Nikon Coolpix AW100 £330
14th Nov 2011 | 11:59
Nikon's waterproof and shockproof with GPS
The Nikon Coolpix AW100 is the first camera in the new Coolpix All Weather line. It's a rugged compact that's waterproof down to 10 metres for up to one hour, shockproof to a drop of 1.5 metres and freeze-proof for temperatures as low as -10C.
The Nikon Coolpix AW100's tough shell houses a 16MP backlit CMOS sensor and a 5-25mm 5x optical zoom that offers a 28-140mm equivalent focal length. The Nikkor lens features ED glass to reduce chromatic aberration, and offers a relatively bright maximum aperture of f/4.8 at the telephoto end of the zoom.
Compared to the rest of the rugged camera crowd, the Nikon Coolpix AW100 is surprisingly light and relatively small. It does weigh more than the rubber Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS, but with a depth of less than 23mm, the AW100 is noticeably slimmer. Appearance-wise it's unfussy, and shares more in common with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 and Olympus Tough range of cameras, and it's certainly equally as sturdy.
We're not talking black box recorder levels of robustness (the manual warns you not to sit down with the camera in the pocket of your trousers). But the Nikon Coolpix AW100 is certainly a well built and sealed camera that's likely to take family holiday punishment in its stride.
In keeping with the needs of adventurous photographers, this Coolpix is loaded with features optimised for the outdoors. The built-in GPS geotagging means you can see where your pictures were taken when you upload them to websites such as Flickr. The Nikon Coolpix AW100 also comes with a built-in world map - so you can track your photographic travels on the camera's LCD screen, too - and a digital compass.
In terms of shooting modes, the Nikon Coolpix AW100 features the familiar slew of Nikon Coolpix S-line menu options. There's Easy auto mode, Auto mode, Special Effects mode and Smart Portrait, plus 19 Scene mode options (including an underwater mode that optimises white balance and focus).
There isn't much in the way of manual control. You can set ISO (from 125 to 3200), change white balance and flash modes, and apply exposure compensation from -2 to +2 in 1/3 stop increments. But there's no exposure histogram, and the Nikon Coolpix AW100 only supports JPEG shooting.
But then, this Coolpix is aimed at people who want a camera to take care of business while they worry about how much air is left in their tank, or where to place their next carabiner. (Or, more likely, where the kids' sunscreen is on a family beach holiday).
A collection of in-camera effects and a wide range of movie options round out the Nikon Coolpix AW100's feature set.
As well as shooting 1920 x 1080p Full HD videos, the rugged digital camera offers creative high speed and slow motion options. You can shoot footage that plays back twice as fast, or go super-slow with movie clips that show movement at up to 1/8 the normal speed (at reduced resolution).
Build quality and handling
Despite the Nikon Coolpix AW100's robust build, its plastic feel isn't to everyone's tastes. The control panel down the right-hand side of the rear screen is peppered with angular and ridged control buttons that are small and a bit fiddly, even with bare fingers.
However, they start to make sense when you take the camera underwater, where their stiff nature gives excellent responsiveness.
If you're wearing gloves, though, the buttons are impractical, which is why the Nikon Coolpix AW100 features a larger Action button one down the left-hand side of the camera. This button can be assigned to either bring up the world map or to simplify camera operation when set to Action Control. In this mode, you shake the camera with one hand to cycle through a limited range of shooting modes, start movie recording or play images, and press the Action button to confirm selections. It works, although the button does feel a little spongy compared to the rest of the controls.
Shooting-wise, the Nikon Coolpix AW100 keeps things pretty simple. The four-way multi selector gives you direct access to self-timer, flash, exposure compensation and macro mode options. You'll need to dip into the menu to change white balance and ISO - we'd happily swap the self-timer function for direct access to one of these functions instead.
As you'd hope, for a camera designed to appeal to active photographers, the Nikon Coolpix AW100 offers quick focusing and shooting speed.
The AF tracking is fast, and the high-speed continuous shooting mode is capable of capturing up to three full-res images at a speed of 7.1 frames per second (although you'll need plenty of light in order to hit this). We did find, though, that the autofocus struggled for acquisition when lighting conditions were less than ideal.
