Basic Specifications
Full model name: Nikon Coolpix AW100
Resolution: 16.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3 inch
(6.2mm x 4.6mm)
Lens: 5.00x zoom
(28-140mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
Native ISO: 125 - 3200
Extended ISO: 125 - 3200
Shutter: 1/1500 - 4 sec
Max Aperture: 3.9
Dimensions: 4.3 x 2.6 x 0.9 in.
(110 x 65 x 23 mm)
Weight: 6.2 oz (177 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $350
Availability: 09/2011
Manufacturer: Nikon
Full specs: Nikon AW100 specifications

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AW100 Summary

Boasting GPS, shockproof, waterproof, and freezeproof capabilities, and a trend-setting appearance, the Nikon AW100 doesn't quite rise to the challenge of creating crisp images worthy of its 16-megapixel sensor.


Nice design; Good shutter button; High resolution; Good shot-to-shot time; Includes GPS maps.


Buttons are hard to press; Corners are soft; Flash overwhelms close up; Frustrating controls; Worse than average print quality.

Price and availability

The Nikon Coolpix AW100 shipped in the US market from early-September 2011 in black, blue, and orange versions. Original list pricing was set at approximately US$380, but has since dropped to US$350.

Imaging Resource rating

3.5 out of 5.0

This camera was featured in our Waterproof Camera Shootout 2012. To find out how it compares head-to-head with five other rugged, element-defying compact digital cameras, click here!

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Review

by Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer
Posted: July 10, 2012

The Nikon Coolpix AW100 is a waterproof camera that takes a tough shell (something Nikon knows more than a little about), adds GPS (ditto), tosses in gestural control, and makes it waterproof (can you say Nikonos?) as well as shockproof and freezeproof. There's nothing quite like it.

The danger with a unique set of features, though, is how practical the camera is in ordinary use. But here too, Nikon took no shortcuts with a 5x optical zoom (and Vibration Reduction) and Full HD movie capability. The Coolpix AW100 uses an Expeed C2 image processor with a 16-megapixel sensor with ISO sensitivity to 3,200 and adds subject tracking and a smart portrait mode. And the built-in world map with an electronic compass doesn't hurt a bit.

Even the Nikon AW100's color has a function, the bright metallic orange being easy to spot in murky depths, winter storms or dark camera bags. Black and blue options are also available.

In short, I found the Nikon AW100 an intriguing camera, worth a longer look than we usually give a compact digicam.

Look and Feel. While the Coolpix AW100 is both compact and lightweight, it's also easy to tell from all the other digicams on the shelf. From the frog-eyed lens bump to the GPS hump to the battery/card compartment hatch, all placed on its black edges, it looks the part of an underwater camera. A baby Nikonos. And yet it remains pocketable.

However, as nicely designed as I found the Coolpix AW100, it does have a couple of issues.

The first is the stiffness of the Nikon AW100's buttons. After more than two months with the camera, they never loosened up. That suggests the waterproof seals are to blame, perhaps because of water pressure at 33 feet. And it is an issue in ordinary daily use. You really have to press hard.

The second issue was the battery/card compartment hatch. It reminded me of the submarine doors in "Run Silent, Run Deep" that, once slammed shut, had to be sealed with a few cranks of a wheel. Nikon has gotten it down to a quarter-turn but the principle is still the same.

A locking button has to be depressed to make the quarter turn and there's a way to do it in a single motion, but it took me a while to figure it out. Considering how many times you have to get in there (for the card), this is one part of the Coolpix AW100 that really seemed over-designed.

There's more than the memory card and battery in there, too. Nikon has tucked the HDMI and USB ports in there, as well, saving itself from a second sealed compartment. So when you connect the Coolpix AW100 with a cable, you are exposing the battery and card.

Nikon provides a grid of six small bumps on the back of the Coolpix AW100 to serve as a thumb grip, but nothing on the smooth, slick front. Still, it never dropped out of my hand. It's lightweight, so it doesn't present any more of a challenge than any other compact digicam.

The lens itself sits behind a piece of optical glass so it is never in contact with water or the elements.

