does. The video captured on it in all resolutions looks great for its particular resolution and the levels of contrast and sharpness are particularly notable in full HD and 4K resolution. Adjusting exposure and other settings during active filming is easy and the camera produces colors which we think are nicely warm and full-bodied. Additionally, Yi has given the bonus feature of dual 4K recording settings, one for 4K at 30 fps and another for a slightly wider angle 4K at the same frame rate but a broader field-of-view which does produce a bit of a fish-eye effect but is worth keeping in mind for some situations.

Overall, for its price and qualities, the Yi 4K Action Camera delivers lots of value for a very decent price and that’s an impressive little achievement in the current market for compact 4K cameras.

The Bad

There isn’t a great deal to dislike about the Yi camera. But a couple of relatively minor points are worth mentioning. First of all, this camera is a bit bulkier than its rivals from GoPro or the older Yi camera and this can be a bit of hassle for mounting the little shooter to some devices or in either a GoPro case or a 2015 Yi camera case. Furthermore, the camera comes with no mounting accessories in-box so you’ll have to buy these, and a protective case separately, which does mean a bit more spending. Additionally, if you do buy the external protective case of the Yi 4K camera’s own brand, it comes with the minor but annoying design defect of covering up your camera’s main control mechanism for shooting settings. This is the touch screen and thus as a result, any time you want to change something in how you’re grabbing videos or capturing still shots, the casing has to be removed. In other words, if you’re using the camera under water or in very wet conditions, and obviously can’t take off its protective box in-situ, make sure you get your ideal shooting settings set out before you very literally immerse the Yi 4K.

Finally, one thing we didn’t particularly like about the touchscreen is its dimness. While it works just fine indoors or under low light conditions, playing with its settings in the open air on a bright sunny day is surprisingly hard because you simply can’t see what the heck you’re looking at unless you really squint and cover the screen with shade.

Final Thoughts

We love the Yi 4K Action Camera. It’s not perfect but its defects are few enough to not be deeply annoying and quite frankly it offers a lot more value than its main rival the GoPro Hero 4 when you factor in not only its price but also the Yi’s genuinely superior performance in many regards. This is a superb little camera for newcomers to the action recording market.

Specs

• Processor: Ambarella A9SE chipset, includes a 800 MHz dual-core.Cortex-A9 ARM CPU
• Image Sensor: SONY IMX377, 1/2.3", 12 megapixels CMOS image sensor with Exmor R
• LCD Display: 2.19", 640*360 resolution touch screen, 330PPI, 250cd/m2 brightness
• Lens: Lens F2.8 aperture / 155° wide-angle lens, 7G, f=2.68mm
• Connectivity: Dual-band 5GHz 802.11ABGN WiFi, MicroUSB, MicroSD slot, optical cable
• Weight: 3.4 ounces
• Size: 65 x 42 x 30mm
• Video resolutions:
4K UHD at 30FPS,
2.5K at 30fps,
1440p at 60, 50, 30 25 fps,
1080p at 120, 100, 60, 50, 30, 25fps
960p at 120, 100, 60, 50 fps
720p at 240, 120 fps
480p at 240, 100fps
• Video format: H.264 codec, .mp4 file format
• Max Photo resolution: 12 megapixels
• Photo features: Timer, burst at frequencies between 3p/s and 30p/6s

Accessories

When it comes to accessories, the Yi 4K Action Camera comes rather sparsely equipped right out of the box. The package we were given came with only a single mini USB cable and the battery unit. For all other accessories like an external protective case for watery shooting, an external housing and all other mounting accessories, you’ll have to go to Yi’s own website or to Amazon.com to buy them. On the other hand, the vast array of GoPro Hero camera mounts on the market come compatible with the mounting hardware of the Yi 4K cam and this means that you can use most of them for either camera (though the camera body cases of the GoPro are too small for the Yi, as we’d explained further above).

Overall Performance

In terms of overall performance, the Yi 4K Action Camera is an overall winner and we enjoyed trying it out without too much in the way of hassle or problems.

First, in terms of overall feel and handling the Yi looks and feels well made when in the hands. This is not a flimsy camera in either looks or handling and the extra width it offers is great for the larger battery it also sports, which translates to more field shooting time between recharges. For shooting 4K UHD video, the recorder can manage to pull off just over an hour of recording time and when it comes to Full HD 1080 shooting, this went all the way up to about 2.5 hours. By comparison, the GoPro Hero 4 Black can manages only about 1 hour and 40 minutes when recording at 1080p so the Yi definitely has an edge over its pricier rival here.

We also like the standard issue tripod mounting slot that comes built right into the Yi camera. It’s versatile for non-Yi tripods and other hardware and the addition of this feature is a fine little bonus on a camera that’s otherwise sparse on external accessories.

