The Yi Discovery is the all-new entry-level action camera from Chinese company Yi Technology, joining its lineup alongside the Yi Action Camera, the Yi Lite, Yi 4K and the Yi 4K+.
At £99 I thought the Yi Lite would be the replacement for the Yi Action Camera – that is, after all, four years old. However, the Yi Action Camera still seems to be on sale, and now there’s the Yi Discovery also vying for attention, with a sub-£50 price tag.
Going on a quick flick through the specifications it’s apparent that the Discovery offers significantly more spec than the old Action Camera, so maybe the Action Camera will indeed be discontinued soon.
But, on paper at least, the Yi Lite and new Yi Discovery are essentially the same. So what’s the story of the Yi Lite versus the Yi Discovery?
It’s only when you start to use both out in the field that you realise there is a significant difference, which we’ll cover in this review.
As ever with action cameras, the first port of call is the resolution and frame rate options. These are the numbers that get people excited, as they can open up a multitude of different filming possibilities.
As we’ve come to expect from the latest action cameras, the Yi Discovery does offer 4K video, but this is limited to 20fps. This is perfectly adequate for scene setting, but no good for capturing the action.
It does, however, offer 1440p at 30fps which is an ideal resolution for capturing high-quality footage for general use. This resolution also offers a little scope for re-composition in post-production.
More commonly used is likely to be 1080p, or Full HD, at 60fps. This is ideal for capturing action, as well as being excellent all-around option for most activities.
As well as 60fps at 1080p you can also shoot Full HD at 30fps on the Yi Discovery. Using 30fps rather than 60fps is useful when you need to prioritise image quality rather than smoothness of motion, with the enhanced quality achieved through each frame being captured at a higher bit rate.
720p is also on tap, and this still seems to be a resolution offered by many action camera manufacturers. Here it’s on offer with a frame rate of 90fps, which means you can slow down your footage to get some impressive slow-motion shots. For example, if you film 5 seconds of footage at 90fps you can play it back over 15 seconds at 30fps with nice smooth motion.
One of the most important features of any action camera is the lens. The optic on the Yi Discovery has a field of view of 150° and a large f/2.4 aperture, which compares to f/2.8 on the Lite. As well as video the Discovery will also capture stills at 16MP.
Behind the lens is, of course, the sensor, and this is a Sony IMX179. This is joined by an AllWinner V3 processor. I’ve seen this combination before in the MGCOOL Explorer Pro 4K.
In that camera the combination proved successful, so I was interested to see how it would perform in the Yi Discovery.
On the back of the camera is a large 2-inch touchscreen which enables you to compose your shots, review your footage, and of course flick through and change options and settings.
As well as control via the touchscreen, there’s a physical button on top of the camera to start and stop recording. Other than that there are very few details on the body of the camera itself.
On the base of the camera is a flap that affords access to the battery, and on the side of the body is the micro USB port for charging and data transfer, along with a microSD slot for your memory card.
All these features sound pretty familiar, so what’s the big difference between the Yi Discovery and the Yi Lite?
Well, there are features that the Discovery lacks compared to the Lite. Some of these are in the specifications – for example the Discovery only has six shooting modes rather than the Lite’s nine. Others differences are in the design – there’s no 1/4-inch thread on the base of the Discovery as there is on the Lite.
These differences are small but significant, so if you want to mount the camera onto anything you’ll need to buy either a case or waterproof housing, all of which are readily available, but which will set you back another £10-£20.
Build quality and handling
Overall the quality and design of the Yi Discovery are a step up from any other camera at this price point.
The Discovery has the same form factor as the other Yi cameras, with the exception of the Yi Action Camera, but the most significant difference is in the design detail.
There’s no flap over the micro USB and microSD ports, and, as mentioned, no 1/4-inch thread on the base – and then there’s the battery door.
The door is by no means bad; it holds the battery in place. But it’s far behind the quality of the ones used on the Yi Lite, 4K and 4K+.
The biggest issue though is the lack of the thread on the base. This means that to mount it onto a bike, selfie stick or anything at all, you’re going to need a cage or waterproof housing.
The Discovery is a true entry-level camera; it’s the bare bones of what you need. The specification is outstanding for the price but the design means that you’ll need to fork out for a few additional accessories.
In this test, when it was mounted on a bike or selfie stick I utilised the Yi waterproof housing that came with the Yi 4K+, which was a perfect fit.
A nice feature on the Yi Discovery is the waterproof housing mode. This enables you to use the Shutter button to power on, start and stop recording, or with a slightly longer push when in standby mode you can access and change the shooting modes.
When it comes to adjusting settings you need to need to remove the camera from the case.
Out of a case, the touchscreen interface is as good as any of the other Yi touchscreen cameras, enabling you to find the location of the settings and options you want relatively easily.
There is the same navigation issue that I found the Lite. This is that when you tap the resolution and frame rate on the screen it takes you through to the shooting menu rather than Settings for that mode.
