Nikon is known for a lot of things in the photography enthusiasts’ communities around the globe, but, until late, waterproof cameras were not necessarily the strong suit of the renowned Japanese camera. They did have some low-end point and shoot models on the market, in their CoolPix class, but nothing for the more advanced user – the kind of camera that a National Geographic photographer could use without a second thought. All that changed in the fall of 2013, when the brand revealed its spectacular AW1 model, part of the Nikon 1 series. What’s so impressive about this camera? It’s the world’s first (mirrorless) interchangeable lens camera whose lenses can be changed underwater. Meanwhile, they’ve continued to invest in the development of the CoolPix line, which still offers plenty of value for money.
Today, buyers have both top-notch options at their disposal. Those on a lower budget can always choose the CoolPix AW110, which comes with fabulous image quality specifications. This, aside from the fact that it’s sturdy and equipped with all the features you’d expect from a compact camera in 2015 (Wi-Fi ready, GPS included, etc.). Meanwhile, pro photographers have the AW1 at their fingertips: a camera reminiscent of the 1960s’ Nikonos. With this release, Nikon have essentially taken the Nikon J3 and turned into a far sturdier, more rugged camera that was resolutely made for this day and age.
Which Nikon waterproof camera you end up choosing all depends on your budget. The AW110 is priced at around a moderate $200 on Amazon, while the base kit of the A1, which comes with two strong lenses, will take less than $800 out of your pocket. Read on to learn more about the two cameras’ specifications and overall ratings.
The low end: Nikon Coolpix AW110
- 16 million pixels
- 1/2.3in CMOS sensor
- 0-25.0mm 5x optical Zoom, NIKKOR glass lens
- up to 4x digital zoom
- Motion blur and motion detection, contrast-detect AF, subject tracking
- 0 in. diagonal OLED display, 614,000 dot resolution
- Full HD video (1920x1080p / 30fps)
- ISO 125-1600
- 3D Photography, in-Camera Image Editing
- Hi-speed USB, Wi-Fi ready, GPS
The best part about this compact camera from Nikon is how good the image quality is. The 16MP resolution, combined with the camera’s other features (vibration reduction, automatic motion detection, subject tracking, and up to 99 points of focus points in Manual Mode) yield nearly impeccable results. To boot, you have an auto focus lock function, which will work wonders, if you’re trying to capture a subject in motion. The lock will only be deactivated when you press the shutter button – use it in conjunction with continuous shooting to take some of the best action shots possible with a point and shoot camera.
Add to this the plethora of features, from how shock resistant and freezeproof the camera is and you probably get the best quality your money can buy, at only $206. One particularly exciting feature that this camera has got going on for it is the Tap Control mode, which allows you to take non-blurry pictures in winter, without having to remove your gloves. Another plus: the camera comes with a great GPS. Numerous contemporary compact cameras have this incorporated feature, but this one actually works well and even displays points of interests, i.e. spots where you can take greatly scenic photos.
You’ll find the Wi-Fi button inside the on-screen menu (there’s no dedicated button on the body). The built-in Wi-Fi function of the camera is compatible with all Android and iOS-operated devices, provided you also install a dedicated app. You can edit and retouch your pictures in camera, then turn on the Wi-Fi setting and upload them in virtually no time. There’s a range of fun artistic effects to play with, including panorama, pet portraits, and black and white.
The only less than stellar aspect about the Nikon CoolPix AW110 is its relatively small battery life and internal memory. In theory, you can take up to 250 pictures with the Li-ion battery fully charged, but this number will substantially decrease if you also decide to shoot video. You definitely need to purchase additional memory, since the internal one will only provide you with 21MB – yet, luckily, the camera is compatible with SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards and supports up to 64GB of additional memory.
9.4 out of 10
This is probably the best compact camera for underwater photography. While it doesn’t go as deep as other models, it’s more than enough for non-professional divers and other watersports enthusiasts. It comes with a good grip, produces great looking images and, all in all, there’s little you can say about it, in negative terms. A must-buy!
The high end: Nikon 1 AW1
- Case built to protect against water, shock, and freezing temperatures
- CMOS sensor suited for the 14MP C-format (with a crop factor of 2.7x)
- ISO 100-6400
- 3-inch LCD with 921,000 dots
- Comes with a built-in GPS, altimeter, manometer for depth, and compass
- PASM shooting via ‘Creative Mode’ menu
- 15 fps burst mode with continuous AF, 60 fps with single AF
- Full HD 1080p video
This camera comes with some impressive specifications for very deep sea diving. It can go as deep as 49ft (15m), which is more than enough for a seasoned diver. It can also survive being dropped from a height of 6.6ft (2m), as well as 14F (-10C) temperatures. The camera comes with two lenses, which have also been adapted for special conditions: the 11-27mm (the mirrorless equivalent of the 30-74mm lens), plus the 10mm (the equivalent of the 27mm lens for DSLR cameras). Owners of other System 1 cameras from Nikon will already be familiar with these optic specifications.
The camera comes with a special skin for underwater diving and photographing, but it’s safe to say that the Nikon AW1 doesn’t necessarily need to be dressed up in order to properly function under the water. Moreover, the skin in question won’t do much for the camera, either in terms of esthetics or of grip – it will only make it look bulkier and probably only appeal to those who fondly remember the brand’s 60s waterproof cameras.
Though the AW1 has been endlessly touted as the first underwater interchangeable lens camera and though it is compatible with all the lenses that can be fitted onto other Nikon 1 devices, this comes with some limitations. You can only use the ruggedized lenses on the front of the camera underwater – normal lenses simply can’t be safely changed under the water. Not only this, but the special lenses developed for this waterproof camera are not compatible with other Nikon1 models. While it’s obvious that this ties in with a technological boundary which has yet to be overcome, it also smacks of a bit of a money-grabbing scheme on the part of Nikon.
9.8 out of 10
While this camera may prove a bit too complex to use for beginner and intermediate users, given its full Manual Mode and its wide range of functions, it does perform at top notch levels. It’s a great camera to use for pro photographers, as well as for those who want to enrich their underwater diving experience with pictures to remember.