Nikon AW1 Camera Review and Hands On
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The Nikon AW1 is the very first 14.1MP waterproof, shockproof, interchangeable-lens digital camera. This camera does not require any additional accessories to go down as far as 49ft in water. You can actually open the box, twist on the AW1 lens, charge the battery, and take it straight to the beach without worry of water damage, then rinse it under the hose when you get back. The AW1 needs no ad on case or housing to protect it. In essence this is a CX sensor size mirror-less camera that is waterproof compact and combines the features of other Nikon 1 cameras + some very neat features.
This camera as mentioned is based on the poputar Nikon 1 line of cameras and features interchangeable lens. Lets get to the hands on review part.
Why would anyone want this camera? Simple, This camera is geared toward people who enjoy the outdoors especially near water or harsh environmental areas. I like this camera because no matter what mother nature throws at me, I don't have to coward in the corner and protect my precious camera. This is a neat package when it comes to being all weather - Nikon means it!.
First the bad News. This can happen to any camera and not just the AW1, and in fact has happened to my D800 and D700 a couple of times in the past. Although this camera is full weather sealed and water proof - it does not have any defense from internal condensation.
I took the camera out with me in early November on a hike to take some fall foliage. Along the way I ran across a small flowing stream. Being tempted, I placed the camera into the stream about one foot underwater to see for myself and took my first underwater picture. Yes, the camera is water proof!! however, condensation formed within seconds on the internal lens glass and I was not able to take photos for the next 30 minutes due to the internal fog that built up.
Internal fogging occurs when the temperature varies between the environment and the camera materials. Since I was hand carrying this camera, it was much warmer than the water thus causing internal moister to condense on the inside of the lens. In this situation waterproof means little if you can not use the camera due to internal fog. I am not sure how many people will be using the camera in colder climates, but this could be a problem, but I seriously doubt most of us go swimming in 40 degree water. As I said, I had to wait for the camera lens to stabilize until it was useable.
Picture and Image Quality: Given the fact this is a CX sized sensor, I will not compare it against other DX or larger sensor cameras. Nikon did a good job of getting the most from this sensor. Don't expect DX or FX results, keep in mind this is a small sensor, at about one inch or 13.2 X 8.8mm. This cameras ISO range is from IS0 160 - 6400. Everyone knows the smaller the ISO number the better the image and less artifacts, this is true with this camera. Out of the box you have an AUTO everything camera, so all you need to start taking pictures is charge the camera, put the lens on.
When shooting with ISO over 800 I do notice artifacts and graininess. Photos using ISO 6400 results are quite noticeably less detailed due to the higher ISO, however, all photos seem to be useable. Drop the ISO to 200 and you have some fairly nice results. The photos below are mostly at ISO 800, the raw images are slightly sharper. You can save you images in JPG, NEF, or both at one of three sizes.
The image tracking with in camera motion reduction the camera does a very nice job of following the subject (you can choose from one to several focus points), once the camera locks on it will follow focus on the subject.
Controls: Many abound in this camera through the menu. This camera offers the casual user a simple set auto feature, BUT you can also dive into a full creative set of controls or user manual settings, such as , shutter or aperture priority or fully manual. The camera creative settings offers in camera Soft focus, Panorama, miniature, motion, and a few others. I wont expand on all the controls but I will mention these. Photo taking during video, Yes, while doing video you can take a photo without stopping the video. Slow Capture, a Nikon 1 feature where the camera slows down action to allow you to capture the perfect photo, example, someone doing a flip. You can slow down the event to capture that perfect moment in the air for the best photo - The camera buffers the video in slow motion. Also the camera features "Best Photo" mode - for your action shots, The camera shoot 60fps then present a group of the photos for you to choose the BEST picture.
Manual vs Auto I get the feeling Nikon designed this camera to be used in auto mode. As stated you can choose A or P mode and allow the camera to adjust the ISO accordingly, or you can set the ISO to one of the presets, such as 400; the camera can be set to stay within an ISO range as well, say 160 ~ 800.
LCD Visibility, adequate and is a 3.0 inch TFT-LCD with brightness adjustment, 921,000 dots. Useable in sunlight but not the best I have seen.
Flash The camera has a small retractable pop up flash with several flash modes to choose from, red-eye reduction, slow sync, rear sync, and fill to name a few. In the manual, Nikon shows an area shadow cast directly in front of the lens, but that would only occur in very close subjects.
Focus is very fast and accurate and uses a green focus assist light for low light situations, and when I say fast and accurate I mean it.
Lens: Comes with a 11 ~ 27,5 which with this sensor size = about 29 ~ 74ish. CX sensor Crop size is 2.7 so keep that in mind when your buying lenses. The lens that comes with the camera does and adequate job and shows good resolution and contrast for a f3.5~5.6 lens.
Ease of Use: Overall, the camera is easy to use. Most of the buttons make sense some double as controls depending on the mode your in so you should read the manual to ensure you what how to set ISO, change aperture or shutter speeds if you choose to use those modes. Overall I had no problem remembering the menus to enter the desired modes that I needed etc.. The camera does not feature dedicated knobs to set ISO, Shutter speeds, as that is all controlled inside the camera then adjusted by two buttons on the rear. I should mention, Nikon has a quick access button that when pressed allows you to rotate the camera to select the mode, on the LCD an arrow swings down and as you rotate the camera right or left you can change mode - slick and fast.
Why Buy This Camera; Simple, easy go to camera for those who want to go anywhere and not worry about water damage, or bumping your camera. This camera is best suited for anyone who is into sports related adventures and does not mind letting the camera do most of the guess work. Also, consider this camera for those simple get together, lets face it, we get tired of carrying 20lbs of gear for something just to capture a family event, plus you want get strange looks carrying this camera..
The Nikon 1 Series offers a simple light weight way to address this need of "go anywhere" protection right out of the box.
TrueToad Recommended to those who are outdoors in or near water, and or would like a more simple camera with interchangeable lens choices.