In the unboxing I mentioned how solid this drone feels and I stand by that comment. The build is a solid textured plastic and this thing is heavy. The step up from a $200 drone to a $500 drone is quite apparent here in the way the drone is designed and built. It is quite handsome with its white textured finish and gold highlights; albeit this design is very similar to some DJI drones. The drone is slightly modular for transport: the propellors and the camera are easily removable without tools; and then the legs fold in making it almost entirely flat for transport. This is a big drone, though, so it is not the easiest to travel with.
The only thing about the build quality I am not fond of is the way the battery is seated. It is very difficult to remove. I’m sure that this is to prevent the battery from falling out during flight but the thing is there’s no dedicated lock switch or even a solid click in place when the battery goes in, and I’d rather rely on a more solid lock than a simple clip and friction.
The memory card goes into the ball of the camera. I’m going to make an important note here: this drone cannot read cards that are formatted in EXFAT which means that you can only use up to 32GB. It seems to be fairly picky about cards too so make sure to use a fast brand name card or you may get card errors while trying to record when it runs out of buffer.
The app works well enough on Android phones. Plug your phone in by USB and turn on the controller. Wait for your phone to detect the controller then enable USB tethering from your settings. Switch back to the app, where it will attempt to connect to the drone.
Once connected you are greeted with this world map view. From here you have the option of viewing the drones location on the map or viewing the video life feed. At the top of your screen here you can see the status of the drone and it will say “Could take off” when it’s ready to go. If you get a compass error at this point, I’ve found that picking up the drone, turning it left then right then placing it back down fixes this.
There are a long list of options. You’ve got your beginner mode, which limits altitude, speed and distance; ATTI mode which is more of a manual flight mode, along with different GPS settings, camera settings and max altitude settings. The only setting I would like that I haven’t been able to find is a sensitivity curve for the controller sticks. I find that the controllers are very sensitive and bank hard left or right with a slight tap.
On the video feed mode you can start or stop recording, or switch over to photo mode and take pictures, but there are also buttons on the remote that do this and they’re far easier to reach.
From power on to take off takes about 2 minutes of fiddling. Unlike a manual drone, the Mi drone needs to find a solid GPS signal, warm its batteries to an optimal temperature, align its compass, and do a bunch of pre flight checks. This is because the drone needs to know where to return to if it runs low on battery. It is a good thing because that makes it a lot more difficult to lose the drone but it also means that if you have a critical and time sensitive shot sometimes you may miss it while the drone is starting up, and I really don’t recommend rushing the startup. If you take off too quickly and the GPS is not locked, the drone may act up for the first minute or two of flying.
Once it’s in the air though it handles great. The initial settings are a bit slow but all that can be adjusted via the app. As I mentioned earlier there is a beginner mode, which limits speed and range, so it’s easy to start with. There is an automatic takeoff and landing function too. This drone is so easy to fly that my parents could do it (and they’re not tech savvy).
I took it out on an extremely windy day to see how well it would hover in place and it did not move more than a meter in any direction. The drone was being pushed back and forth by the wind like crazy but when looking at the footage of it from the drones perspective it did a very good job correcting this.
Range will depend heavily on location. Near the city where there is lots of interference I noticed that video signal will get, at most, a few hundred meters. Out in the farm fields I got way farther, about 2 KM with a reliable video signal. I also noticed that the direction the drone is facing will affect video signal range too – with the camera facing away from the controller it goes farther with video signal.
Thankfully if the drone does go out of range it will not fly away or fall out of the sky. It starts returning to its launch point based on the parimeters you set in the app. When it does get back in range you can control the return to home with the thumb sticks or cancel the return to home.
There is no collison avoidance though so you really need to pay attention to trees and buildings when it is doing its return to home, or if you set a way point for it to fly to. If you do set way points with different altitude it will be a smooth rise to that altitude so if something high is in the middle of your way points it will not go up and around. You can specify return to home altitude in the app, which I recommend double-checking every flight to ensure that you won’t hit anything if you do lose connectivity.
Video footage is extremely crisp and stable. It’s almost entirely free of micro-stuttering and micro-wobbling and it looks excellent displayed on a 4K screen. My footage looks great, even as as someone who is still learning techniques for flying and filming. A lot of the footage I’ve gotten with the drone looks like it could have been shot by a seasoned veteran.
