Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Yi Action Camera: An Action Camera that Sets to Impress

Today I'll be reviewing a Yi Action Camera, more of an updated review in fact. It's not a new toy with the second generation just made available for purchase though commanding a much higher price, but it's still packing some respectable hardware. For a mere RMB 399 price tag, is this sports camera good enough for you? Read on to find out!

The Yi Action Camera, inheriting the tradition of all previous Mi products, comes with a brown cardboard box that, albeit being simplistic, packs quite some damage resistance. The model I've got here is the camera-only package, the box is not much bigger than a Mi Band's package. People who wants a selfie stick can purchase another package that includes it.

The Yi Action Camera, albeit bearing a low price tag, packs quite some powerful technologies and hardware. It uses a Sony 16 Megapixel CMOS sensor, a F2.8 aperture and an ultra-wide 2.73mm lens with a 155-degree field of view, all backed by a professional-grade Ambarella A7LS image processor. It supports micro SD cards up to 128GBs for all your 2.5K recordings.

The packaging is simple, a lid, a box, and a housing container. The camera and the user manual are displayed openly, while the charging cable and battery are tucked away in the container (just another box). Here's all you got and almost all you need: Camera, battery, micro USB cable, user manual. There's no included micro SD cards, so you'll have to get your own.

Let's first talk about build quality. The camera feels pretty solid in the hand though constructed from plastic, and the protrusion around the lens protects it from scratches. The battery door and the port covers are removable, but due to it being removable instead of being flaps, it's easily misplaced. The thinness of the battery door makes it feel fragile, and the spring within for my unit is somehow damaged after one year of use. The camera has a standard screw mount, and it has its own set of home-brewed accessories and third-party ones to go with it.

Powering up the camera can be done by pressing on the biggest button next to the lens. Also present on the same spot is a notification LED ring which, with different battery levels, will show different colours. At this stage, you can already start shooting photos or videos. On the right of the camera sits the WiFi button, which serves to activate a WiFi hotspot for connecting to the camera via a smartphone app. LEDs are plenty to indicate the status of the camera and the shooting modes between stills and videos.

The camera can be connected to your phone via the use of its app and the connection to the camera's hotspot. The phone will then act as a live view screen, shutter button as well as master controller of all settings and options for the camera. Users can also download the captured videos or photos to their phones directly using the app. The new 2.0 version of the application includes an Instagram-like photo-sharing function that allows users across the globe to view your photos. Connecting to the camera via the application has been quick and easy so far. 

Camera boot time is sometimes too slow in certain firmware versions, and adding to the fact that turning on the WiFi hotspot takes time, it's a little too frustrating while waiting especially when there's a fleeting moment with a nice composition in mind. Note that taking photos while using the phone as a live-view will cause a slight lag depending on how fast your micro SD card is and how much storage is left in that card. Besides, in certain firmware versions users might be facing issues of their camera being bricked during the update process. I was unable to unbrick mine until today (kinda sad), and this review had to be done using a borrowed device.

The camera takes up to 16 Megapixel images at 4:3 or 12 Megapixels at 16:9. It's also capable of 30fps 2.5K resolution video recording (after recent updates), or up to 60fps at Full HD, 120fps at HD and up to 240fps slow-motion video at a lower qHD quality. Every resolution options can be changed right on the homescreen, while more advanced tweakings can be done in the Settings menu including an option to correct the fish-eye effect of the ultra-wide angle lens.

I brought the camera long during my trip to Singapore to test out the camera performance. The camera is an excellent one, under sufficient natural light. It captures enough detail when the surrounding is bright. Colour reproduction is superb, even night scenes can be taken with ease. Here's a shot at Garden by the Bay in Singapore with center-weighted metering. However, it's worth noticing that the noise levels are pretty significant, a trade-off for more details in shot. 

Another one on Sentosa Island, Singapore. In bright daylight, image quality is pretty good, but a little washed out overall. The camera has an infinity focus, as usual with such cameras. This is also the effect you'll be getting while recording videos, a slightly washed out footage so it's still a little less than ideal for a sensor of that calibre, but it still retains a lot of detail so you can edit the colour of the video without the worry of losing too much detail.

However, when there's artificial lighting (for example, fluorescent light), the colours get washed out drastically and the picture quality suffers immensely due to an issue with the metering. Here's a random shot to show the issue. The walls are red, statues are gold and there are plenty of blue and green, yet due to the washed out colours it all looks dull and details are lost. This is, however, not observed with videos as the camera produces rather good footage under artificial light. 

Final Verdict
The camera still needs some tweaking and it's very much lacking compared to a GoPro with similar hardware, but hey, it's a great piece to own, if not one the best around that equates great with low-price. Updates are constantly rolled out, thus picture quality improvement can be expected. A successor is released with support for 4K recording and better internal hardware has been released recently, I've yet to try one out, but it costs three times more. The first generation Yi Action Camera is still a pretty good buy if you're just starting out on buying action cameras.

Source: Yi