Nikon has expanded its 1-series line-up with the AW1, a fully waterproof, interchangeable-lens camera. Michael Topham finds out just how tough it is. Read the Nikon 1 AW1 review...

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Nikon 1 AW1

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Nikon 1 AW1 review


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Nikon 1 AW1 at a glance:

  • 14.2-million-pixel, CX-format CMOS sensor
  • 3in, 921,000-dot LCD screen
  • ISO 160-6400
  • Waterproof to 15m
  • Shockproof to 2m
  • Freezeproof to -10°C
  • Street price around £749 with 11-27.5mm kit lens

Nikon 1 AW1 review – Introduction

For those who would like a rugged and waterproof camera, there are two options: either spend your money on a waterproof compact that features a 1/2.3in sensor and compromise on image quality; or consider an expensive underwater housing for a camera you already own. While many manufacturers claim that their cameras are weather-resistant with a number of inherent weather seals to protect them from dust and moisture, these models are not designed to withstand being fully submerged underwater.

Nikon has had the foresight to address the gap in the market for a waterproof compact system camera by blending the robust characteristics of its all-weather compact, the Coolpix AW110, with the core features of the Nikon 1 J3. The outcome of this is the Nikon 1 AW1 – the world’s first system camera with a 1in, CX-format sensor that is not only waterproof to an impressive depth of 15m, but also fully shockproof from a remarkable height of 2m.

Nikon 1 AW1 review – Features

Lining up against Nikon’s current S1, V2 and J3 1-series models, the AW1 has a similar specification to the J3, albeit in a more robust body. While it adopts the Nikon 1 mount and is fully compatible with non-waterproof Nikkor 1 lenses, the camera is specifically designed to be used with either a Nikkor 11-27.5mm (30-74mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 or 10mm (27mm equivalent) f/2.8 lens, both of which have been designed to be fully waterproof and shockproof, just like the body. To ensure that a watertight seal is created between the lens and the camera body, a rubber O-ring surrounds the mount, against which the lens compresses as it is connected. As a result, this rubber-on-metal-mount seal requires more force when engaging and disengaging a lens than your average CSC.

The Nikon 1 AW1’s 14.2-milion-pixel, CX-format CMOS sensor is similar to that found in the Nikon 1 J3. Measuring 13.2×8.8mm, it works out at 4.4mm larger along the longest edge and 2.2mm longer along the shortest compared to a waterproof compact with a smaller 1/2.3in sensor. Unlike system cameras with larger micro four thirds or APS-C-sized sensors, the AW1’s sensitivity spans a more conservative range of ISO 160-6400, with no option to expand it.

In addition to being waterproof, the AW1 is also dustproof and freezeproof to -10°C. To aid users in cold conditions when gloves may be worn, there is what Nikon calls ‘action’ control. By utilising the action button, the shooting mode can be changed by tilting the camera. In playback mode, this also doubles as an intuitive way of scrolling through images or returning to the first shot taken in a set of images.

Features that the Nikon 1 AW1 inherits from the J3 include Nikon’s advanced hybrid AF system, which assesses the scene to detect whether phase-detection or contrast-detection AF is most appropriate, and an exceptionally versatile electronic shutter offering speeds from 30-1/16,000sec, which is twice as fast as even the best mechanical shutter.

Pairing the electronic shutter with Nikon’s Expeed 3A processor means that the AW1 can shoot at incredibly fast continuous speeds. Full-resolution shots at 5fps, 15fps, 30fps or 60fps can be recorded, although above 15fps the focusing mode is automatically set to AF-S, and both focus and exposure are fixed for the first frame. Images can be captured in both raw and JPEG formats, with Nikon’s proprietary NEF format used for raw files. Videos can be recorded to 60i/30p in full HD (1920×1080-pixel) quality.

Altitude and underwater depth can be tracked in feet or metres on the AW1 thanks to a built-in altimeter/depth gauge, and there’s an electronic compass to check precise positioning – a particularly useful feature for underwater divers. The menu system on the AW1 is similar to that on the J3. It remains the light grey on dark grey interface, with many settings such as ISO, white balance and image quality being menu driven rather than having their own independent buttons. Regrettably, there’s still no quick menu through which frequently used settings can be changed instantly on the fly, and with no command dial, users have to rely on using the playback zoom buttons to adjust aperture or shutter speed.

