Nikon Coolpix AW100 review:

Nikon Coolpix AW100

Key specs Nikon Coolpix AW100
Price (MSRP) $349.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4.4 inches by 2.6 inches by 0.9 inch
Weight (with battery and media) 6.3 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 5x, f3.9-4.8, 28-140mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 250 shots
Battery charged in camera No
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software ViewNX 2 (Windows, Mac)

GPS performance has been solid on other Coolpix cameras, and that's the case with the AW100. Turning it on and off doesn't require as much menu diving as other GPS-enabled cameras I've tested, but it does require some effort.

A button on the left side of the camera brings up the camera's map information, and if the GPS is on and locked on a satellite, it will display your current location. It can be used to geotag photos as well as display and embed points of interest. You can also use the GPS to keep a log of your path while you shoot.

Even if you turn off the camera, the GPS receiver stays active, searching for your position every 30 minutes for up to 6 hours. If it can't find your position it will start searching every 15 minutes for an hour. Needless to say, all of this taxes your battery life, which isn't all that great to begin with. If you're not going to be shooting for a while, make sure you turn it off.

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The same button on the left can be used for the camera's Active Control system. Again, the buttons on the AW100 are really a little too small and close together to use underwater or with gloved hands. Active Control lets you shake and tap the camera to change shooting modes, enter playback, or start movie recording. It can be handy, but it's something you'll want to shut off when you don't need it.

One last thing: Nikon includes a plastic adapter that snaps onto the lens, allowing you to add 40.5mm filters such as a polarizer to the camera. It's similar to what's included with the Pentax WG-2, but attaches better. It is, however, not as nice as the lens adapter for Olympus' TG-1 iHS that allows you to add on waterproof lenses.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix AW100
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto (125-800), 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash, Manual
Recording modes Auto, Easy Auto, Scene, Special Effects, Smart Portrait
Focus modes 9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF, Subject tracking AF, Macro
Macro 0.4 inch (Wide)
Metering modes Matrix, Center-weighted
Color effects Sepia, High-contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key, Selective color, Soft
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Three shots

The AW100's shooting options are pretty much the same as you'd find on Nikon's other high-end Coolpix cameras -- lots of auto options, not much direct control over results. There are two Auto modes: One is Nikon's Easy Auto mode, which adjusts settings appropriately based on six common scene types or an underwater mode when lowered into water. If the scene doesn't match any of those, it defaults to a general-use Auto. Then there is an Auto mode, which is like the Program mode on other point-and-shoots. You can change ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation as well as autofocus area and mode and continuous shooting.

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There are 18 scene modes with standards such as Landscape and Portrait as well as an Underwater mode, a Pet Portrait mode that will automatically shoot when it detects a cat or dog face, and an Easy Panorama mode. Just press the shutter and pan the camera left, right, up, or down to create a panorama in camera.

There is a Special Effects mode, too, for those who want to get just a little more creative with their photos; a Backlighting mode that uses the flash or combines multiple exposures to improve backlit subjects; a handheld Night Landscape mode, which also uses a burst of shots and combines them to reduce blur and noise; and a smile-detecting, skin-softening, blink-warning Smart Portrait mode.

Nikon includes several extra editing features in the playback menu, as well. These include D-Lighting, which helps enhance highlights and shadows; Quick Retouch that punches up contrast and saturation; several filter effects like fisheye, miniature, and selective color, which lets you pick a color in your scene and turns the rest of your photo monochrome; and Glamour Retouch for softening skin, reducing face size, and enlarging eyes.

Conclusion: Recommended with reservations
As a first effort, the Nikon Coolpix AW100 is a decent rugged compact if you're doing most of your shooting on land. The dark lens and average low-light photo quality are a better match for hiking or snow sports or shooting in shallow waters in full sun, but not diving, regardless of its waterproof rating.

The GPS performance in my review camera was solid and turning it on and off is easier than in most competing rugged compacts. Photo and video quality are very good if you have a lot of light and you don't need large prints or mind doing a little sharpening after you shoot. If it were still priced at $379, I'd pass, but it's currently selling for less than $300, which makes it easier to recommend for its rugged specs and features.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4
Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS
Nikon Coolpix AW100
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
Pentax Optio WG-2

Typical continuous-shooting speed in fps
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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