I have been having fun with my Xiaomi (pronounced show-me) Yi, a GoPro knockoff I bought online for a little under $70. You can order on Amazon at prices that fluctuate, but always under $100, and there’s no reason not to get one of these and have fun with it and maybe even discover a practical use.
The two things I’ve been doing mostly are time lapse photography (see sample) and as an action cam that allows me to take it with me on forays to sandwich shops, farmers markets and potentially the Saratoga Race Course to document experiences for my food blog. You need some kind of mount for this purpose since your hands will be busy with your smartphone (iPhone or Android) which is how the camera is controlled. (At this price it does not have its own monitor screen.) So far I’ve acquired a head harness, chest harness and underwater mount (which blocks the microphone, so it’s not useful for above the surface work.) You’ll also need a mounting screw (it has the standard 1/4 inch receptacle in the bottom) and perhaps other hardware to attach to these setups. All of these are available at low cost on Amazon from Chinese companies that will take a couple weeks to ship to you. Also, you’ll need a micro SD card to capture your images and a USB external power supply if you want it for power intensive work such as time lapse photography.
I was initially self conscious about wearing the camera but folks don’t seem to care or maybe don’t realize it’s a real camera. I’ve used it on a selfie stick stuck out of my briefcase and on the chest mount, worn under a shirt with just the lens peeking out. Haven’t found the chutzpah to wear the head harness yet.
It’s oddly hard to find good info online about the extensive capabilities of the Xiaomi Yi camera. The manual is in Chinese and brief. The app is very good and frequently updated, but it’s not always clear what all the options are and how to use them. Here are a few random tips which I recorded simply because I didn’t see them anywhere else:
- How to know if you’re shooting video or still without looking at your smartphone? When you select video by pressing the front button, an additional light comes on, on both the top and bottom of the camera.
- Wireless connectivity problems? Before you start the app but after turning on wireless on the camera, go to your settings and choose its network. You may have to enter a password which is 1234567890.
- There’s a function to transfer files from the camera to the phone (so you can watch them when the camera is not connected) but it takes forever. A much better tactic is to use the built-in micro USB jack to access the files from your computer and transfer that way.
- What’s the meaning of the colors on the front ring of the camera? It flashes when starting up then turns to a bright solid color. Blue fully charged, purple partway, red low battery. When hooked up via USB it is purple then red if you eject the card.
- The HDMI jack is for use with a monitor that broadcasts what the Yi sees, like for a security camera. Apparently it can’t be used to play recorded video/photos.
- Use the time lapse function under video, NOT under photo to make a time lapse movie. If you choose time lapse photos you will get a large number of individual stills which I guess are useful as a security camera. For time lapse you’ll definitely need external power (a brick that plugs into the micro USB port, which the Yi uses for charging) because time lapse is a huge memory hog.
- It was doubtless a cost compromise to use a removable cover for the area that houses the HDMI and micro USB jacks and the memory card and you are probably going to lose it. Don’t worry too much. None of these items is extremely fragile (no more so than the camera overall) so you’re unlikely to do serious damage if you’re taking good care of the camera overall. But at this price maybe you should just buy a second camera, just in case.