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...
When I first held the new Nikon 1 AW1 it wasn’t quite what I had been expecting. Usually, waterproof cameras come in a range of bright, garish colours, with thick rubber coatings and clunky plastic buttons. Not so the Nikon 1 AW1 – its appearance is very conventional. In fact, the camera is designed to look as at home taking street photographs or landscapes as it does underwater images.
Nikon 1 AW1 features
Crammed inside the body of the AW1 is a 1-inch, 14.2-million-pixel CMOS sensor, with ISO sensitivity spanning ISO 160 to 6400. Like other recent Nikon 1 system cameras, the AW1 can shoot with continuous AF at a rate of 15fps, or without AF at 60fps, all at full resolution. However, it is what Nikon describes as the camera’s ‘adventure’ features that are the most interesting.
As you would expect, the AW1 has GPS location tracking – but it also has something called GLONASS, a similar system that’s used in Russia. There is an altimeter, which can be used to see exactly how high, or deep, you are and there’s a digital compass too, which will be useful for the really adventurous – particularly if out shooting in the snow. An electronic level, in the form of a virtual horizon has a more photographic use in helping to keep landscapes straight.
Besides these features, the AW1 operates as a normal Nikon 1 system camera with modes such as full HD video and Smart Photo Selector, which takes 20 high-resolution images and recommends the best five. Sadly there is no built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, though the Nikon WU-1 Wi-Fi module does allow Wi-Fi connection between the AW1 and a smart device. However, this accessory cannot be used underwater as it requires one of the doors on the side of the camera to be open.
Nikon 1 AW1 Build and handling
The sturdy plastic body of the AW1 is waterproof down to a depth of 15m, shockproof from heights of 2m and freeze-proof down to -10°c. To demonstrate the AW1’s robustness Nikon first submerged it in a fish tank, albeit a small one, and later dropped it numerous times from waist height. There was no discernible damage on either occasion. No doubt, with the weather getting colder over the next few months, we will soon have some cold conditions in which to test it.
As you would expect for a camera that’s waterproof, shockproof and freeze-proof, it is also resistant to dust. This is thanks to the seals that surround the body to prevent water ingress.
There are two waterproof lenses available for the camera – the 1 Nikkor AW 11-27.5mm (30-80mm 35mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 and the 1 Nikkor AW 10mm (27mm equivalent) f/2.8, a fast wideangle lens. The barrel of each extends so that it presses against the camera body.
However, the actual waterproofing seal is based on a rubber band that sits just around the circumference of the lens mount. Lenses are mounted in the usual way, except that there is a lot more friction due to the rubber seals of the lens and camera meeting. The result is a firm, waterproof grip between camera and lens.
Each of the new AW lenses can also be used on a standard Nikon 1 system camera, likewise standard Nikon 1 lenses though they won’t, of course, be waterproof.
The sensor is also protected – by a layer of glass in front of it. This is presumably to protect the sensitive electronics more from humidity and dust than water. The rear screen also sits behind a second layer, this time of plastic, to add another layer of protection and to help against humidity.
A range of lockable doors prevents water reaching the rest of the camera. These allow access to the battery, memory card and camera input and output sockets, but when shut the rubber seals close tightly and the door becomes a solid barrier against water.
Using the camera is straightforward. There is a typical button arrangement on the rear, with large, well-designed buttons that are easy to press and allow quick access to essential features. Should you need to change more settings, the onscreen menu items are larger than on previous Nikon cameras, to enable you to see them underwater or in challenging conditions.
The AW1 is a far cry from the company’s Nikonos underwater cameras of old, which really looked like they were designed to go underwater, with large plastic bodies and clunky looking buttons. This new Nikon underwater camera is discreet and isn’t something you would be embarrassed to pull out of your pocket at a social gathering; it’s not bright yellow and doesn’t look like it was designed for a child.
However, performance is more important than appearance. In this regard Nikon has made a camera that enthusiast photographers can happily take anywhere. This means, for instance, that you can go on holiday unencumbered by an underwater compact camera and a compact system camera – just take the Nikon AW1.
This, I’m sure, will prove appealing for many potential purchasers. Something else that doubtless will appeal is that as the AW1 is a small compact system camera it is a fraction of the size of an equivalent DSLR kit, and is therefore less cumbersome to transport.
As for how the images from the camera look, we will have to wait until we fully test the camera in a forthcoming issue.
The Nikon AW1 goes on sale on 10 October costing £749 with the 11-27mm lens or £949 for the 11-27mm and 10mm lens. The 10mm lens will also be available on its own for £299.99.