There is a pop-up flash on the corner of the AW1’s body that can be used underwater, which has a guide number of 5m (16ft) @ ISO 100. At the rear, the 3in, 921,000-dot display is the same as that used in the J3, featuring brightness adjustment but lacking touch functionality.

  1. 1. Nikon 1 AW1 at a glance:
  2. 2. Nikon 1 AW1 review - Build and handling
  3. 3. Nikon 1 AW1 review - Metering and dynamic range
  4. 4. Nikon 1 AW1 review - Autofocus
  5. 5. Nikon 1 AW1 review - Resolution, noise and sensitivity
  6. 6. Nikon 1 AW1 review - White balance and colour
  7. 7. Nikon 1 AW1 review - Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video
  8. 8. Nikon 1 AW1 review - Our verdict
  9. 9. Hands-on review
Page 1 of 9 - Show Full List
  • glovisol


    Both the Nikon official site and the camera manual give operating precautions for camera use underwater at sea. I am using this camera daily underwater in summer months without any problem. Considering the great number of complaints concerning water leaks ruining the camera and the general disappointment on Nikon not easily making good the warranty,I wish to give my experience, hoping it will clarify many issues.


    The Nikon 1 AW1 consists of a sealed inner body, containing the camera engine and a watertight zoom lens.The body has four apertures as follows:
    – Flash pop-out aperture, not sealed.
    – IN/OUT connector aperture, gasket sealed.
    – Battery/memory card aperture, gasket sealed.
    – Lens bayonet mount aperture, “O” ring sealed when mounting the watertight lens..

    The watertight lens has an aperture corresponding to the bayonet mount.

    The following considerations apply:

    a) The gaskets and “O” ring have a duration which depends on the time they are in use (e.g. under compression).
    b) Salt deposits plus high temperatures tend to shorten the life of the gaskets & “O” ring, making them brittle.
    c) It is obvious that gaskets and “O” ring must never come into contact with sand and grit and, if this happens, extra care must be exercised in cleaning.
    d) The camera, as a system, is vulnerable to sudden temperature and pressure changes, which may cause internal fogging.


    According to Nikon directions, a brand new camera, before use in salt water, must be first tried in a basin full of sweet water in order to verify water tightness. If it leaks in this first test, it means we have a case of an item out of spec and this should seldom happen, but, if it does, Nikon will apply the warranty.

    If water tightness is first verified and it is then ALWAYS verified before immersion in salt water, it does not stand to reason that the same unit will leak in use a few minutes later, unless the original instructions have not been followed and one of the apertures has not been properly closed and locked.

    Another possible cause is the contamination of gaskets by sand and grit AFTER the water tightness test has been performed. Again this would be a case of negligence by the user.


    3.1. Once completely dry, the camera should be stored in a closed cardboard box without battery, with the bayonet cover on and IN/OUT and battery compartments fully open. The lens can be stored in the same box with the caps on. Two/three standard humidity absorption satchels must be in the box as well. The rationale of this procedure is to keep all gaskets and “O” ring free from pressure, thereby eliminating the danger of deformation.

    3.2 Prepare the camera by greasing the “O” ring as per original instructions. Then lightly grease the gaskets of the two compartments and insert the fully charged battery. Close and lock the lids. Mount the lens. Camera is now ready for at home fresh water test. Perform the test in a well illuminated area and carefully check for air bubbles coming from the lens or the lids. When satisfied, wipe dry.

    3.3 For transport the assembled camera must be carried in a padded bag, white in colour. Always store the camera in this bag when out, but not in use. The white bag will minimise heatig in the sun and protect the camera from dust, sand, etc. Never leave the camera in a closed car in the sun. If this happens, remember you must let the camera cool down before immersion. In fact, before immersion the camera must not feel warm to the touch!

