Nikon Coolpix AW110

16MP | 28-140mm (5X) Zoom | $279/£229/€289
>> Click here to read full review

Nikon is a relatively new entrant into the world of compact underwater/rugged cameras, much like its arch rival, Canon. Its original model, the AW100, was announced in Fall of 2011, and then replaced in January 2013 by the Coolpix AW110.

The Coolpix AW110 is quite similar to its predecessor, retaining its design, sensor, and lens. So what's new? The AW110 is more rugged, sports a sharper OLED display, and supports Wi-Fi for easy photo sharing.

Specification Highlights

  • 16.0 effective megapixel BSI-CMOS sensor
  • F3.9-F4.8, 28-140mm equivalent zoom lens (5X)
  • Optical image stabilization
  • 3-inch OLED display with 614,000 dots
  • Built-in GPS with compass, manometer, landmarks, maps, and tracking
  • Waterproof to 18m, shockproof from 2m, freezeproof to -10C
  • 'Action Control' allows for camera control while wearing gloves
  • Wi-Fi allows for image sharing and remote control with smartphones/tablets
  • 'Quick Effects' lets you choose from a selection of special effects immediately after a photo is taken
  • 1080/30p movie mode with stereo sound

As mentioned above, the Coolpix AW110 uses the same 16 megapixel, back-illuminated CMOS sensor as the AW100. BSI sensors, as they are known, promise higher sensitivity than traditional CCD and CMOS designs, by allowing more light to hit the photosites. Unfortunately, the AW110's lens doesn't help with high sensitivity / low light shooting, as it has a maximum aperture of F3.9-4.8, which means that it's not letting in as much light as a camera with a 'faster' lens.

The AW110 features an F3.9-4.8, 28-140mm zoom lens. It bears a strong resemblance to the lens on the Canon PowerShot D20, and it wouldn't surprise us if they're the same unit.

To its left you'll find the AF-assist lamp, which can also be used to brighten the scene when recording movies.

The Coolpix AW110 is one of the most rugged cameras on the market, though it doesn't feel like it when you pick it up. While the front plate is metal, the rest of the camera is composite. The camera has clean lines, with the only protrusions being one for the GPS and lens on the top, and the locking mechanism for the side door. The AW110 is available in orange, black, blue, and even camouflage.

As the photo above shows, the AW110 is a very thin camera (for its class), but it's slippery and lacks a grip.

The Coolpix AW110 has an OLED display with 614,000 dots. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to see outdoors and underwater. If that sounds familiar, the Olympus TG-2 (which may have the same display) has the same problem.

The AW110's built-in flash has a maximum flash range of 5.2m at wide-angle and 4.2m at telephoto (at Auto ISO, which maxes out at ISO 1600).

Since nobody wants to take photos at ISO 1600 on a compact camera, the flash range at a more reasonable ISO 400 is just 1.3m at wide-angle and 1.1m at telephoto.

The lamp next to the flash isn't just for AF-assist or counting down the self-timer. It can also be turned on while recording movies, to brighten up the scene. Unfortunately, the LED isn't terribly large (especially compared to the Olympus TG-2 that we recently reviewed), so it doesn't do a whole lot.

If you're looking for a camera that can go deeper underwater than any other, the AW110 is for you. It can go a whopping 18 meters (59 feet) under the sea, whereas the best of its peers is limited to 15 meters. The AW110 can also be dropped from 2 meters (6.6 feet) and, as you might expect, is also dustproof.

The AW110's I/O ports, battery, and memory card slot are all behind a single door. This door is protected by a rubber gasket, to keep out water and dust. The AW110 has a very simple way of opening its side door. Simply press the button in the center and rotate the dial.

Shooting Modes

The Coolpix AW110 is a great camera if you like scene modes and special effects. If you're looking for manual controls, don't expect a whole lot. The shooting modes include Easy Auto (virtually no menu options and automatic scene selection), 'regular' Auto (full access to camera settings), scene and special effects, and Smart Portrait.