To change the settings such as resolution and framerate you need to tap the cog in the far bottom right of the screen. It’s not too much hassle and you get used to it after a while.
As with the other Yi action cameras, it comes with an app compatible with iOS and Android devices. Again, this is simple to use and intuitive.
Powering on the cameras you instantly realise that there is a difference between the performance of the Yi Lite and Discovery.
Whereas the Lite starts up relatively quickly the Discovery can take up to 5 seconds to fully load before it’s ready to start shooting. Once loaded, however, it looks almost identical to the rest of the Yi cameras with an almost identical interface.
As you delve into the camera’s menu you can see that there are only six shooting options – Video, Loop, Lapse Video, Photo, Timer and Burst – rather than the nine that feature on the Lite.
There’s also no image stabilisation, so if you need to steady out footage then you will need an external gimbal such as the Yi Action Gimbal.
In the field, I was impressed with the handling of the Yi Discovery despite the restrictions. Once popped inside the waterproof housing it handled much like any of the other Yi camera.
Back home and with the files copying onto my computer it was time to really see how good the Discovery was and if it could really compete with the Lite.
This is where I hit upon my first problem. As ever, I format the card in the camera as this is good practice and generally ensures the best performance and compatibility.
Popping the card out of the camera and into a card reader the card should have mounted as a drive on my desktop, but it didn’t.
As a Mac user and using one of the latest 15-inch models, I was surprised that the computer didn’t recognise the card.
I then popped the card out of the card reader and back into the Discovery, just to check if there was some issue with the card itself.
The card was accepted by the camera and recalled all the files with no problem.
I took the card out and tried it on another Mac and again no luck. I do however have an application that enables me to read NTFS formatted cards so I loaded this and sure enough there it was. But it still didn’t let me copy the files.
After a while, I found that plugging the camera directly into the computer did the job, and the card read fine on PCs.
Then with the files open, I was able to take a look at the video. I have to say I was impressed by the overall video quality, especially considering this is only priced £50.
Colours are good and vibrant and the speed of exposure change is nice and quick.
Looking at the different resolutions and frame rates and everything seemed very good.
That was until I started to listen back to the footage. This is when I discovered that the audio was out of sync by a good second.
Sometimes these issues can be caused by the card so I tried another, and sure enough, I got precisely the same issue. So maybe third-time lucky, I thought, but again the same issue.
This is something that will inevitably be sorted out with a firmware update
Otherwise, image quality overall was generally good at all resolutions. There was a slight oversaturation and a touch too much contrast in the picture, but not so much that you’d worry about it.
The 4K footage was good, but since the maximum framerate is only 20fps it is a little limited in use, in the first 4K sample footage you can see the effect of using the camera for action.
The footage looks terrible, as the camera struggles to keep up with the amount of data. There’s also a bit of an issue with the cameras dynamic range which seems very limited with highlights being easily lost to burn out.
However, keep things a little more sedate and all looks good.
Dropping resolution down to 1080p at 60fps. the motion did become smooth. And I have to say that the overall image quality was again generally good if a little pixelated with faster action.
As with the 4K footage the dynamic range of the camera struggled to keep up with the exposure changes.
Drop the frame rate down 30fps and the image quality is good with plenty of tones and well-graduated colour. However pick up the pace and in the sample footage you’ll see a slightly peculiar visual wave.
Likewise, 720p at 90fps and again the video quality is good and enables you to capture some great slow motion video.
Checking carefully around the frame and you can see some softening towards the edges, this is perfectly consistent with all action cameras.
When you compare the quality of the Discovery against other cameras in this price bracket you start to get a real feel for how good this entry-level camera is, or at least could be if Yi sort the audio.
From the outset of this verdict, I have to say that this is a verdict that will change once a firmware update is applied to correct the audio and card format issues. Once those two issues have been resolved then this will be a phenomenal entry-level action camera
The Discovery is an ideal action camera for those just getting into filming and creative video, with plenty of features and options that will appeal to many types of user.
The lack of a 1/4-inch thread on the base does restrict its use, but with full compatibility with all Yi accessories this omission is easy to overlook.
Yi has been savvy with the feature set and design, giving users more than enough when it comes to quality and features to justify the entry-level price. But not enough to impact on the Lite.
For those users that want to progress then the next step up to the Yi Lite isn’t too huge, and the range of features and quality is worth the upgrade price difference.
The camera offers a good amount of options with decent quality footage and audio; however, comparing directly with the Yi Lite you can see that the Lite just has the edge. Maybe not £50 worth when it comes to image quality, but enough to see a difference.
At present, I do have concern over the audio and card format that restricts Mac users, but hopefully this problem will be resolved soon.
The Yi Discovery is a camera full of potential and one that will satisfy most people needs. Once the audio and format issues are resolved, the Discovery will dominate the entry-level action camera market.