All of the footage you’ve seen so far is shot in the default settings, 4K at 30 FPS. The drone also has a 2.7K at 60FPS mode and a 1080p at 100FPS mode for ultra smooth slow motion. All modes are stabilized using the gimbal. The best mode, for details, is the 4K30 and the 2.7K 60. The other modes I wouldn’t touch unless I was shooting a project that specifically required 100FPS because the difference in detail is quite significant.
4K has heaps of detail even when viewed on a big screen. Noise is kept to a minimum during the day time and colour is accurate for the most part. The default footage tends to expose a little on the darker side in order to prevent highlights from being blown out, but this results in footage that is ideal when post processed – not necessarily ideal right out of camera. There are settings for saturation and it is possible to bump up the brightness when flying but I find the right spin dial to be a little on the sensitive side so it is difficult to bump up the brightness smoothly.
When video files are saved to the memory card they include a low resolution ‘thumbnail’ file, presumably for the app to transfer quickly to your phone if you want to save the footage. I believe this is also the video that is tramsitted to you when you are viewing the feed live.
Transitions between bright and dark aren’t the smoothest, and that’s really the only minor nitpick I have about the video this drone films. Check out what it looks like when the camera switches shutter speeds: it’s not a smooth fade, so it kind of happens in steps.
Many people have mentioned issues with the gimbal horizon being wonky but I did not find that to be an issue. A recent firmware update seems to have fixed it.
No audio is recorded with the video, so if you want audio you will need an external recorder.
Even low-light shots look pretty good thanks to the stable gimbal. The low light footage does not have as much detail as daylight but it’s good enough that almost everyone will be happy with it. I wouldn’t use the drone at night as it will not pick up much detail under street lighting (plus, here in Canada it’s illegal to fly at night). If you’re going to be primarily flying at night I’d recommend steping up to a professional drone with a bigger image sensor.
Still Photo Quality (JPG and RAW)
Still photos, as JPG, are fine. Raws have a lot of noise that requires correction in post processing. I’d recommend sticking to JPG unless you absolutely need to as RAWs from this require a lot of correction to be usable. At least they’re in the common DNG format. When you take a photo, the live feed from the drone freezes for up to five seconds while it is writing to the card.
I’ve stitched photos together into a high resolution panorama and if you take the time to do a dozen or so shots by turning the drone and angling the gimbal you can stitch together a full 360. I don’t believe the drone has a way to do this automatically like the DJI drones do though.
Photo mode is completely separate from video mode and I haven’t found a way to take photos while video is being recorded. It’s no matter, though, as you can extract stills from the 4K footage and they look almost as good as what a full resolution photo would be; just 8MP instead of 12.
The drone is rated for 28 minutes of fly time and that seems to be accurate. I’ve gotten on average, between 20 and 30 minutes from take off to landing depending on how I’m flying and the weather. When the battery reaches 30% it will warn you to land immediately and slow the speed you can fly at, so keep in mind if you’re far away it may limit your ability to return. Once it reaches 15% the drone will automatically land.
So overall would I recommend this drone? Heck yes. I’ve had a great experience flying with it and although it has some quirks, they’re all little trivial things that can easily be overlooked. I’m happy with the drone, and I think you will be too. Keep in mind brands like Mi do not have much in the way of overseas support so if something goes wrong you’ll be on your own: but the good news is that parts are readily available so if you do break it, fixing it can be fairly straightforward.
If you find yourself in a position like me where you want real 4K footage for your channel and don’t want to spend a ton of money this looks like a good choice.
Flying this compared to a manual drone is insanely easy. There’s a button to auto take off, another to land. A beginner mode for learning. It is easy to fly and will return to where it started if you lose signal. It goes pretty fast and has a good range. The battery life is quite long.
The app can be a bit complicated (hence why I’ll do a video just on it). Sometimes the drone would not take off due to compass error. You can fix the Mi 4K drone compass error by picking up the drone again and turning it to face north, then placing it back on the ground.
Mi also has a 1080p version but I think the 4K version is the way to go. If you only want 1080p just get the tiny DJI Spark instead.
Please be aware of laws and regulations in your area before flying drones.
