Yi Lite Snap Verdict
When I looked at the Yi Action Camera back in 2016, I said it was GoPro’s most dangerous rival.
Two years later, and much has changed. GoPro doesn’t just have to worry about Yi; there’s a wealth of other contenders, especially when it comes to the top spot at the entry level.
In reality, when GoPro or Yi make a move the market shifts at speed to keep up. GoPro’s Hero upped the game by packing in insane features for the price. But then, Yi was already there with the Yi Lite.
At Sub £100, the Yi Lite is a fully fledged action camera like no other. It’s entry-level, arrives bare bones: just the camera, no mounts, waterproof case or accessories.
Everything is extra, but then if you’re upgrading do you need those additional mounts offered by its entry-level rivals. The Yi Lite is a formidable action camera, and nothing else sub £100 can touch it.
For Yi Lite
- Large touchscreen
- Full featured app
- Sub £100
Against Yi Lite
- 4K only 20fps
- Playback can look pixelated
- No waterproof housing
The action camera format is here to stay, and like conventional cameras, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
The last year has seen touchscreen, voice control and live streaming become the norm, but more than that, the market is no longer dominated by just one name.
GoPro may lead the field as the big name to live up to, but in a crowded market, there are two more companies that get action camera aficionados excited: Garmin and Yi.
Garmin are well known in the field; they are after all the GPS experts and brought us the first voice control. But Yi, up until a couple of years ago was all but unheard of.
Yi blasted onto the scene with the Yi Action Camera. At the time this was a £50 bare-bones camera with image quality the rivalled GoPro. It was just the specifications that held it back.
Then Yi released the 4K, and then the 4K+. These two cameras weren’t just good: they seriously gave GoPro a run when it came to outright image quality and features.
Strangely, the two companies almost work in harmony, and those who own both Yi and GoPro find a balance between the two cameras.
If you’re out shooting action, then you grab the GoPro, for everything else you grab the Yi.
The Yi Lite, like the GoPro Hero, is a stripped down version of the premium model. But at sub £100, less than half the price of the Hero the Spec’s list alone shows it as a serious challenger. Then once you see the Yi Lite video quality, you know that GoPro may once again be in serious trouble.
It seems that now is the time for the major action camera manufacturers to take a deep intake of air, pause for a moment before accelerating on to the next generation of cameras.
Yi and its competitors have now raised the bar so far that the cheap manufacturers are struggling to keep up. Each new camera and generation adds features and ease of use that only a short time before would have seemed impossible.
However, while speech control, GPS and live streaming are all very desirable traits, they’re not always needed by the mainstream action camera users.
Cheap no frills action cameras are doing a roaring trade, stripped down feature sets, no faff, just get out and ride.
This stripped-down simplicity is what’s trending for 2018, and the Yi Lite hits that simplicity head on.
This is an action camera with a proven pedigree that starts with the design.
Ergonomically there’s little difference between the Lite and the two 4K cameras, other than a slightly different texture on the front, the logo and a slightly smaller touchscreen.
The camera measures 65mm x 30mm x 42mm (W x D x H) and weighs in at 72g for the camera and battery.
Unlike many other action cameras including the GoPro, the Yi Lite is not waterproof and requires an additional waterproof housing before it can be submerged in water. This housing is not included and is an extra purchase.
On the front is the 150º field of view lens with f/2.8 aperture and features six glass elements.
Keeping things simple there is just one button on the exterior of the camera. This shutter button enables you to power up the camera and starts and stop recording.
All other controls can be made directly on the touchscreen or through the mobile app for iOS or Android.
The screen on the back is a decent size at 2-inches and enables full touchscreen control.
Image and control processing is handled by the Hi3556V100 chipset. I haven’t seen this chipset used a great deal, but have received several press releases recently with other new cameras also using this.
The image sensor is something a little more mainstream in the form of the 16MP Sony Exmor R CMOS BSI.
The camera also features it’s own ROM and RAM at 1GB and 4GB.
Video resolutions are also stripped back to the most popular options and run through 4K, 1080p and 720p.
