Okay, I’m a sucker for a camera built to take punishment. That was one reason I started shooting Nikon in journalism school 30 years ago. I was climbing and kayaking all over the globe, in the backcountry for months at a time guiding, shooting assignments and doing personal trips. If my camera broke day 5 of a 40 day expedition to Nepal, that was it. So when Nikon announced the 1 AW1 mirrorless camera that was waterproof, freezeproof and shockproof, I was interested. Here was a camera I could relate to.
The feature set of the AW1 will make my fingers sore from typing so much. This camera has a lot to offer. 14.2MP CMOS sensor, 1080/720 HD video, 15-60 fps lighting fast shooting, built in GPS for compass, altimeter and depth gauge (yes, I’m not kidding), popup flash (waterproof), 3 inch bright LCD, all the Nikon shooting and metering modes you find on their SLRs. One aspect of compact cameras that has been frustrating in the past was the slow processing time after taking a shot; it seems like seconds before you can shoot another image, sometimes missing the action. I’m happy to report this is not the case with the AW1; this camera quickly writes the shot to your card and is ready to go again. The camera comes in a kit with a 11-27mm (30-74mm equivalent in 35mm) and you can also get a fixed 10mm (27mm equivalent). This AW1 is very compact and weighs less than 1/2 pound, you won’t even know it is around your neck.
This camera also offers some innovative controls. For underwater shooting, you can use the underwater mode which will correct the green color cast you get when shooting underwater. The AW1 offers a way to select shooting mode with heavy winter or dive gloves on, very handy. The AW1 has the fastest frame rate of any interchangeable lens camera out there, a full 15fps with autofocus or 60fps with fixed focus. Can you imagine how many shots you can get of a mountain biker as they speed past using this fast frame rate? Amazing. The AW1 also can be shot wirelessly using the Nikon WU-1b wireless adapter. Shoot images directly to your iPhone or iPad.
Of course I was very excited to put the AW1 through the ringer…how about performing in scorching hot sand dunes, getting dipped underwater in a frozen river, and capturing polar bears on Hudson Bay. I’ll just say this; I’m impressed. The image quality is excellent, definitely the best I’ve experienced in a small compact camera. I scrutinized the fur detail on my polar bears at 100% and they are tack sharp. Focus is fast and snappy. You can easily change the location of the focus point for off-center compositions.
I was especially interested in the waterproof aspect. The AW1 is waterproof to 49 feet, much deeper than I plan on snorkeling or shooting the camera. I shot some fly fishing images the other day submerging the camera at times one foot underwater. The AW1 performed flawlessly. But here is something really cool about using this camera underwater; you don’t have to press your dive mask against the viewfinder to compose the shot. The bright 3″ LCD makes it easy to compose over/under images without even getting in the water. I shot the fishing image above by leaning off a rock, dipping the AW1 halfway into the water, and taking the shot. I could easily see the LCD and focus point to create this image. Tight rubber gaskets seal the lens and battery compartments.
This is a camera that I will be bringing with me on many trips. No worries if the AW1 gets wet, or even dropped a short distance, the AW1 is built to take it.