A little while ago I made a review of the Xiaomi Mi A1 and I had a lot of good things to say about the phone as well as a couple fairly minor criticisms. I suggest watching that if you’re considering this phone. But one thing I didn’t go into detail about was the camera, and since that’s sort of my area of expertise I wanted to do an extended video on it. First of all, I want to say that this is a $200 smartphone so I don’t expect perfection; and in daylight the phone is a perfectly competent shooter with a wide dynamic range (detail in shadows and highlights), accurate color and straightforward user interface. But at night that story changes and if you, like many phone camera users, find yourself shooting the majority of your pictures indoors or in non-ideal lighting, you may want to consider something else. Many older flagship models, such as the LG V20, have far superior cameras to this phone and only cost a few dollars more.
Ease of use
Lets start the camera app itself. The camera app is actually one of my favorites that I’ve used to date because of its simplicity. The main interface has basic options only: flash, HDR, portrait blur mode and several filters. Under the options button, there are other choices and the advanced manual mode. If you prefer manual mode, there is no way to have the camera default to it, but it does have a full range of options including shutter speed down to 1/15 second (no long exposure), ISO, white balance and focus.
Tapping anywhere in the frame will lock focus and sliding up or down changes brightness, if you don’t like what the camera has determined for you.
Taking photos in normal mode is fast, with minimal shutter lag. Turning on HDR however introduces up to one second of lag as you can see when I wave my hand through the frame here. There is no automatic HDR mode so it’s up to you to turn it on for the situation.
To record video requires two presses, since the video mode is separate from photo. Click the video button, wait a moment for it to load then hit record to start. There are far fewer options and modes with video, and there is no way to take video with the secondary zoom lens.
Still Photos – Main Camera
Daylight is where this camera excells and the difference between this phones camera and other mid and high end smartphones is quite small. The vast majority of people will be very happy with how this phone shoots in the day. The A1 produces nice colours and it has a fairly broad dynamic range. Photos are vibrant, if occasionally on the blue side. By default there is a lot of contrast and photos are over sharpened. Thankfully there is an easy way to tweak both of these settings to your personal preference. If I were to generalize I would say that the vast majorit of photos I take with this phone turn out good, with only a few turning out excellent.
Anything other than broad daylight and this camera starts to fall apart fast. Unfortunately, due to the lack of optical stabilization, it is significantly harder to take clear, non-blurry photos with this camera than it is with other smartphones that have stabilization. This was one of those things that I did not think about until it was gone, and now that I am missing it, I really miss it. Photos start to get grainier as the light goes out, and indoors or night shots lack detail and look noisy – that is, when they’re clear. This was the first time in years I found myself taking multiple photos and praying one would turn out where I could read text on signs, or if I was taking photos of labels to send to friends it was guaranteed I would need to shoot two or three to get them clear enough to read. My LG G4, which was cheaper than this phone, has way better low light performance.
Surprisingly though, flash photos look really good so long as you’re within about 2 meters of your subject since that’s all the flash can illuminate reliably. The flash is more of a pinkish tone than other phones (which tend to be more white). In my opinion this results in natural skin tones, whereas the whitish LEDs of other phones I have tested next to this one end up a little bit green. As with most phones, the flash is positioned so close to the lens that there is a lot of red eye, and there is no way to easily remove it with the phones built in Google Photos app.
Still Photos – 2X Main Camera
Daylight is the zoom lenses forte, seeing as it too does not have optical stabilization. Photos shot in broad daylight or overcast look decent, with good colour overall and minimal noise. I wonder why Xiaomi used a different sensor than the main camera, as the main camera has more detail and a better colour and noise profile overall but again I think that this is something the majorit of people won’t be concerned with as it does provide a little resolution bump over using digital zoom.
Low light (doesn’t work!)
The only way to use the secondary camera in low light is in manual mode. If the A1 determines it is not bright enough out (as in, not broad daylight), it will default to using digital zoom instead of the secondary camera. I found myself often wondering if the photos in overcast looked poor because the camera was shooting with its secondary sensor that is not as good as the primary one, of if they looked poor because it was shooting with the primary sensor and using digital zoom instead. This can be rather frustrating – and it kind of defeats the purpose of having the secondary lens. Why not just have a single, better quality camera instead of two mid range sensors? I guess to be trendy? Nonetheless, if you force the camera to use the secondary lens in low light you will see why it tries to default to the wide lens with digital zoom: photos are very noisy and lack most detail.
