Check out an examination of picture quality in photos taken with Nikon's high-end rugged compact, the Coolpix AW100.
Overall, the Nikon Coolpix AW100's photos are best suited for prints up to 8x10 inches or Web use without a lot of enlarging or cropping. When viewed at 100 percent, there are visible artifacts and noise even at its lowest sensitivity of ISO 125. Subjects look soft, too (not unusual for rugged cameras), and could stand some post-shoot sharpening.
As you move up in sensitivity, photos get softer and softer, and color quality starts to deteriorate. At and above ISO 800, subjects look flat with muted colors. Basically, this camera's high-ISO photos aren't great, and coupled with its slow lens, it's hard to recommend it for use in low light.
That said, if you're more of a snorkeler or pool denizen, or want a rugged camera for snow or offroad sports, it can take some very good photos.
The internal zoom lens on the AW100 goes from 28mm (top) to 140mm (bottom). The lens is positioned in the top-left corner. If you're not careful with your finger placement, you can end up with a finger in your shot. Nikon at least put a ridge at the top that helps prevent this.
There is some slight (very slight) barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens (top), but no sign of pincushioning with the lens zoomed in (bottom). The lens is reasonably sharp at the center. However, the sides and corners are noticeably softer.
Fringing in high-contrast areas of photos is easy to spot when photos are viewed at larger sizes. And if there wasn't visible fringing, there were visible edge artifacts. It's best just to use the AW100's photos at smaller sizes.
Nikon includes a bunch of effects you can experiment with both when shooting and after through the playback menu. For example, its Selective Color mode lets you pick a color in your photo to highlight and turns the rest of your shot to monochrome. Here, though, I applied it in playback.
If you like to capture really wide shots, the AW100's Easy Panorama lets you do it quickly. Just press the shutter and pan the camera up, down, left, or right and it will shoot and stitch the photos together for you.
The AW100's Scene Auto Selector mode will automatically switch to an Underwater scene mode as soon as it's submerged. As I mentioned in the first slide, the camera needs a lot of light, and while the flash is bright, you'll need to be pretty close to your subject for it to be effective. The results underwater are good, though, but they are definitely soft and could use some sharpening with editing software.