On the other hand, the Yi camera doesn’t offer quite the range of shooting modes that the GoPro Hero 4 Black manages and this is a bit disappointing considering that this camera’s video and photo quality is slightly superior in our view. Thus for example, the Yi 4K doesn’t come with the “Superview” of the GoPro model, which made that other camera a bit better for selfie shooting and wider angles which need to capture more without too much distortion. Furthermore, as you may have noticed in our specs listings above, the Yi 4K can’t manage a more cinematic looking 24fps 4K UHD shooting and it offers a fixed 155 degree FOV that can’t be adjusted for high or medium narrowness as is possible in the GoPro Hero 4K Black. One other thing we noted and didn’t like about the handling in this shooter is its frustratingly dim red lights for indicating active recording. In dark conditions and low-lit rooms they’re clearly visible when turned on but out in the sin, they suffer from the same problem as the LCD screen of the Yi, namely that you can barely tell if the camera is running or not. This is a minor detail but it’s annoying at times.

Then there’s the smartphone app for the Yi 4K Camera. It’s not quite as robust as the GoPro version for the Hero cameras but it works wuite nicely and offers up plenty of functionality, with quick and easy camera-to-app connectivity, settings controls for recording and photo shooting and the ability to pass video clips and photos in certain resolutions between the Yi cam and your phone. The app even offers photo filters like those you’d see on some regular smartphone camera apps and there is also an included social networking element which lets you share non-4K content you’ve captured directly to your social media accounts in a fairly quick way.

We’d also like to note that the Yi 4K camera does a constant simultaneous 848x480 SD video recording as you capture video in other higher resolutions. This is the footage you can most quickly and easily share online or transfer from camera to phone as you’re filming on the fly and have WiFi functionality enabled. Furthermore, the electronic image stabilization system of the Yi 4K is remarkably robust, allowing the camera to grab high resolution Full HD video at 30 to 60fps cleanly even when being vibrated quite a bit. Testing of the shooter while strapped to a bike or car driving over less than perfect roads creates almost perfectly smooth video if this EIS system is active and this is something we definitely appreciate in what is after all an action camera that’s built for recording video under less than smooth conditions.

Image Quality and Resolution

We consider the image quality of the Yi Action camera’s photo stills and video in all major resolutions to be very good. This applies to Full HD video, 1440p video, 2.5K recording and 4K UHD shooting. The detail levels are wonderfully sharp, colors are deep and rich without the slightly whitened look we’ve seen in GoPro footage and the dynamic range of the Yi 4K is superior to that of the GoPro Hero 4 Black, which is partly why the camera delivers deeper, richer contrast and color as well. There is also the electronic image stabilization feature of the Yi 4K, which is good at delivering solid images and video under rougher motion conditions.

Additionally, the Yi 4K camera is a distinctly superior performer in low-light conditions, with both video and photo stills benefiting from its higher ISO. Yes, there’s still a fair bit of noise in particularly dim shooting environments during 4K, 2.5K and HD video shooting but in all resolutions that the Yi shares with the GoPro Hero Black, it consistently delivers better low light clarity.

Yi has also added in a cool timelapse shooting feature to the Yi camera, which causes the little action camera to grab still images at intervals of 0.5 to 60 seconds and for a predetermined length of time of a user’s choosing (limited of course by battery power in the field). This timelapse function even works in 4K resolution though you can also take a long series of timed 12 megapixel still shots and compose them manually into your own video on your computer.

Finally, we have to comment on the one major defect we found in the Yi 4K Action Camera, and this is its somewhat overdone fisheye effect for both photo and video shooting but for video in particular. Yi has given the camera what they call an anti-distortion filter which is supposed to compensate for this fish-eye effect but as far as we can tell it has no notable effect in correcting the problem. Only in 2.5K video did we notice a partial reduction in fish-eye but even here the effect is notable to some degree.

Here are several shots and following them a video of the Yi 4K camera in action:

Pricing

The Yi 4K Action Camera is retailing right now on Amazon.com for a great price of just $ $249.99. This is by the way the new U.S edition which we’ve been covering in this review. Considering the overall quality of this device, we think its remarkably well priced.

Alternatively, you can find a larger selection of it on sale on Geekbuying.

The Not So Great

As we’d said above, the main defects of the Yi 4K Action Camera are its lack of included accessories, the lack of compatibility with external cases from GoPro cameras or the older 2015 Yi HD Action camera and the fact that the camera creates a bit more fish-eye effect during video and photo shooting than we like. Additionally, this little shooter’s LCD Display and red lights for indicating when the camera is recording are both extremely hard to observe in bright sunlight. They could be brighter.

Positives

• Superb video recording capacity in multiple resolutions
• Great 4K video quality
• robust color performance
• Good HDR and contrast
• Solidly built camera
• Very reasonable price
• Very easy to use
• Great running time per charge

Negatives

• No external case included
• Touch screen can’t be used when waterproof case is on
• Slightly overdone fish-eye effect in video/photos
• LCD display hard to use in sunlight

Editor Rating
 
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A+

 
Quality
A

 
User Friendliness
A-

 
Design
A-

 
Price
A-

Total Score
A-

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Bottom Line
 

For its price and specs, the Yi 4K Action camera is a superb choice. We consider it to be a superior shooter to the GoPro Hero 4 Black in the quality of its photos and video and this camera offers a particularly great choice for buyers who are just getting started with action cameras and don’t want to spend a large chunk of change.

 
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