Controls. I found the controls a bit dated. They're all simple push buttons with no levers or switches. Of course, that's not so much retro as it is waterproof.

The Nikon AW100 follows the recent move away from Mode dials. There's the Shutter button and the Movie button. Then there's an odd little toggle button that switches between Playback and Scene mode, which accesses 19 custom camera setups.

A Menu button below the square four-way navigator is also on a toggle button, oddly toggling with the Delete button.

The four-way navigator uses the arrow keys to control Flash with the Up arrow, EV with the Right arrow, Macro with the Down arrow, and the Self-Timer with the Left arrow. A conventional arrangement.

Zoom is handled with yet another toggle button, but at the top of the control panel.

The Coolpix AW100's Shutter button on the top panel is generously large, which is pretty helpful if you're scuba diving. The Power button to the left of it, however, is both tiny and recessed. I had to look for it. Every time.

The most interesting button is on the left side of the camera, which usually has nothing on it. It's just a big, lazy lozenge. You use the Menu system to set its function to either display a map or activate the Coolpix AW100's shake and bake function that Nikon calls Action Control: You shake the camera to make it do things. Which, again, comes in handy under water or in the freezing cold when you're wearing gloves.

As a Map button it can, with GPS enabled, reveal your current location on a street-level detailed map. It has a few other tricks up its sleeve as well, revealed by the Menu, which is only visible when you first press the Map button and then the Menu button, as described below.

The LCD is a pleasure to use. The Coolpix AW100's 3-inch TFT-LCD has an anti-reflection coating so its 460,000 dots are visible in direct sunlight. Frame coverage in shooting mode is rated at 98 percent horizontally and vertically, but 100 percent in playback.

Lens. The Coolpix AW100's 5x optical zoom lens features Nikkor Extra-low Dispersion glass with 12 elements in 10 groups. With a focal length of 5.0-25.0mm (28-140mm in 35mm format) it provides a comfortable wide angle view with good telephoto reach. Maximum aperture ranges from f/3.9 at wide angle to f/4.8 at telephoto.

Digital zoom goes to 4x, taking the telephoto reach to 560mm in a 35mm equivalent. At that focal length Nikon's Vibration Reduction, which is a lens-shift design, is essential.

The lens itself is housed behind an optical glass shield, protecting it from the elements. Even with drops of water on it from the rain the camera took sharp images.

The retail package includes a plastic filter adapter disc that slips around the rectangular lens housing to provide a 40.5mm filter attachment. The adapter merely snaps on, so a small cord is provided to tether the disc to the camera. Note, though, that the AF-assist lamp and movie illuminator is blocked with the adapter attached.

Modes are more than a little confusing on the Coolpix AW100. For one thing, Nikon calls Program mode Auto, but there's also an Easy Auto mode. Scene Mode has a screenful of options, but Smart Portrait Mode isn't one of them because it's a mode all to itself.

Nikon includes a Special Effects option among these shooting modes. They are, in effect, more modes.

AUTO. I spent most of my time in Auto mode so I could change things other than the Image mode. You can alter White Balance, Shutter Release mode, ISO Sensitivity, AF Area mode, and Autofocus mode. Not a very extensive list, which is probably why Nikon didn't call this Program mode.

ISO Sensitivity has two Auto options. One caps Auto at ISO 400. Manual settings range up to ISO 3,200.

EASY AUTO. Usually modes like Easy Auto simplify camera operation, and that's certainly true on the Nikon AW100, where a press of the Menu button in Easy Auto gives you one option: Image mode. You can change image size and compression. That's it. But Easy Auto is also Smart Auto, automatically selecting a camera setup for Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, Night Landscape, Close-up, Backlighting, Underwater, and Other Scenes. Face detection is employed where appropriate.

Nikon gives some odd advice about using this mode, though. Other Smart Auto modes I've seen all defaulted to Auto if none of the Scene modes were appropriate. But on the Coolpix AW100, Nikon says, "The desired scene mode may not be selected in certain conditions. In this case, select another shooting mode."

