Nikon Coolpix AW110
Category: Waterproof / Rugged Compact Camera
What We Like
- Good photo quality for its class
- Responsive performance in most respects
- Goes deeper than any camera in its class (it's also shock and dustproof)
- Generous GPS feature set, with manometer, landmarks, maps, and logging
- Built-in Wi-Fi allows remote control and photo transfer with smartphones
- Good quality 1080/30p video recording with stereo sound
- Considerably cheaper than competition
What We Don't Like
- Details are smudged at base ISO (though likely not an issue for target audience)
- Tends to clip highlights
- Blue cast in underwater photos/movies
- Display very difficult to see outdoors and underwater
- Cluttered controls on rear of camera
- Panoramas are low resolution and poor quality
- Battery life isn't great
As we mentioned at the start of this review, Nikon is a relative newcomer to the waterproof/rugged camera scene (ironically, given the company's pioneering Nikonos film models of yore). The Coolpix AW110 is only Nikon's second rugged compact, yet it packs most of the features found on cameras that have been around for generations.
Design and Handling
The AW110 may not feel terribly rugged - especially with a plastic rear panel - but it ranks near the top of its class. In fact, the Coolpix can go further underwater than any rugged camera on the market: 18 meters (59 feet). It can also be dropped from 2 meters, if you're on the clumsy side. The AW110's slick front panel and lack of a grip makes it a bit difficult to hold. The controls on the back of the camera are cluttered and not easy to locate quickly. Nikon has implemented a feature called 'Action Control' for glove-wearing photographers, which lets you tilt the camera to move through menu items. While an interesting idea, Olympus' Tap Control feature is a lot easier to use.
You'll find a F3.9-4.8, 28-140mm lens on the Coolpix AW110, which it likely shares with the Canon PowerShot D20 that we reviewed last month. This lens doesn't have a very 'fast' maximum aperture range, meaning that it doesn't let in a ton of light at any point in its focal length span. Like several of its peers, the AW110 does have a back-illuminated CMOS sensor, which gathers more light than regular CCD and CMOS sensors, but this doesn't make up for the fact that the AW110's lens is pretty slow. On the back of the camera you'll find a 3-inch OLED display (possibly the same as the one on the Olympus TG-2) with 614,000 dots. The display looks great if you're indoors, with vivid color and a wide viewing angle. Outdoors, however, visibility is very poor, even if you crank the brightness all the way up.
The Coolpix AW110 is loaded with tons of features. It's largely a point-and-shoot camera, with just a pair of manual controls (for exposure compensation and white balance), and is fully loaded with every whiz-bang feature out there. One of its most impressive features is its GPS system, which combines standard location data with a compass, manometer, landmark database, and maps. The GPS gets a signal quickly in open areas and performs fairly well in the city. The landmark database is substantial, and if the camera got it wrong, you can change or remove the incorrect data. The maps are especially nice, showing exactly where you've taken your photos, as well as nearby landmarks. There's also a logging feature for creating a path of where you took pictures.
Another major feature is Wi-Fi which, when combined with Nikon's iOS and Android apps, lets you take control of the camera. You can control the camera from your mobile device, complete with live view and the ability to operate the lens. Photos can be automatically copied to your phone as soon as they're taken, at which point you can forward them on to their next destination. The app also allows you to browse the photos already on the camera, and move them over to your mobile device.
The Coolpix AW110 also has more conventional features, such as an auto mode with scene selection, numerous special effects, and a 1080p movie mode.
Performance and Photo Quality
Performance is generally very snappy, with a few exceptions. The AW110 starts up in under a second, and focuses quickly in both good and poor light. The delay between shots ranges from two to four seconds depending on flash use. The camera has a whopping seven different burst modes, with the ability to shoot as fast as 7 fps (for six shots). If you want to take more pictures, you can drop down to 2 fps, though be prepared for the minute-long wait before the camera can be used again. Battery life is not one of the AW110's strong suits, with a CIPA rating of a mere 250 shots per charge.
The Coolpix AW110 takes good quality photos, given the audience and shooting situations at which it is aimed. Exposure is generally accurate, though like most compacts, the AW110 will clip highlights. Colors are vibrant and pleasing to the eye when you're above ground, though underwater you'll see a blue color cast in your photos and videos. Pictures are fairly sharp, though if you look at 100% you'll find some smudging details, even at ISO 125. However, this will only be an issue if you're making extraordinarily large prints or cropping. The AW110 isn't great at high ISOs, but the results are good enough for Facebook or a 4x6 inch print. Chromatic aberrations were just an occasional annoyance in our shooting.
Overall, the Nikon Coolpix AW110 is a full-featured rugged camera that performs well and takes photos that'll please all but the most discerning photographers. It's worthy of a silver award, missing out on a gold due to its sub-par screen visibility and cramped controls.
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Movie / video mode
The Coolpix AW110 is a capable rugged camera with good photo quality for its class, an elaborate GPS feature, Wi-Fi for remote camera control, and a nice movie mode - all without breaking the bank. It can also go further underwater than any of its peers. Downsides include smudged details, blue color casts underwater, poor outdoor display visibility, and below average battery life.
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