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...
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.