For a weatherproofed camera, the Nikon Coolpix AW100 is capable of decent picture quality. As you'd expect with a 16MP compact camera, noise is an issue - even with the type of backlit CMOS sensor Nikon has used here to improve speed and low light ability.
The lowest ISO setting is 125, and even then details can look a little gritty. It's not enough to be a problem though, unless you're pixel-peeping.
During our field tests, sharpness dropped a little at ISO 200, although it wasn't until ISO 800 that there was an intrusive increase in noise and smeared detail that results from noise reduction. Thankfully, the Auto ISO setting won't select a sensitivity higher than ISO 800, while Fixed Range Auto sticks from 125-400. At ISO 1600 colours and contrast weaken markedly, and by ISO 3200 clean edges and fine details are lost.
In terms of exposure and colour balance, the Nikon Coolpix AW100 put in a good performance. The 3-inch screen has a slightly warm colour balance and is very bright, which helps when shooting in direct sunlight or murkier conditions underwater.
However, it does mean that exposures can appear more generous than when they're analysed on a computer.
MACRO:The Nikon AW100 has an impressive close-focus of 1cm. You need to apply firm pressure with the shutter release, so at such magnification - and despite Nikon's anti-blur measures - you'll need to support the camera well in order to prevent camera shake.
FOG:As with every other compact worth its salt, the Nikon Coolpix AW100 features a range of digital filters and creative effects that can be applied to JPEGs you've already shot. The new Nikon Coolpix features an option to remove fog from an image. It brightens images and boosts contrast, as shown in this misty forest scene.
WEATHERPROOF:The Nikon Coolpix AW100 is a camera that you can handle confidently in wet conditions. There are no moving parts on the body, apart from a satisfyingly chunky knob that locks the sealed battery and memory card chamber door. The battery life is rated at a useful 250 shots, although the passive GPS system will use some charge even when the camera's switched off.
ACCURATE:In dull, overcast conditions, colours are accurate rather than punchy. However, there are few other cameras you'd trust in the salt spray on a Welsh beach in autumn. Rather than a wrist strap, the Nikon Coolpix AW100 comes with an adjustable neck strap. This, combined with the camera's light weight compared to other tough compacts, means it's easy to take anywhere.
ZOOM: The Nikon Coolpix AW100's 28mm-140mm zoom offers a decent reach at each extreme for enjoyable landscape and travel photography. For added versatility, the Nikon can shoot both 180 and 360 degree sweep-style panoramas, with the camera stitching everything together automatically. The results are pretty good, too.
VIBRATION REDUCTION: Even at ISO 200, images are a little noisy. However, the hybrid VR system (Lens-Shift and Electronic Vibration Reduction) does mean that you can stick to the Nikon Coolpix AW100's lower sensitivities for longer when light levels drop.
RETOUCH:The Nikkor ED glass lens is capable of resolving subtle details - individual raindrops are visible on this car, even though it was shot at ISO 400. The included filter holder means you can attach 40.5mm optical filters from the likes of Hoya and B+W, such as a polarising filter, to cut through glare and improve colour saturation.
WIDE ANGLE:Nikon Coolpix AW100 at 5mm (28mm equivalent).
TELEPHOTO:Panasonic FS22 at 25mm (140mm equivalent).
Sensitivity and noise
Nikon has made a strong debut with its first All Weather tough compact camera. The Nikon Coolpix AW100 boasts a very desirable automated feature set, housed and protected in a simple, clean-looking camera body.
In terms of features, price and performance, the Nikon Coolpix AW100 hangs towards the top of the rugged camera tree.
If you're looking for even more protection, you'll need to consider the likes of the cheaper Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 - which is waterproof to 12 metres and shockproof to 2 metres. However, the zoom range is shorter (28-128mm equivalent), and it's almost 20 grams heavier.
The Nikon Coolpix AW100 offers no-nonsense styling and shooting and gets a thumbs up for its blend of useful tech, entertaining features and overall picture quality.
The controls are fiddly, the zoom's not particularly fast, and judging exposure is fairly imprecise. There are also cheaper GPS-packing rugged compact cameras available that offer a broadly similar range of features.
There are always compromises to be made with image quality when you're looking for the convenience of a camera that you can play rough with. While the Nikon Coolpix AW100 has its issues, it is capable of delivering colourful, attractive images for its class.