Body & Design
The Nikon 1 AW1's design expands from that of Nikon's original J1 camera, which was introduced in late 2011 and whose minmalist, compact body continues in the current J3 model. Obviously, the body on the AW1 is a lot chunkier, in order to 'proof' it against water and shock, but it's still quite compact for a mirrorless camera (something aided by its relatively small sensor).
|Nikon 1 AW1||Nikon 1 J3|
Some of the other changes from the J3 include a 'hump' for the GPS module, a grip (which is helpful, since the J3 is slippery), and several relocated (or removed) controls. Nikon has added quite a few buttons on the back of the camera, leaving little room for your thumb.
Perhaps the biggest change is the AW1's lack of a mode dial, which means you have to enter the camera's menu system to change modes. Unfortunately, this change makes it even harder to get to the P/A/S/M modes than it was before, as there are no dedicated spots for them on the mode dial (or the virtual one on the AW1). Of course, if you intend to use the AW1 underwater or in extreme conditions, it's unlikely this will bother you at all.
It takes more than just a bulkier body to make a camera rugged. The AW1 has a good-sized seal in-between the mount and the body to keep out water and dust. The two available AW lenses have a large flange that completely covers the mount, allowing for a tight seal.
|The gray gasket behind the metal lens mount keeps water from entering the body. This gasket can be removed for cleaning.||The 11-27.5mm lens shown above has a flange that extends past the mount and presses against the gasket to make a seal.|
It's important to note that the two AW lenses (11-27.5mm and 10mm) are only for use with the AW1 body. They will not work on any other 1 System camera. Conversely, you can attach a regular CX-mount lens to the AW1, but the camera will no longer be waterproof.
|Both of the camera's doors are gasket-sealed and feature a double-locking mechanism.||A closer look at the dual locks on the door over the AW1's I/O ports.|
In your hand
If you want to get a firmer grip on the camera - which is desirable when you have wet hands or gloves on - you can add a silicon skin (like the one shown on the intro page). The skins are available in black, khaki, and orange. As you might expect, each lens has its own skin as well.
A feature borrowed from Nikon's compact rugged cameras is Action Control, which allows you to adjust certain camera settings by quickly rotating the camera. This feature is activated via a dedicated button to the right of the thumb rest.
|The Action Control feature allows the user to rotate the camera to adjust certain camera settings. In the example above, the shooting mode is changed by turning the camera left or right.|
The AW1 is an interesting camera, and one that we're very curious to try out when final production samples become available. We've had some time with a (very) pre-production sample, and although we haven't had the opportunity to actually shoot with it, our brief experience suggests that the AW1 does what Nikon says it does, about as well as we'd expect from a modern 1 System camera.
What we really like about the AW1 is that it doesn't feel like a tough camera in use. It's water and shockproof, but it doesn't have the same over-rubberized, over-built quality of so many cameras in – say – the rugged camera class that we looked at over the summer. You could quite happily take the AW1 out over a dry sunny weekend and forget that it's a rugged camera. But with one of the two companion lenses attached, you could jump into a lake, head up a mountain, or go rock-climbing without needing to give it a second thought.
|Making a splash: This AW1 survived being repeatedly dropped into water at Nikon UK press event with no apparent ill-effects.|
The AW1 doesn't offer the same enthusiast-oriented ergonomics as its big brother the 1 V2. There's no EVF, and little in the way of direct manual control. This latter point annoyed us in the 1 V1 when it came out at the birth of the 1 System, but arguably, it's acceptable in the lower-end models. The AW1 isn't 'low end' as such, but we don't consider its lack of external control or traditional ergonomics to be a bad thing, necessarily. After all, when you're underwater, up a mountain or just wearing gloves on a cold day, 'point and shoot' operation is generally very desirable. Pre-set the camera 'top-side' and then go and do your thing. If you need to change settings underwater, the aforementioned 'Action Control' feature should do the trick.
In the US, the AW1 with twin-lens kit can be had for just shy of $1000. This is a pretty good deal, in our opinion. The value proposition in the UK isn't quite so favorable, though – the numbers are almost the same, but you just swap dollars for pounds sterling. And £949 (~$1230 before UK VAT is added) for the twin-lens kit might be a little steep for some people. Hopefully we'll see the same price-falls for the AW1 and its companion lenses as we have for other previous 1 System cameras.
The AW1 sounds promising, and we're looking forward to getting it into our lab (and underwater) to see how well it performs.