Nikon AW1 waterproof camera, first impression review.

Ok I’ll admit I was seduced by Nikon’s advertising for the Nikon AW1 camera such as this one :

 

Obviously I go surfing and diving all the time (um no I don’t), but the idea of this camera had me intrigued from the start especially as I’m already a fan of the little 1 system cameras. The Nikon AW1 is shockproof to 2m, freeze proof to -10 and waterproof to 15m depth and has very fast frame rates (up to 60fps – 15FPS with full AF RAW plus jpeg up to around 40 frames) and fast AF of all the 1 system cameras. It also gives high quality video at 1080p 60i or 30p and has 400fps and 1200fps video at lower quality. The resolution of the AW1 is also higher than the V1 at 14mp as it has the same sensor as the V2 – and also has higher frame rates and correspondingly larger buffer than my V1 or J1 which are 1st gen 1system cameras.

It’s an action camera in every sense of the word, so when talking about these cameras we have to remember the original cost of them, apart from the waterproofing etc, includes the phenomenal image processing power that they have which puts them up at the top of the scale in terms of fast cameras. Shutter response times are also lightning quick on these cameras when the light is good enough for it to use it’s hybrid AF ‘s faster phase detection method – it reverts to contrast detection in low light which is slower.

There’s no way I could justify the cost of a new one (currently around £575 with kit 11-27.5 AW lens ) but to be honest if you’re in the market for a rugged action camera that is a bit different to a go-pro, this price isn’t actually too bad especially if you already have Nikon lenses and it DOES allow zoom underwater which is great. However my general shooting is pretty far removed from the need for a rugged camera with just the occasional holiday or rainy/snowy day when it might be nice to have a waterproof camera that I don’t have to worry about getting wet.

Just before Christmas a I saw an AW1 plus kit lens listed on ebay with some cosmetic damage for nearly £200 less than most (they rarely come up secondhand) so I took a risk and bought it, intending to sell my J1 if the AW1 was Ok.

So it turned up yesterday, it was originally bought in Australia/NZ (so could even be one of the ones used in that video..) and has obviously had some use, there’s a few scrapes in the paint on the lens and the back LCD has some scratches but nothing major. I’d say from a tiny amount of sand grains I found in various places this camera has definitely been used in the sea. 🙂

Nikon AW1 with 11-27.5 AW lens
Nikon AW1 camera

 

Overall it feels like an extremely well put together piece of kit as you’d expect, it’s correspondingly heavier than the V1, though similar in size and with a slightly larger grip on the body (no viewfinder).The damage to the top plastic on the flash is just cosmetic as I took the panel off and underneath the pop up flash (which is usable underwater) is a sealed unit with no damage.

The AW1 can take any normal 1 system lens or any F-mount lens via an adaptor, though of course with a normal lens it loses any waterproof ability and the lenses obviously aren’t shock/freeze proof. The doors for the battery and USB/HDMI sockets are double locked and sealed. There is also a separate (very expensive) underwater flashgun that can be used with the AW1.

Outside of the 1 system mount on the body there’s an extra ring on the camera which houses a chunky O-ring which attaches inside the AW1 waterproof lens mount. The body cap is specially made for the AW1 mount and also has an O-ring protector which you can put on when not using AW lenses.

Although I’m not ready to chuck the camera in a bucket of water yet (not until I get some silicone grease and have serviced the O-ring/gaskets) I did put it under a running tap yesterday and rinsed it all over, it was fine 🙂 It felt so weird doing that!

There’s no dials on this camera due to waterproofing it’s all press buttons that have a damped feel due to the sealing. It does have a nice feature for quick selection of limited modes underwater/ where you don’t want to be finding buttons ,where you press a button and tilt the camera to select a shooting mode, but this really only works for auto/movie etc rather than any advanced settings.

It has a nice GPS feature which includes a compass, position log and altitude/depth gauge:

Photography by Carmen Clark

Though having the GPS turned on apparently really drains the battery quite quickly.

I actually really like the AW1’s pop up flash, it comes up a good distance from the body and is also flexible, so you can manually point it at the ceiling or angle it at 45 degrees if you want to bounce the flash. I think this is similar to pop up flashes on some Sony cameras.

Photography by Carmen Clark

I do NOT like the menu system on this camera. One of the criticisms of the V1 was that it’s all menu driven with little on body control for enthusiast photographers. However it’s menu system is logically laid out and easy to drive so when you’re used to it, like I am it doesn’t take long to change shooting modes/ white balance etc.

While the AW1 has an excuse that it’s an action cam and must be easy to use for the majority of people who will take it on holidays just to take pics of their kids in the sea on auto modes, the video above shows it being used in a professional way, and for a photographer who wants more than auto mode the menus are a nightmare.

I don’t know why they’ve done this but they’ve split the common functions into three menus.

Photography by Carmen Clark

You have “shooting mode” menu which enables you to chose PASM or any of the auto modes like “underwater”, “night portrait” or a fully auto mode that decides for you. Then there is the menu top right in the above picture which enables you to change some of the options within the shooting mode (eg. “Creative Shooting”) like metering mode, image quality/size, distortion control, active D-lighting etc.

Photography by Carmen Clark

BUT if you want to change the white balance setting guess what you have to go to the “Image processing” menu. WHAT!!!

I guess it makes sense from a totally technical point of view as strictly WB is done in the image processing but… REALLY?? Three different menus to go into if you want to change the camera to Aperture priority with spot metering and cloudy white balance!!! On the V1 they’re all in the same menu!

I don’t even really understand the way of setting auto modes on this camera. But I guess if you just stick it on Auto for above water shooting and “underwater” for diving and snorkelling you’d probably do OK.

But despite the horrendous menus I do like the camera as I generally don’t change metering or WB that often (sticking to AUTO WB mostly as I generally shoot RAW) it’s not such a huge problem, but really Nikon please sort this out on the AW2….!!

So far I’ve only taken a small number of test shots with the AW1 but I’ve been impressed with the sharpness of the 11-27.5mm lens (30-75mm on full frame equivalent), it does pretty well in terms of detail etc shooting wide open as I generally do.

Test shot of my trusty V1 taken by the AW1 with pop up flash manually pointed upwards – jpeg straight from camera, ISO 3200, 1/60 F5.4 at 23mm. After taking this shot I cleaned my monitor stand…as even though it’s out of focus you can see the dust!!

_DSC0018

 

And another lit with a video light 1/100, F5.6, ISO 200, again just a quick test shot so not particularly well set up but I like the detail and sharpness rendered.

Photography by Carmen Clark

 

So now I just need to throw it in a bucket of water, go out in the snow with it and take it swimming. Can’t wait!!