★★★★★ £266 • From www.amazon.co.uk
GoPro finally gets a real action cam competitor in the Yi 4K+
Better than the GoPro Hero 6 Black and cheaper, too, this camera is simply superb value
FOR A LONG time, the market for action cameras has been dominated by GoPro, but that might be about to change. The Yi 4K+, hailing from China, is a stunning new action camera that not only rivals the latest GoPro Hero 6 Black (Shopper 361) on quality but manages to beat it on price, too.
Specifically, it matches the Hero 6 Black’s headline act of recording at up to 60fps in 4K, and can also handle 120fps at 1080p and 240fps at 720p. As for the price, it’s nearly £140 cheaper than the GoPro’s £399 camera; this is largely accounted for by the 4K+ having no GPS functionality or built-in waterproofing. It does come with a waterproof case for rainy days and underwater shooting, although keeping it inside this case seems to adversely affect audio recording quality.
HIP TO BE SQUARE
The Yi 4K+ is a little smaller than the GoPro, measuring 42x65x30mm. It’s an otherwise familiar design, with a rectangular body, protruding lens, 2.2in 640x360 touchscreen at the rear and multifunction button on the top. A nice touch here is that the button has an LED embedded in it, which flashes red when recording.
On the left-hand side there’s a flap covering a USB Type-C port, which is used both for charging and audio input. Connect the bundled USB Type-C-to-3.5mm adaptor and you can add an external microphone. You can also purchase a Type-C-to-RCA adaptor. Underneath is a ¼in tripod mount, and you’ll find the battery and microSD compartment down here as well.
Just like the GoPro, the Yi 4K+ is rather picky with microSD cards. Because of the sheer volume of data being transferred to the camera, you’ll need one of the fastest cards around; a U3-class card to be specific. If you’re not sure your card is up to the task, compatible cards are listed on Yi’s website.
LIVE AND KICKING
We found the 4K+’s onscreen interface very easy to understand, yet it still provides a deep level of customisation for budding enthusiasts. From the home screen, if you swipe from top to bottom, you get a set of quick toggle options.
Swipe from either side and you can quickly switch between video and photo modes. Scroll upwards and you can jump to other modes, such as Time Lapse Video, Slow Motion, Burst, Timer and Live.
That’s right, you can use the 4K+ to live-stream directly to your Facebook page or YouTube channel, provided you download and install the Yi Action Camera App on your phone to set it up. This is great if you like sharing your moments in real time with friends, family or fans.
By touching the small cog on the screen, you’ll be presented with a flurry of options under the video tab, including the ability to record in flat colour mode (useful for colour matching in professional projects), and adjust metering, ISO sensitivity and shutter speed.
If you find operating the camera a little too fiddly with the tiny touchscreen, you can control various functions via the Android or iOS app. This works flawlessly and connects to the camera via 802.11ac Wi-Fi. There’s also Bluetooth, which allows you to connect wirelessly to a remote or a compatible selfie stick. If you prefer to go hands-free, there’s a remote voice control option, too. This lets you start and stop recordings, snap stills and switch off the camera, all of which could come in handy if you’re using the camera on a helmet mount or in a car. You need to be in a quiet environment and speak clearly for it to work, though. Nonetheless, the touchscreen and menu system is so responsive and usable that we seldom had to even consider voice controls, and that’s thanks to its quad-core Cortex A53 64-bit CPU. Unlike the GoPro equivalent, the Yi 4K+’s onscreen animations are clean, smooth and responsive to the touch.
You can use the 4K+ to live-stream directly to your Facebook page or YouTube channel. This is great if you like sharing your moments in real time with friends, family or fans
The lack of GPS is a shame, however. The Hero 6 Black pulls ahead in this regard by not only including GPS, but an altimeter, compass and G-force indicator as well.
BETTER OFF VID
Image quality, on the other hand, is a lot more close-fought; in fact, to our eyes, the cheaper 4K+ actually comes out on top. The core of the camera’s imaging engine is its Sony IMX377 1/2.3in 12-megapixel CMOS image sensor with Exmor R, and this is topped with an f/1.8, sevenelement lens that provides up to a 155° field of view.
The combination of the image sensor and lens delivers stunning image quality. Pictures are rich in colour, with good contrast and oodles of detail. In comparison to both the Hero 6 Black and the older Hero 5 Black, we found the Yi 4K+ produced slightly more colour-accurate images and videos. The Hero 6 Black’s footage looked somewhat softer and warmer, although this itself was a slight improvement on that of the Hero 5 Black.
The Yi 4K+’s still image quality is also extremely impressive, and low-light performance isn’t bad, either. Of course, there is image noise in the background, but that’s to be expected. Enabling Auto Low Light mode reduces image noise a touch.
Video capture is what it’s all about with this camera, however, and that’s sensational. As with still image quality, the Yi 4K+ records videos with superior colour accuracy and contrast to the GoPro range.
It records at a much higher bit rate, too, which results in crisper videos and better detail retention. Using the MediaInfo app to extract this information from our test clips, we saw the 4K+ hit a bit rate of 135Mbit/s at 4K/60fps, as well as 105Mbit/s at 4K/30fps; the Hero 6 Black, by contrast, tops out around 80Mbit/s. In practice, this meant cleaner lines, less blurring and more crisply rendered details from the Yi 4K+.
BREAK THE SHAKE
If 4K isn’t your cup of tea – not everyone has a display to watch these clips on, of course – then the 4K+ can be dialled down. At 1080p and 120fps, the 4K+ still beat the GoPro on overall quality, with cleaner detailing and superior colour reproduction.
The only downside of this superior quality is the sheer size of the resultant files. For a 56-second clip recorded at 4K/60fps on the Yi 4K+ you’re looking at 917MB, while a 49-second clip recorded on the GoPro at 4K/60fps is much smaller at 353MB. That’s a huge difference.
For movement, Yi Technology uses electronic image stabilisation (EIS) to provide a more stable image. Alas, just like on the Hero 6 Black, EIS doesn’t work at 4K/60fps, but will smooth out footage at lower resolutions and frame rates, including 4K/30fps. The EIS is effective but if you’re looking for the ultimate in smooth, stable video output – or you want smooth 60fps 4K video – you should invest in a handheld gimbal.
While image quality is great, however, audio quality isn’t so good. Despite all three cameras recording in 48kHz at 128Kbit/s, the 4K+ doesn’t sound as wide or deep as either the GoPro Hero 6 Black or the Hero 5 Black.
On the plus side, with the bundled USB Type-C-to-3.5mm adaptor, you can plug in an external microphone. This will then provide far superior audio quality, even if it’s a cheap clip-style mic such as the Sony ECM-CS3. Since the 4K+ is so much cheaper than an equivalent GoPro, it’s worth spending a little extra to get drastically better audio recording.
Something else worth noting is that sound quality on the Yi 4K+ gets worse when it’s used with the waterproof case, with audio becoming tinny and claustrophobic. The same can be said with the GoPro’s waterproof casing, but remember you don’t need to buy that particular accessory unless you plan to go deeper than 10m underwater.
Otherwise, the Yi 4K+ proves that even if GoPro continues to dominate the world of action cameras, it’s possible to get something that’s just as good, if not better, than the competing top-of-the-line model for less cash. Not that £266 is terribly cheap, but compared to the Hero 6 Black, it’s an outstanding bargain, making this a great choice for anyone in the market for a high-quality action camera.