Don't expect a lightweight camera when you pick up the AW1. It means business -- waterproof business.
That's right -- this is the first totally waterproof and shockproof interchangeable lens camera (ILC). Take it down to 15 metres beneath the sea or drop it from 2 metres, and it will be just fine. Snow bunnies will welcome the camera's freeze-proof nature that can withstand temperatures down to -10 degrees Celsius. You sure can't say that about most of the delicate ILC bundles on the market.
Just remember, even though this camera is pretty resistant to the elements, you can't change lenses underwater and should avoid getting anything lodged on the sensor -- it's not that hardy.
Design and features
In the hand, the AW1 feels incredibly rugged. The chunky, rectangular body features a small grip at the front to avoid it slipping out of the hand, while a textured, smooth-moving zoom ring on the 11-27.5mm lens adds to the industrial feel. This lens comes in a kit configuration with the camera and is completely waterproof and shockproof like the body. There is only one other waterproof lens available at the time of writing, a 10mm f/2.8. Naturally, the camera is also backwards compatible with all other Nikon 1 lenses that have come before, though they won't survive a plunge underwater like the camera body will.
Buttons require a firm press to register commands, which adds to the sturdy feel. The 11-27.5mm lens has a rubberised front that still allows you to attach filters to the front of the lens. It has a nice finish that makes it soft to the touch as well.
Shooting controls are geared towards those who prefer automatic mode. Like the earlier Nikon 1 cameras, such as the J1 and V1, it is very difficult to find the manual controls on the AW1. This is because there is no physical mode dial. Instead, to access the controls they are hidden inside the creative effects menu.
Other modes that the AW1 is supplied with include Best Moment Capture and Motion Snapshot that puts music underneath a short video when the shutter button is pressed.
For action adventurers who find controlling a camera difficult while wearing ski gloves, Nikon has introduced a feature called Action Control. Press the dedicated button, and then tilt or swing the camera from side to side to change the shooting options.
The AW1 doesn't get the benefit of built-in Wi-Fi, that's via an optional adapter, but it does have a built-in GPS, altimeter and barometer.
The 14-megapixel CMOS sensor shares the same size and format as earlier Nikon 1 cameras. Nikon calls it their CX format, and it is smaller than the DX (APS-C) and FX (full-frame) models in its range. For comparison purposes, the AW1's sensor is 1 inch: one of the smallest sensors found on an ILC and is on par with some high-end compacts, like the Sony RX100 II.
Around the back, the 3-inch screen is relatively high resolution at 921,000 dots. It's covered by a thick plastic shield to protect it from water and drops, although this barrier makes it difficult to see what the screen is showing you in direct sunlight. Unfortunately, there is no provision to attach an electronic viewfinder to the AW1.
The pop-up flash is also waterproof and can be fired underwater for extra illumination. Nikon also has a dedicated underwater Speedlight specifically designed for the AW1. To top things off, the AW1 has a maximum shutter speed of 1/16,000 second.