The AW110's shooting mode menu - activated by pressing the button with the green camera on it - is loaded with scene modes. The main menu is simple and easy to navigate. You can see a description of each scene mode by pressing 'up' on the zoom controller, but the same isn't true for the rest of the menu.

The Smart Portrait feature takes advantage of the camera's face, smile, and blink detection features. When a subject smiles, the camera takes a picture. If someone has blinked, the camera will warn you, and you can try again. And, if the photographer desires, they can turn on a 'skin softening' effect to remove blemishes.

The Coolpix AW110 is unique in that you can apply special effects in three different ways: before the shot, immediately after, and in playback mode. The second feature on that list is called Quick Effects, and when turned on, will let you press the 'OK' button to bring up a list of effects that you can apply. There are six options to choose from before the shot is taken (soft, sepia, monochrome, high and low key, and selective color) and twenty-four afterward (such as painting, toy camera, cross screen, and miniature effect). The choices in playback mode are the same as for Quick Effects.

For underwater shooting, the AW110 has one option, which is a scene mode. There is no underwater white balance setting, unlike on some of its peers.

As for manual controls, there are just two, for custom white balance and exposure compensation.

Wi-Fi

The Coolpix AW110 is one of several rugged cameras to have Wi-Fi built right in. It's a relatively simple system, which allows you to 1) take photos from your smartphone or tablet and 2) transfer photos from the camera to your mobile device. If you want to send photos to social networking and photo sharing sites, you'll have to go through your phone or tablet first.

The AW110 creates its own wireless network, to which you'll pair your phone or tablet. Before you can do that, you'll need to download the Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility for iOS or Android. Once that's done, you'll be able to take control of the camera.

When composing a photo on your smartphone you can adjust the zoom and take a photo. In 'playback mode' you can view the photos on the camera, and choose which are transferred over. Once they're on your mobile device, they can be sent onward via e-mail or other services.

When transferring photos from the camera to your phone, you have the choice of full resolution or VGA. You can also set the camera's clock, though you can also use the GPS for that purpose.

GPS

The Coolpix AW110 has a fully loaded GPS feature. In addition to the normal GPS features (in other words, locating itself), the camera can also save your current depth (thanks to a pressure meter), the direction you were facing, and nearest landmark. Want to see where you took your photos on a map? It can do that too.

Look closely at the bottom of screenshot to see the landmark (which is accurate) and the altitude. At the far right is the direction the photographer was facing. Something's missing, though: your coordinates. In map view you can see where you took the selected photo (the yellow circle on the map) and where others have been taken. The compass is used here as well, showing the direction in which you took the photo.

The AW110 has a robust landmark database, and covers most of the major spots in the world, from Paris to Seattle. The camera doesn't always guess the correct landmark, but thankfully Nikon lets you 'back up' a step, so it would just show the city instead of the incorrect landmark name. You can also delete the landmark data entirely.

Another common GPS feature you'll find on the Coolpix AW110 is logging, which turns on the GPS every once in a while (even when the camera is off) and saves a file which can be imported into the included ViewNX2 software or Google Earth. You can then see the exact path you took while taking your photos. Do note that this feature will drain the camera's battery even faster.

The AW110 impressed us with its GPS reception. Out on the relatively open terrace atop DPReview headquarters, the camera took just ten seconds to locate itself (due in part to the A-GPS data we loaded into it previously). Where many cameras struggle in the big city, the Coolpix did surprising well, even when surrounded by buildings and trees.

Movies

The Coolpix AW110 has a pretty standard movie mode for a compact camera in 2013. You can record video at 1080/30p for up to thirty minutes simply by pressing the dedicated 'red button' on the back of the camera. Sound is recorded in stereo, as you'd expect. Other available resolutions include a lower quality 1080/30p setting as well as 720p and 480p.

The AW110 supports full-time autofocus while recording movies, and the optical zoom can be used, as well. The only available manual control is a wind filter.

You can also record slow and high speed movies, ranging from 15 to 240 fps. When slow speed movies are played back at normal speed, everything appears to move quickly. The opposite is true when you shoot at high speeds. Do note that the resolution is decreased when using the high speed movie modes.

You'll find a couple of sample videos on the following page.