Design and Key Features

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.

Nikon has packed a ton of controls onto the back of the camera (left), which are hard to operate - especially the zoom controller.

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.

It should come as no surprise that every door has gaskets to keep water and dust out of the camera. The AW110 has a very simple way of opening its side door, which contains its battery, memory card, and I/O ports (USB+A/V, micro-HDMI). Simply press the button in the center and rotate the dial.

You never want water to sit on the lens after you've been underwater or out in the rain, so Nikon has put a water-repellent coating on it. The AW110 handled our 'dunk test' with aplomb, and we had no issues with water drops on the lens while 'in the field'. Despite quite a few complaints from AW100 owners on the Internet (see Amazon.com and Nikon), we had no issues with leaks on our AW110 (or condensation, for that matter).

Unlike some other cameras (we're talking to you, Panasonic), the Coolpix AW110 doesn't tell you to check the seals every time you turn on the camera, which is great news because that gets annoying quickly.

One feature that may help you use the camera when wearing gloves is known as Action Control. This feature is similar to Tap Control on Olympus' Tough cameras, but not nearly as well implemented. You must first press the Action Control button on the side of the camera (pictured below). You can then 'shake' the camera to navigate through a sort of shortcut menu. To actually select one of the options, you must press the Action Control button again, and then shake the camera to scroll through the possibilities, and hit the button a third time to confirm your choice. One annoying thing about Action Control is that it's always on in playback mode, which makes it a little too easy to accidentally move between photos.

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. On this side of the camera you'll find buttons for displaying the map (more on that below) and using the Action Control feature described above.

The OLED display on the AW110 looks great when you're indoors. It's bright, vibrant, and has a wide viewing angle. But, as mentioned above, the one on the back of the AW110 is nearly impossible to use outdoors, and not much better underwater, which is disappointing on a camera designed to be used in those situations.

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.

As mentioned above, the flash on the Coolpix AW110 isn't terribly powerful when you're shooting at a 'reasonable' sensitivity. In other words, a sensitivity low enough that your image isn't filled with noise.

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.

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.

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 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.

The AW110's painting special effect (left) leaves something to be desired. It can only be used after the photo is taken.

The Selective Color feature (above) only gives you a few colors to choose from, so it's not perfect. This effect can be applied at any time.

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 two, for custom white balance and exposure compensation.

Panorama

The Coolpix AW110 has a 'sweep panorama' feature (which Nikon calls Easy Panorama), similar to what is found on virtually every compact cameras in 2013. You can pan in any direction, with your choice of 180 or 360 degree coverage. The lens is locked at its wide-angle position when using this feature.

This panorama is well-stitched, with no visible seams. It is overexposed, though that's easily remedied by using exposure compensation.

If you view the full size image, you'll notice two things. First, the images aren't terribly large, with a resolution of 4800 x 920 (180 degree) or 9600 x 920 (360 degree). Second, if you view the image at 100%, you'll see that the quality leaves much to be desired. It's very likely that images are constructed using the AW110's video feed (this is quite common in compact cameras of this type).

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 Coolpix AW110 has a robust set of Wi-Fi options, letting you set the SSID, type of encryption, password, channel, and more.

The camera supports the 802.11b/g/n protocols.

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.