Scene. Nineteen Scene modes.

SCENE. There are 19 Scene modes tucked into the Nikon AW100. You can probably guess a couple, including Beach and Underwater. But here's the menu: Back Light, Beach, Black and White Copy, Close Up, Dusk/Dawn, Fireworks Show, Food, Landscape, Museum, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Panorama, Party/Indoor, Pet Portrait, Portrait, Snow, Sports, Sunset, and (of course) Underwater.

Like Easy Auto, the Menu button allows access only to Image mode.

Nikon does include a modern Panorama Scene mode it calls Easy Panorama. You select between either a 180- or 360-degree panorama, press the Shutter button, release it, and swing the camera around. I wasn't able to actually get the AW100 to build the panorama shot, though. The camera said it couldn't do it.

SMART PORTRAIT. This mode is a combination of Smile Shutter and the Skin Softening filter. So to trip the shutter, one of up to three detected faces must smile. And then it will get blurred. Hmmm... fortunately, there's a Portrait option in Easy Auto and Scene mode. A smile isn't always the best portrait. This mode really should have been called Smile Shutter, although you can just press the Shutter button to avoid it.

In addition to Skin Softening (which can be disabled via the Menu system), the Smile Timer can also be disabled. The Menu system also provides a Blink Proof option, which takes two images for every shot to avoid closed eyes (but it disables the flash).

Special Effects. No Miniature or Fisheye because those are editing filters.

SPECIAL EFFECTS. There are six Special Effects you can shoot with. Why Fisheye and Miniature Effect are not among them, I don't know.

Soft adds a slight blur to the image, probably not a bad idea for portraits, but then you already have Smart Portrait. Nostalgic Sepia simply creates a sepia monochrome image. High-Contrast Monochrome is a disturbing description of black-and-white mode. High Key brightens a picture when the scene is bright. Low Key darkens the picture when the scene is dark. Selective Color creates a black and white image in which only the color you specify remains.

MOVIE. Don't look for Movie mode. There isn't one. The only way to shoot a movie is to press the Movie record button (or, with Action Control active, to use a gesture). A tab on the Menu system lets you preset Movie options no matter what shooting mode you've selected.

Full HD. 1920 x 1080 at 30 fps. Click to download 9.3MB MOV file.

Both optical and digital zoom are available, but if you start in optical you have to release the zoom toggle before it will switch to digital zoom. There's no smooth transition.

EV and White Balance settings are honored during movie capture, and optical VR is supported.

Slow Motion. 320 x 240 at 240 fps. Click to download 2.0MB MOV file.

You can record in several modes at 30 frames per second. Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) at 14 Mbps is the default. A slightly lower quality 12 Mbps mode is also available. HD (1,280 x 720) is available at 9 Mbps.  iFrame 540 (960 x 540) at 24 Mbps is an Apple-supported format. A VGA mode (640 x 480) at 3 Mbps is also available.

High Speed options include HS 240 fps (320 x 240), HS 120 fps (640 x 480), HS 60 fps (1,280 x 720), and HS 15 fps (1,920 x 1,080). And you can switch between normal and high speed recording just by pressing the OK button, a very nice touch for slowing down those special moments like blowing out the candles on a birthday cake (although no sound is recorded in HS modes).

Other movie options include:

  • Open with HS Footage, which starts recording in high speed rather than normal
  • Autofocus mode, which offers Single AF as the default and Full-time AF to focus continuously
  • Movie Light to assist in recording dark scenes
  • Wind Noise Reduction to reduce wind noise
Menu System. I'm a card-carrying fan of Nikon menu systems. I like the color scheme and the hierarchy. But not on the Nikon AW100. Even after weeks of using the camera, I could not remember simple little things like how you enable/disable GPS recording.

The GPS menu is a good example of the problem (and probably a future bar trick). GPS is off by default. See if you can figure out how to enable it. I'll even tell you it's in the Menu system (which, after all, is what we're talking about).

Give up? I did. Repeatedly. Even when I found the solution in the manual, I couldn't remember the trick.