Because the portrait mode uses the secondary camera, Xiaomi handily warns you that it may be too dark if you are indoors or it is night time. Portrait mode works decent in daylight, cutting out most background details although occasionally it does accidentally blur some hair. In anything other than daylight, since it uses the lower quality secondary sensor, it is subject to the same limitations mentioned above. That is to say, people look weirdly noisy while the background is artifically blurred and it makes for unappealing photos overall. But yeah, as long as there’s enough light, great!
Still photos – Selfie Camera
In the day, the selfie camera takes competent photos. The focus is tweaked to fairly far away from the camera so to get the best photo I found I really had to stretch out my arm. Once I did that though, there was an adequate amount of detail on my face and the camera did a good job handling tough situations like bright backlighting.
Indoors it’s not too bad either as long as there’s a decent amount of light, and at night it’s not the worst selfie cam I’ve ever seen. Its primarily best for daylight shooting though.
Video – Main camera
Basic resolution tests show that this camera is capable of shooting real 4K at 30 FPS and real 1080p at 30 FPS. Slow motion has a lower frame rate. While video has a decent amount of detail, it tends to be extremely contrasty and overall darker than I would like. There’s no way to adjust the contrast of the video, like there is for the photos, so you’re stuck with what Xiaomi has decided is good for you. To be fair, it’s far from the worst smartphone video I’ve ever seen as it does offer true 4K. I just wish that there was an option to tweak the contrast like there is for photos as it feels like this camera is capable of doing way better than it currently is.
To show you what I mean, here is a still photo processed by the camera with no colour editing. And then here is a video in the same situation. The dark parts of the video are much darker and the bright parts are much brighter and the colour is different. If the video camera did what the photo camera did I would definitely be giving it more points.
The camera maintains a decent amount of detail in low light by lowering the shutter speed well beyond the required 1/30 of a second for video. This results in moving objects getting blurry and the video looking like it is skipping occasionally. But honestly it’s not that bad because there’s minimal noise and as long as you’re holding the camera dead still you can make out details.
Lack of electronic stabilization
Even though the cameras do not have Optical Stabilization, Mi could have included electronic stabilization but unfortunately that did not happen. It makes walking and talking with this camera quite difficult. Most of these tests I had the camera resting on an object or on a tripod or using a handheld stabilizer because I didn’t think you all would want to watch ten minutes of me shaking the camera. Again, this is something I didn’t realize I’d miss until it was gone. I thought it was a give-in for smartphone cameras.
The biggest issue, with video though, is the garbled background noise. I actually waited until the Android 8.0 update on this phone to see if they fixed the issue, but it is still there for me. Any sound processed by this camera seems to be subject to a strong noise reduction, which results in car noise sounding like someone is shaking a bucket of nuts and bolts. Watch the video to hear it for yourself.
There are two autofocus modes with video: continuous autofocus and tap to focus. I highly recommend leaving the camera on tap to focus as the CAF mode tends to be fairly sensitive and jump between focus points. The autofocus is not smooth.
Video – Selfie camera
Video with the selfie camera is similar to photos with the selfie camera.
The camera overall is competent in daylight but in mixed lighting results are much poorer. Unfortunately bad lighting is from my experience, 75% of what cell phone photos are taken in. So yeah, the Mi A1 is a competent phone with a decent camera for a mid-range device, but is it really worth your money? If you’re the kind of person who uses the camera a little and the rest of the phone features more, it is a compelling device, but for the avid photographer, look elsewhere.
The Xiaomi Mi A1 (5X) is a mid-tier smartphone with decent specifications and a metal build. At a budget price of $200, the phone offers some features found mostly on advanced smartphones: a secondary back camera for optical zoom, fingerprint unlock and stock Android. There are a few places that Xiaomi can improve for its next iteration: for example, the camera is virtually unusable in low light due to its lack of optical stabilization. Also, the secondary zoom camera lens does not work in low light; the camera app defaults to the main camera with digital zoom (likely so that it is not as blurry from camera shake). The design could also be refined: thinner bezels, less regulatory text on the back of the phone and no backlight bleed from the hardware capacitive buttons would be welcome changes. Overall this is a decent phone from a company who has experience making solid budget devices.
Note: make sure you check compatibility with your local network, otherwise this phone may not function.
All of these cameras are so close and the differences in how they process video are so minimal, that what you should look for while watching is which camera processes exposure more appealingly to you, which camera has the most appealing audio to you and which cameras user interface will work best for you. No matter which you buy you’ll end up with a camera that has decent video quality.
Click here to learn how to update the Mijia to English menus.