Yi doesn’t seem to promote the 4K ability of the camera and rather concentrates on the 1080p at 60fps, but it is there. Part of the lack of promotion might be because it can only record at 20fps. So it’s fine for scene setting but not a lot else.
1080p comes in at either 30 or 60fps, which is an ideal range. It can also shoot 720p at 30/60/120fps, enabling plenty of scope for capturing slow motion. There’s also an 8X slow-motion mode that captures at 240fps, but only at 360p – that’s pretty low res.
Video is captured in the common H.264 mp4 file format. As well as the standard video you also have the option to shoot Time-lapse, Slow-motion and stills at 16 or 10mp.
A nice feature, especially if you like to use an action camera freestyle, is the built-in image stabilisation. This works for all bar the 4K resolution.
Alongside the standard features, the Yi Lite also enables some manual control with the ability to adjust White Balance, Shutter Speed, ISO value, Metering type, Sharpness and Exposure compensation.
Connectivity comes in the form of WiFi and Bluetooth, as well as a Micro USB.
Storage for footage is a microSD card, and the camera supports between 16-64GB FAT32 format.
Finally, there’s the small battery which is a 4.4v 1400mAh and will supply the camera with a good 130 minutes of use in all resolutions.
Build Quality & Handling
What separates the Yi cameras from the mass of others is the build quality.
This camera may be the entry-level Yi, but when it comes to build quality, there’s no difference between this and the more expensive 4K cameras.
Checking over the camera and it feels solid, the design is also simple, so just one button required to operated the basic functionality.
To power on you just need to hold down the shutter button for a couple of seconds, then the touchscreen comes into play.
The screen layout is clear showing the time recorded and recording time up in the top left and battery power in the top right.
Along the bottom is the play icon, touch this, and you can get to review the footage you’ve shot, then in the middle is access to the nine different shooting modes, finally tapping the cog on the right takes you through to the camera settings.
The touchscreen is incredibly responsive. The preview screen offers a good selection of options, with a play button, info, and if the footage isn’t up to scratch, then there’s the delete button.
Click the back arrow then takes you back to the main screen.
The text in the bottom middle section of the screen shows the resolution, tapping this takes you through to the shooting modes rather than the settings for adjusting and changing the resolution, which takes a bit of getting used to.
The nine shooting options include Photo, Timer, Burst, Video, Lapse Video, Slow Motion, Lapse Phot, Loop and Video + Photo.
After selecting the shooting mode, you want you can exit back to the main menu, then click the cog icon on the right to enter the settings for that mode and the main camera settings.
The main settings menu is well thought through and adapts depending on the shooting mode you’re in. This means that the settings that you generally need are the ones that appear first.
For example, with the Video mode selected, click Settings and Resolution is the first option. Tap again and all the different options are revealed.
As well as the shooting mode settings you also get a direct tab through to the main camera settings.
In use, the menu system makes it extremely quick and easy to find your way around, and the limited choice of resolutions and framerates all makes sense.
The Yi arrives bare bones, just the camera, so no case or grip, these all need to be purchased separately.
Using the Yi with the Manfrotto Pixi, direct access to the screen made it quick and easy to use and ideal for vlogging and filming family, friends or yourself.
I, however, prefer to mount my action cameras in the more traditional sense.
As the Yi Lite shares the form factor of the Yi 4K and 4K+ the waterproof housing for these cameras is identical.
Once inside the housing, you do lose the use of the touchscreen, and as it doesn’t have the voice control of the two other cameras there is no way to directly change settings unless you use the app or remove the camera from the case.
In reality, this isn’t an issue.
In use, the camera handles well, set the options out of the housing and then drop it into the housing and use the shutter button to power on and start and stop recording. There is little more to it and this I like, a lot.
You can also activate the app, the connection is again simple and enables you to take full control of the camera, start and stop recording and make changes to the settings.
In or out of the case the small 2-inch screen is 0.2-inches smaller than the 4K, but in use you’ll not notice, and its size is ideal for composing shots as well as reviewing footage.
The handling of the Yi Lite is slick. It doesn’t have the voice control of the Yi 4K or 4K+, but for sheer usability it’s really hard to beat.