    3.4 After submerged use in salt water, but still away from home, carefully wash the camera with sweet water, even opening the flash compartment (even small boats have showers nowadays) and pad it dry, then store it back into the white bag. The rationale of this is to eliminate as much salt as possible as soon as the camera comes out of the water. If still out at sea or on a beach, place the white bag as much in the shade as possible.

    3.5 As soon as you reach home, remove the camera from the white bag and check if it is warm to the touch. Remember to let the camera cool down to home temperature before performing the 10′ sweet water washing procedure recommended by Nikon. The reason being that sudden temperature changes must be avoided at all costs.

    3.6 After washing as recommended by Nikon, wipe the camera dry and let it rest for a while. Dry ambient air of air conditioning helps a lot. Open the IN/OUT compartment and download all data. Switch off, open the battery compartment, remove the battery and place it in the charger. Remove the lens and wipe any humidity left. Seal lens with its lids and seal camera bayonet opening with its plug. Place camera and lens back into the cardboard box.


    Procure and mount an NC filter ($ 49-) in front of the watertight lens: this additional protection will keep salt water away from front lens seals.

    Procure a body protection such as the CF-N 6000 ($ 37-): it will help in keeping finger marks off the back LCD screen and in protecting the body from scratches.

    A spare “O” ring would also be helpful.

    Do not wait to get a leak during testing. Have the “O” ring and the gaskets of the two compartment replaced every 6-8 months, depending on usage, but remember the gaskets do age, even if you leave the camera in the box most of times. For this reason I would never wait for 12 months to do this maintenance.


  • Oz Damo

    The overall rating is misleading and fails to take into account the performance of the AW1 within the class of cameras in which it is designed for use.

    It would not be fair to compare the AW1 against a full-frame DSLR or even a APS-C mirrorless, because it is not its design intentions.

    However, within the class of compact all-weather action cameras, the performance of the AW1 is pretty spot-on. The super-fast AF and accurate exposure ensures high success rate of image captures and videos. Should the AW1 be using a full-sized sensor or APS-C, it would be a lot more bulky and heavier and not achieve the compact form it current does. Not only would size and weight goes up, but also the production cost…this needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating the product.

    And at the end of day, this is what it counts: reliability, performance, ease-of-use and consistency in results. When capturing action video or images, the photographer what to focus on the subject and the process of making the image/video, not on complicated controls of the camera. Keeping it simple is the key to success.

    And when building a reliable all-weather equipment, the fewer the moving parts the lower the risk of seal(s) failure. One can certainly understand why Nikon went with simplicity and reliability in its design with the AW1. In fact, in all practicality, having easy access to just the EV exposure compensation dial would be sufficient IMO.

    Coming from a film-camera photography background, in fact all I care when picking up any camera, assuming if it has automatic exposure mode, is the aperture priority mode; otherwise I will just fall back to full-manual control. The shutter-priority and program mode seldom gets used when I am doing shooting. Most photographers would have a pretty good idea what effect and depth-of-field one wants to achieve before even capturing an image. And with practice, one can even tell the correct exposure just by looking at the scene from experience….the light meter is just there to double verify the estimation. In most cases, a fine adjustment on the +/-EV will complete the final tweaking. In fact, I really missed the days in which the main controls on a camera is just the aperture ring and shutter-speed dial. When I saw the Fuji X100-s I immediately falls for its excellent simplicity and effectiveness of user-interface design. The X100-s has now become my workhorse as well, together with my other DSLRs. Understandably Fuji’s approach to UI would be difficult to implement this in the AW1 given its brief to be all-weather camera in conjunction with the relatively low pricing point (for a all-weather camera) it must be built under. IMO the AW1 struck a fine balance in terms of usability, reliability and delivering outstanding results. I bring my Nikon D3, D4 and even Fuji X100-s to complete jobs with a specific purpose in mind. It would be impractical to expect a do-it-all camera to complete a photo shoot in all different conditions meeting various client expectations. More often than not, accuracy, speed & low-light performance far supersedes the requirement for high pixel count. Given the AW1 for what is it, I would bring it over the GoPro, which has served me very well to this point, for any action photography job, as it offers a significant improvement not only in performance, but much improved level of control I have over the final results.