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Nikon AW120

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Nikon AW120 Review -- First Impressions

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The rugged, weatherproof Nikon AW120 has some pretty big boots to fill. It follows in the footsteps of 2013's AW110, a strong contender in our 2013 Best Tough / Waterproof Camera Shootout, and recipient of a Dave's Pick thanks to good underwater performance and a well-considered design.

So how do the two cameras differ? Both have the same 16-megapixel resolution, but the AW120's Nikkor-branded, 5x optical zoom lens is both a little wider and brighter than that of its forebear. The newer model also offers a higher maximum sensitivity (albeit only under Auto control), and has a higher-resolution Organic LED monitor. And it offers significantly greater battery life, despite otherwise having largely the same features -- including both Wi-Fi and GPS connectivity.

It's their ruggedness that's the core of this duo, though, and here they both score equal points. Just like its predecessor, the Nikon AW120 is waterproof to 59 feet, shockproof to 6.6 feet, and freezeproof to 14°F. (For the metric speakers amongst us, that's 18 meters, two meters, and -10°C, respectively.)

The Nikon AW120's lens offers 35mm-equivalent focal lengths ranging from a generous 24mm-equivalent wide-angle to a modest 120mm-equivalent telephoto. Maximum aperture at wide-angle is a reasonably bright f/2.8, and this falls to f/4.9 by the time you reach the telephoto position. The optical formula of the lens includes 12 elements in 10 groups, with two ED elements amongst their number. There's no adjustable aperture diaphragm, though -- instead the AW120 simply switches on or off an optional small aperture or neutral density filter. A 99-point contrast-detection autofocus system with face-priority, subject-tracking and target-finding functions is employed, and the closest focusing distance is just 0.4 inches (1cm) at the wide-angle position.

If you need a little more telephoto reach, what Nikon calls Dynamic Fine Zoom -- essentially, a more intelligent variation on digital zoom -- will take you out to an effective 240mm-equivalent, although fine detail is bound to suffer. Lens-shift type Vibration Reduction is included alongsize electronic VR, which together will help fight blur from camera shake.

Behind the lens sits a 1/2.3-inch, 16.1-megapixel, backside illuminated CMOS image sensor. Together with the unbranded image processor, this allows the Nikon AW120 to shoot at a rate of 6.9 frames per second for five shots (or around three quarters of a second). Sensitivities range from ISO 125 to 1600 equivalents ordinarily, and can be extended as high as ISO 6400 equivalent in Auto modes.

A selection of 19 user-friendly Scene modes are provided, including a Scene Auto Selector function that takes the guesswork out of deciding which scene type is appropriate. Matrix metering is used for most exposures, although if you use up to 2x digital zoom then center-weighted metering is enabled instead, while digital zoom levels beyond this point opt for spot metering.

+/-2.0EV of exposure compensation is provided in 1/3EV steps, and seven white balance modes are available, including preset manual. Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to 4 seconds, although exposures beyond one second are available only in the Fireworks Show scene mode. A built-in flash has a range of 17 feet at wide angle or 14 feet at telephoto, using Auto ISO sensitivity.

You'll be framing and reviewing your images and movies on a fixed-position Organic LED monitor, par for the course with almost all rugged cameras. The OLED monitor is a 3.0-inch, anti-reflective type with a high resolution of 921,000 dots.

As well as stills, the Nikon AW120 is a video capture device, capable of recording at up to Full HD (1080p/i; 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution with a rate of 60 fields or 30 frames per second. You can also shoot at a reduced rate of 15 or 12.5 frames per second for accelerated playback, or drop the resolution to VGA (640 x 480 pixel) resolution for frame rates as high as 120fps and slow-motion playback. Videos use H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC compression, and include LPCM stereo audio.

The Nikon AW120 draws power from an EN-EL12 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack, said to yield around 350 shots on a charge. Connectivity includes USB 2.0 High Speed data, NTSC / PAL standard-definition composite video, and Type-D Micro HDMI high-def video. Images and movies are stored on SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory cards, or on an unusually generous 329MB of built-in storage.

Available from March 2014, the Nikon Coolpix AW120 ships in four body colors: black, blue, orange, or camouflage. List pricing is set at around US$350. A selection of silicone jackets will be available as well, in colors including black, blue, orange, and khaki. Pricing for these accessory jackets hadn't been disclosed as of press time.