Nikon Coolpix AW120 (con't)

Image quality

In terms of color and exposure, the Coolpix AW120 does a fine job. As with the other cameras in this group, detail smudging can be a problem, with the Nikon being the worst offender. When viewed at 100%, photos almost look like watercolor paintings (which again, most consumers will not be doing). This makes it challenging to judge the sharpness of the lens. It's fairly sharp over most of the frame (at both wide and telephoto), though you will notice some corner blurring.

The AW120 produces acceptable results at ISO 400, as long as you're not viewing photos at 100% on your computer display.

The AW120 takes photos with pleasing color and accurate exposure. ISO 125, 1/500 sec, f/8.3, 31mm equiv. On closer inspection of this image, you'll see how there's a strong 'watercolor' appearance. ISO 125, 1/500 sec, f/8.3, 31mm equiv.

Underwater photo quality is a mixed bag, mainly because the camera's white balance isn't consistent. Sometimes you get a blue cast, while other times you don't. When the color cast isn't present, the AW120 produces some nice results. 

Sometimes the AW120's underwater photos have a blue color cast. ISO 125, 1/100 sec, f/4.3, 44mm equiv.
And sometimes they don't, which results in more pleasing images. ISO 125, 1/250 sec, f/4.5, 67mm equiv.

The camera can fire away five shots at over 7fps, which gives you a better change of capturing some fast-moving fish.

Video quality

The Coolpix AW120 can record video at 1080/60i or 30p. The former offers a faster frame rate, for smoother motion, but may show artifacts due to the line skipping being used. Deinterlacing the video - which is often done automatically by your video player - reduces some of these artifacts, but not all. The 1080/30p mode is more conventional, and shouldn't have any unusual artifacts.

Nikon offers two VR (vibration reduction) modes on the AW120. There's a regular sensor-shift one, plus a 'hybrid' option which adds electronic shake reduction into the mix. Hybrid VR will reduce the field-of-view slightly.

Sample 1 - underwater

This video shows a yellow tang feeding frenzy and was taken at the 1080/30p setting. The bluish cast is present here though it's not distracting. You can pick up the sound of the image stabilizer if you listen closely.

 Download original: 1920 x 1080, 30p, 17Mbps, 9 secs, 16.2MB

Sample 2 - on the beach

This sample was taken at the 1080/60i setting, and you appreciate the smooth motion of the waves that comes along with it. If you look at the original video in, say, VLC, you may see some artifacts that come from interlacing.

Conclusion

The Nikon Coolpix AW120, like its predecessor, is a great value with its MSRP of $249. It offers a wider-than-average 5X zoom lens, arguably the best GPS system out there (with maps and landmarks), plus Wi-Fi and 1080/60i video. Performance is very good, from start-up to focus.

While the AW120's images look good when downsized - which is how most consumers will view them - upon closer inspection you'll see a lot of smudged details, giving pictures a watercolor look. Underwater the camera performs well, though a bluish color cast appears frequently. One feature carried over from the AW110 is a 3" 921k dot OLED display which, when viewed in low light looks great. Outdoors, however, it's very difficult to see, even with the brightness cranked up.

If you want a rugged camera with impressive GPS features that doesn't cost a lot of money, then the Coolpix AW120 is a worth a look. However, the bar has been raised since the 2013 roundup, and the poor visibility of its display keeps it from earning an award.

ProsCons
  • Nice 24-120mm lens range
  • Fast focusing in good light
  • Elaborate GPS system with compass, pressure, landmarks, and maps
  • Good value
  • Mushy detail in photos
  • Display hard to see outdoors
  • Blue color cast underwater (often)

Scoring

Nikon Coolpix AW120
Category: Waterproof / Rugged Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Divers and outdoorsy photographers who want a broad feature set at a great price.
Not so good for
Those taking most of their photos in bright sunlight. Full size image quality inspectors.
Overall score
73%
First and foremost, the Coolpix AW120 is an amazing value, packing in a ton of features - most of which well-designed - for less than its competitors. It has a great GPS implementation, Wi-Fi, and 1080/60i video. It does not, however, have a great display, and heavy noise reduction smears away detail in photos.

Sample Photos

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