You have to press the Map button on the side to display a map before you hit the Menu button. I suppose they call that context-sensitive menuing. There's a lot of that going on in the Nikon AW100. Skin Softening, for example, only shows up in the menu system when you are in Smart Portrait mode.









Unfortunately, that Map button is also the Action Control button, depending on how you define it in the Menu system.

I had a similar problem with the Menu system trying to change shooting modes. I had taken the Nikon AW100 on a two-hour hike up Twin Peaks when it first came in, before I had a chance to go through the manual. When I stopped in front of the bleached tree limbs I use for a monochrome gallery shot, I searched and searched for black and white mode. Just couldn't find it.

There's no Mode dial. And nothing on the Shooting menu. Hmmm.

The trick is to press the Scene button, which is actually not just a Scene button but a Mode button. You can select Easy Mode, Smart Portrait, special effects like sepia or black-and-white, Scenes (of course) and Auto.

These are pretty serious breeches in usability. You shouldn't need to be told and you should be able to find these things without much trouble. Even if you do manage to remember quirks like these, good luck explaining them to anyone else who uses the Nikon AW100.

Storage & Battery. The Coolpix AW100 includes 83MB of internal storage, good for about 10 full resolution images or 50 seconds of Full HD video. The card slot accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC cards. You'll want a Class 6 card or faster to keep up with Full HD video captures. A 4GB card will hold about 490 full resolution images or 35 minutes of Full HD video.

The Nikon AW100 is powered by a US$37.95 rechargeable lithium-ion EN-EL12 battery, one of which is supplied. Using CIPA standards, Nikon estimates a full charge can take 250 shots or one hour and 35 minutes Full HD recording. That doesn't sound like much, but I went days without recharging it. And if you're underwater, you aren't going to be switching batteries.

An optional EH-62F AC adapter is available for the Coolpix AW100.


The Nikon AW100 features a Global Positioning System radio to find the camera location, which can then be mapped on the LCD and recorded in the Exif header of each image. A nearby named location can also be recorded.

Map Options

The GPS radio syncs with a number of satellites orbiting the Earth, the more satellites it finds the better your position information will be.

See the sidebar below for important tips on getting a good GPS signal. You have to be patient -- then leave it on.

Sync status is displayed on the Nikon AW100's LCD with four satellite icons. If sync has been established with four (the minium needed for altitude) or more satellites, a set of three boxes appears next to the satellite icon. Three satellites, the minimum needed for location triangulation, are indicated by two boxes. Any less than that displays no boxes and no GPS data is recorded. And the icon is on a colored field when no signal is available.

Map View

Detail with Location

If an image has GPS data, a satellite icon is displayed during playback.

Menu options are available for displaying and recording location names or Points of Interest. The Level of Detail can also be set. To record them in the Exif header's MakerNotes section, you set Embed POI to On in the Points of Interest menu option.

Nikon does not provide an Airplane mode option to disable GPS communication. Airplane mode is useful not only in commercial airliners but also in hospitals. Instead, Nikon recommends that you simply turn off Nikon AW100's GPS recording, which makes perfect sense.

When GPS recording is enabled, positioning is updated every 30 minutes for up to six hours when the camera is off. If unsuccessful, it will be done every 15 minutes for an hour. And it will be canceled if positioning can't be done after three minutes.

GPS recording uses the Nikon AW100's internal clock, not the time and date obtained from the satellites.

GPS Log. You can enable log recording for a present length of time when GPS is active. Time periods include 6, 12, 24, and 72 hours. When you end a log, you can save it to the memory card. You can view logs on the map.