Simplicity, as I’ve said, seems to be the theme for 2018, stripped down action cameras that just give the owner an amazing user experience.
Powering on the Yi and selecting the shooting mode and recording settings is easy enough. I did initially find the journey through the settings a little odd.
The text on the main screen showing the resolution and framerate, once tapped, takes you through to the shooting modes rather than the mode settings.
Even though I got used to this, it never seemed quite right. It would seem to make more sense to tap the shooting mode icon in the top left of the screen to access the shooting modes rather than the text at the base of the screen that shows the resolution and framerate, but then hey, there’s much worse menu system navigations out there.
This is a small UX issue, but not a major one. Otherwise, the interface is intuitive and quick to use.
The touchscreen makes setting up the camera very easy and seems a world away from the old carousel menu’s that were common just a couple of years ago.
Once a shooting mode has been selectedthe 2-inch screen gives a clear preview of the scene ahead and is ideal for composition.
It also enables you to tell if there’s the need to adjust the settings to correct exposure.
Dialling in some exposure compensation, if needed, is easy enough. Tap the cog > Image Parameters, and all the manual adjustments can be quickly accessed.
One issue that I thought was going to hold the camera back was the lack of control once the camera’s placed in a waterproof housing.
Yi has, of course, thought about this, and there’s a housing mode. Once this is switched on, you can hold down the shutter button for a couple of seconds to bring up the shooting menu and then scroll through the options. All very clever.
While this screen enables you to switch mode it doesn’t enable you to switch shooting settings; this will still require you to connect to the app or pop the camera out of the housing.
In use, the camera really couldn’t be easier to use if it tried, with the camera beeping once when it starts to record and twice when it stops.
Initially, when reviewing footage on the small screen, I did feel a little disappointed. The video looked a little pixelated and blown out with audio distorted.
However plugging the camera into a computer to review the video quality and it showed a very different picture, with clear, crisp detail and plenty of colour and tone.
It showed that the camera adapted to different lighting conditions quickly and the auto exposure of the camera was fast and effective.
Highlight and shadow details were well produced and comparing footage captured with the Yi Lite with that of the GoPro Hero showed the two cameras are evenly matched.
The lens also handles distortion well, and although there is the usual distorted look, it’s the type that you want from an action camera, it’s not overbearing.
The 150º field of view also means that it’s ideal for vlogging, although unlike the Yi 4K cameras, you can’t live stream.
Footage shot at 1080p 30 and 60fps looked smooth with good motion and little signs of any pixelation.
4K footage also looked incredibly detailed, but the 20fps limit to the frame rate does mean that it’s limited to recording static subjects.
720p at 120fps is great for shooting impressive slow motion, but while it’s nice to have it as a feature, as it stands in 2018, 720p is a little vintage.
Overall and taking into consideration that this is a sub £100 camera the image quality is unrivalled at this price range.
As the weather improves people’s thoughts turn to the world outside and enjoying the upcoming summer. It’s no surprise then that I get asked about what action camera’s to buy in preparation for the holidays and weekends.
A few weeks ago I would have said if you can stretch to it then definitely the GoPro Hero, at £200 it’s a bargain, but that was before I used the Yi Lite.
This camera keeps things simple and very usable. In all honesty, I don’t think it is a challenger to the GoPro Hero, but a camera for a lower budget. The GoPro Hero pushes the boundaries of features, but then it is £100 more.
No, the Yi Lite now dominates the Sub £100 market to really £200. There isn’t another camera out there that even comes close to challenging it when it comes to build and image quality.
The only problem that I have with the Yi Lite is that it feels and looks like a camera that should be far more expensive, and that means that you often forget that it is sub £100. It has 4K at 20fps, no voice controlnor live streaming because it is sub £100.
That said, Yi hasn’t trimmed back on the camera’s ultimate build and video quality, the two areas that really matter.
For your £100 you get the camera, everything else is extra – but what a camera and what a great price.
If you getting ready for the summer and you need an action camera, then I would highly recommend taking a look at the Yi Lite. It offers quality at an exceptional price.