GPS Fields. Here are the GPS-related fields captured by the AW100 in the Gallery image of A Woman's Eye Gallery:

	GPSLatitudeRef: North
	GPSLatitude: 37 deg 44' 41.91"
	GPSLongitudeRef: West
	GPSLongitude: 122 deg 27' 10.70"
	GPSAltitudeRef: Above Sea Level
	GPSAltitude: 187.8 m
	GPSTimeStamp: 20:46:28
	GPSSatellites: 04
	GPSImgDirectionRef: True North
	GPSImgDirection: 4.63
	GPSMapDatum: WGS-84
	GPSDateStamp: 2012:01:26

plus in MakerNotes:

	Location: A Womans Eye Gallery

and in the composite section:

	GPSAltitude: 187.7 m Above Sea Level
	GPSDateTime: 2012:01:26 	20:46:28Z
	GPSLatitude: 37 deg 44' 41.91" N
	GPSLatitudeRef: North
	GPSLongitude: 122 deg 27' 10.70" W
	GPSLongitudeRef: West
	GPSPosition: 37 deg 44' 41.91" N, 122 deg 27' 10.70" W

Finally, just a warning that if you post your photos publicly, you may not want to reveal location data. Turn off GPS when you don't want location data written to the Exif header.

Log View. Based on this log file.

Displaying Maps. While you are walking around with GPS enabled, you can quickly locate your position on a map by pressing the Action button on the side of the Nikon AW100.

Electronic Compass. The Nikon AW100 features an electronic compass, which you can display on the LCD. To correct the compass you simply swing the camera in a figure eight while twisting the camera so it faces down and up as well as forward and backward through the path. The menu command illustrates the correct movement.

I found the compass both accurate and helpful.


Action Control

Action Control assigns a meaning to an intentional shake of the Nikon AW100. You use your wrist to shake the camera once either up and down or forward and backward. How sensitive the camera is to a shake can be set to either High (very sensitive, the default), Medium or Low with the Action Control Response option in the Menu system on the Setup tab.

Action Control

To activate Action Control, you must first assign the Map button to toggle Action Control in the Setup menu, which disables the button for Map display. You can, however, display the map with an action control.

Then press the Action button on the side of the camera to see the Action menu. Shake the Nikon AW100 to select one of the options to be performed when you press the Action button. Options, which you select by shaking the camera, include:

  • Shooting mode: Easy Auto, Auto, Beach, Snow, Landscape, Underwater
  • Start/Stop Movie recording (the default)
  • Quick Playback
  • Current Position (when GPS is on), Map display

You have to press the Action button again to confirm the option.

It's a little confusing. I was able to go through the images on the card with a shake of the camera. And I was able to start and stop Movie recording with the Action button. My gestures were ignored in shooting mode, however.

The concept is to make it easier to use the camera with gloves on. Nice idea.


The Nikon AW100 has some interesting editing options.

There's the usual Crop and Small Picture options. And there's the usual Nikon option to apply D-Lighting after the fact. But in addition to those, there are Filter Effects (Color options Vivid, Black-and-White, Sepia, Cyanotype; Soft Focus, Selective Color, Cross Screen, Fisheye, Miniature Effect, Fog Removal for underwater shots), Glamour Retouch, Quick Retouch, and Skin Softening. As you can see, that's a lot of attention given to portraiture in what you might mistake as a camera built to take shots of fish.

In general I was pleased with both the color rendering and detail in my Nikon AW100 shots. It wasn't a great low-light performer but the 5x zoom made it a pleasant companion otherwise in both bright sun and overcast conditions.


Shooting the Nikon AW100

Zoom Range. 28mm to 140mm to 4x digital zoom -- with GPS data.

Most of the time, I treated the Nikon AW100 like any other digicam. I took it with me to shoot whatever was going on at the time. Fortunately I wasn't involved in any Navy Seal activities.

But I appreciate your interest in the unique features of the Coolpix AW100 so here's a brief rundown of my experience:

GPS. For the most part, the GPS feature is well-implemented. I particularly liked the mapping function, not only to show me where I had been as I photographed my way through the day but also where I happened to find myself.

I took the Nikon AW100 with me when a couple of visitors wanted to have lunch in Tiburon across the Golden Gate Bridge. We overshot the town and found ourselves lost in a dark wood along the bay. Stop me if you've heard this before. All I had to do was turn on the Nikon AW100, take a picture and hit the Map button to find out where we were.

That happened after lunch, too, when we were lost on Belvedere Island. But desperation had sunk in by that time. I didn't take a shot, just pressed the Map button and got our location on the Map.

Because the Coolpix AW100 will record a log of your travels (if you tell it to start recording the log), you can also map your trip. There aren't a lot of GPS-equipped cameras that go that far.

The location feature was nicely done, too. Unlike Panasonic, which makes location available in the general Exif header, Nikon hides it in the MakerNotes section. But it's accurate and remarkably detailed.

I found places I'd been in Italy that just aren't on most maps.

Location. GPS maps refer to this gallery all the time. Photographer Stacy Boorn at the door to greet you, too.

The Nikon AW100 can use an Assisted GPS like the Nikon V1. Assisted GPS uses supplemental information for faster acquisition of GPS data to supplement or replace satellite radio signals when the latter are confusing or unavailable.

You don't need a utility to get the A-GPS file, just a URL:

The data is valid for seven days only. To load it into the Nikon AW100, you copy the downloaded file to a memory card, insert the card in the AW100 and use a Menu option to update the A-GPS data in the camera.

Finally, applause for including altitude. It's iffy at best, but it's nice that Nikon didn't exempt itself from including that.

Wet Macro. Macro in the rain? Sure.

Water. Okay, it's waterproof. With JIS/IEC protection class 8 (IPX8) equivalent waterproofing, in fact. There's not a lot of use for that feature in my daily routine, although I kept the camera for a couple of months hoping for an opportunity.

The best I could do was shoot with it in the rain, no small thing. And it performed admirably. Flowers, cars, flower stands, street runoff all were captured accurately.

I did submerge it in a sink to take some self portraits. The self-timer worked well under water, so did the AF assist lamp, even the flash. No water breached the card/battery compartment and the camera dried quickly with a cloth.

Nikon has some advice for more adventurous water sports fans:

Black & White. Nicely done.

"After using the camera at the beach or underwater, make sure that the battery-chamber/memory card slot cover is firmly closed, and then immerse the camera in a shallow container filled with fresh water for 10 minutes. After using the camera underwater, do not leave the camera wet for 60 minutes or more. This could cause deterioration of the waterproofing performance."

Similarly, Nikon has some advice about the cold weather performance for its freeze-proof digicam:

"The operation of this camera has been confirmed at temperatures of 14 degrees F. If the camera is left with snow or water droplets adhered to the exterior, snow or water droplets between the gaps may become frozen and it may be difficult to operate parts of the camera."

Neon in Sunlight. Tricky light nicely handled.

And then there's this:

  • At temperatures from 14 to 32 degrees F, the performance of the batteries (number of pictures shot and shooting time) will drop temporarily.
  • If the camera becomes extremely cold in cold locations, the monitor performance may drop temporarily immediately after the power is turned on (i.e., the monitor appears darker than usual or a residual image occurs).
  • When using the camera in cold locations or at high altitudes, keep the camera warm inside a protection against cold or clothing.

Simply put, the waterproof, shock-proof, freeze-proof AW100 still has its limitations. Extreme conditions compromise any camera.


Nikon Coolpix AW100 Lens Quality

Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Very strong blurring at upper left
Tele: Slightly soft at center
Tele: Very soft, upper left corner

Sharpness: Both the wide-angle and telephoto ends of the Nikon Coolpix AW100's zoom showed significant blurring in the corners of the frame compared to center, though at both zoom settings, blurring is strongest on the left side of the frame. Blurring is stronger at wide-angle than telephoto, but in both shots, the affect extends fairly far in toward center and is quite noticeable. The lens also shows lower overall contrast at telephoto. Results here are worse than average, as blurring will be easy to spot in a lot of images.

Wide: Slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
Tele: Only a hint of barrel distortion, not noticeable

Geometric Distortion: There is surprisingly little barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.3%), and almost no perceptible distortion (0.05% barrel) at telephoto. Most likely, the Nikon Coolpix AW100's processor works to control distortion here.

Wide: Moderate, bright
Tele: Moderate but dull

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle and telephoto is moderate in terms of pixel count, though the effect is exaggerated a bit by some blurring in the corners. Still, pixels are bright enough to be noticeable at wide angle, though somewhat less bright at telephoto. Though the distortion appears more dull at telephoto, the cyan and red pixels are still fairly distinct.

Macro with Flash

Macro: The Nikon Coolpix AW100's Macro mode captures a very small minimum coverage area at 0.88 x 0.66 inches (22 x 17 millimeters). However, blurring is so strong on the left side of the frame that it becomes quite intrusive. Detail is strong on the right side of the dollar bill, but exposure is a bit uneven at this range, with shadowing on the right side. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens, resulting in a splotchy, dark exposure with a strong sepia-like tint. (Both shots taken with Auto white balance.) We recommend sticking to external lighting when shooting this close.


Nikon Coolpix AW100 Viewfinder Accuracy

Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Nikon Coolpix AW100's LCD monitor showed about 100% coverage at wide-angle and at telephoto, which is excellent and better than Nikon's 98% specification.


Nikon Coolpix AW100 Image Quality

Color: Overall color performance is very good. The Nikon Coolpix AW100 pushes bright reds and blues, while muting strong yellows, though mean saturation level is pretty typical. Minor hue shifts are noticeable in red, orange and green, though cyan is pushed moderately toward blue (we think intentionally, to improve skies). Dark skintones show a nudge toward a warm orange tint, while lighter skin tones are closer to accurate. Overall results here are slightly better than average, and color is generally believable and natural.

Auto WB:
Good, though slightly red
Incandescent WB:
Just a little too warm
Manual WB:
Very good, if a hint cool

Incandescent: The Nikon Coolpix AW100's white balance settings actually handled our incandescent lighting much better than average, as the auto settings produced smaller color casts than we're accustomed to seeing. Both the Auto and Incandescent settings produced slight color shifts (red in Auto and yellow in Incandescent), but the warmer tone of the Incandescent may appeal to some. Manual produced the most technically accurate results, though the overall image feels a hint cool.

Horizontal: 2,000 lines
Vertical: 2,000 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,000 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,600 lines per picture height.

Wide: Bright
Tele: Bright
Auto Flash
Slow-Sync Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at the specified wide-angle distance of 11 feet, though the camera raised ISO to 800 to boost exposure. At telephoto, results are also bright at 7.2 feet, though again, ISO was boosted to 640.

Auto flash practically overpowered our subject in typical indoor lighting, washing out color in the face and throughout the scene at ISO 200. The 1/30 second shutter speed is a little slow though, and could result in subject motion blur for typical portraits. Slow-Sync flash mode produced less intense results at the default exposure, with a longer shutter speed (0.3 second) to allow more ambient light into the shot. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is pretty good where the lens is sharp at ISO 125 and 200, with some visible softening blurring the fine details at ISO 400. Blurring only increases from there, with very soft results at 3,200. Chroma (color) noise remains controlled at all ISOs, though luminance noise becomes more prevalent, as does noise suppression. See Printed section below for how this affects printed images.

Print Quality was a little disappointing, if not surprising, from the Nikon AW100.

ISO 125 shots had good detail at 13x19 inches, so we'll call them there. Bear in mind that overall the images look better at 11x14, particularly because of the very soft corners.

ISO 200 images look good at 11x14 inches.

ISO 400 shots are usable at 11x14, but we prefer the 8x10-inch shots, thanks to a little more noise in the shadows and softer details at the larger size.

ISO 800 images are better at 5x7.

ISO 1,600 shots look ok at 5x7 inches, but colors are a bit muted, so we'll call 4x6 good here.

ISO 3,200 images are not usable and this ISO best avoided.

[Comments revised 10/03/2013] Overall, the Nikon AW100 should do better at its lowest ISO, especially considering its 16-megapixel sensor. But standards are generally lower for waterproof cameras, considering the extra protection they have to give the lens and other components. We thought print quality was good at 13x19 inches, but the corners were pretty soft. Keeping prints under 11x14, though, will produce reasonably good images at base ISO.


Nikon Coolpix AW100 Performance

Startup Time: The Nikon Coolpix AW100 takes about 1.4 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's a little better than average.

Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is also good, at 0.31 second at wide-angle and telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.017 second, among the fastest out there.

Cycle Time: Cycle time is fair, capturing a frame every 1.58 seconds in single-shot mode. Nikon rates the AW100's Continuous H full-resolution burst mode at 7.1 frames per second which is quite good, but the buffer is only 3 frames. Continuous L is rated at 1.4 frames per second for 12 frames. We did not verify continuous mode performance, though.

Flash Recycle: The Nikon Coolpix AW100's flash recycles in about 5.9 seconds after a full-power discharge, on the slow side of average. However, our tester noted that this was not a consistent time.

Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/8 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, and in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.

USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Nikon Coolpix AW100's download speeds are moderately fast. We measured 6,158 KBytes/sec.

Battery Life: The Nikon Coolpix AW100's battery life has a CIPA rating of 250 shots per charge, which is a little below average for its class.


In the Box

The Nikon AW100 retail package includes:

  • Coolpix AW100 camera
  • Camera strap for land use
  • Rechargeable EN-EL12 battery with terminal cover
  • Battery charger (MH-65) with power cable
  • Filter adapter (UR-E23) with tether
  • USB cable (UC-E6)
  • AV cable (EG-CP16) with RC VGA out
  • ViewNX 2 CD
  • Reference manual CD
  • Warranty and Quick Start Guide

The AW100 does not include an SD card, which you'll need to capture more than about 10 full resolution stills or a short movie clip.


Recommended Accessories

  • Filters (like a circular polarizer)
  • Coolpix All Weather Sport Case ($35.00)
  • Extra battery pack for extended outings
  • Large capacity, high-speed SDHC/SDXC memory card, with a 4 to 8GB card a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. Look for Class 6 or faster to record HD movies.


Nikon AW100 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Appealing design
  • Waterproof, shockproof and freezeproof
  • Large, textured shutter button
  • Very little geometric distortion
  • Close macro shooting
  • Accurate viewfinder
  • Fairly high resolution
  • Fast startup time
  • Full-autofocus shutter lag is fast
  • Good shot-to-shot cycle time
  • Good autofocus in low light
  • Action control mode
  • Slow motion movie modes
  • Full HD video recording with optical zoom & stabilization
  • Good flash range for its class
  • GPS data for photos
  • GPS maps available, complete with position log data
  • Accepts GPS-assistance data for greater accuracy, faster acquisition
  • Buttons are hard to press
  • Lens has soft corners that extend fairly far in toward center, both wide and telephoto
  • Lower contrast at telephoto (not unusual, though)
  • Lens is a little dim (starts at f/3.9)
  • Moderate chromatic aberration in some shots
  • Flash overwhelms in close quarters
  • Tricky menu system
  • Often frustrating controls
  • GPS difficult to enable
  • No Airplane mode to disable GPS
  • Disappointing printed results


Overall, the Nikon AW100 worked well enough, but I really did have a tough time with the buttons. They're just too hard to press. I took a lot of shots with EV set inadvertently to underexpose (a whole outing, in fact, which has never happened before -- and before goes back to 1998). I did appreciate the 5x zoom, though. And Macro was fun.

Unfortunately, the menu system was really annoying. Usually an amateur can find monochrome, but I had to go to the manual. Also, it wasn't at all clear why some filters were only special effects rather than shooting mode options. And it would have been nice if I'd actually been able to record a panorama shot.

So my experience with the Nikon AW100 was that it outperformed a smartphone in basic Auto shooting, but when you try to push it, it's easy to get lost. And the Map button won't help you there. Looking at the image quality, we're most disappointed with the soft corners, which made us ambivalent about choosing between 13x19 or 11x14-inch prints. When comparing this factor with other waterproof cameras on the market, though, we decided to revise this up to 13x19, as the Nikon AW100 does relatively well in the center. While it's good to bring back images from underwater adventures and as a play camera, and even serves as a decent GPS to figure out where you are, we expect a little better image quality from a $350 camera, so we can't give the Nikon AW100 a Dave's Pick.


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