Nikon Coolpix AW110 review: Rugged camera ready to shoot and share
If you're looking for a rugged camera, but don't want sacrifice on-the-go sharing, the AW110 is a good place to start.
The Nikon Coolpix AW110 is a fairly minor update to 2012's AW100, as you may have figured out by the incremental model number change.
There are only a couple differences between the two: increased durability and Wi-Fi. The AW100, was protected down to 33 feet, could survive 5-foot drops, and could continue operating down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The AW110 remains freezeproof to the same temperature, but is waterproof down to 59 feet and shockproof from up to 6.6 feet. These ratings make it one of the most durable cameras in the category (though every rugged compact has its limits).
The Wi-Fi, when combined with Nikon's Wireless Mobile Utility app for iOS or Android, makes it possible to view and transfer photos to mobile devices as well as using them to remotely control the camera.
Nikon also switched from the AW100's 3-inch LCD to a 3-inch OLED display that, while nice, doesn't help you frame your shots any better in bright lighting (which is kind of crucial for a rugged camera).
Otherwise, the two are the same, so if those changes don't mean much to you, there's no reason to upgrade. The AW110 is one of more affordable rugged compacts available with its specs and durability claims, and it's a good-performing camera, too.
Overall, the Nikon Coolpix AW110'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. Above ISO 800, subjects look somewhat flat and colors lack the punch that they have at lower ISOs. Basically, this camera's high-ISO photos are merely OK, and coupled with its slow lens, it's hard to recommend it for use in low light, especially if you never plan to leave its Easy Auto mode.
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 when given plenty of light. (You can read more about the capabilities of the camera in the slideshow above.)
Movie quality is also decent, though again, the more light you have the better things will look. The AF assist lamp can be turned on and used to brighten close subjects. The zoom lens does work while recording; you won't hear it move necessarily, but you will hear the press and release of the zoom rocker. Also, if you turn on the continuous AF function, you may hear the camera focusing in your movie.
The AW110 is a reasonably quick camera, though I wouldn't depend on it for consistently getting candid shots of kids and pets. From off to first shot takes about 2.4 seconds, which is oddly slower than its predecessor. Thankfully, though, all its other performance numbers improve.
The lag between shots is about 1.3 seconds or 1.7 seconds with flash. The time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing is only 0.1 second with high-contrast scenes and 0.4 second in low light conditions.
In my tests, the camera's full-resolution continuous burst is capable of up to 9 frames per second, though it can only do it for six shots before the camera needs to take a break for several seconds to store the shots.
Outside of lab conditions, the camera feels reasonably fast aside from starting up. However, the buttons feel spongy, likely due to the camera's waterproofing, and are sometimes unresponsive unless you hit them just right. So, while the AW110's overall performance is very good, you might end up missing some shots simply because of the controls.
Design and features
The AW110 looks like a rugged compact, but its styling isn't so aggressively tough-looking that you'd be self-conscious about it. Aside from the large knob on the right side and the two buttons on the left (more on those in a bit), all the controls and features are pretty typical of what you'd find on Nikon's other Coolpix models. However, the buttons are small and tightly spaced, which can result in some accidental presses. And, again, the buttons feel very spongy. The body is kind of slippery, too, especially when wet, and there's nothing really to grip.
On the right side of the camera is a single door protecting the battery, card slot, Mini-HDMI port, and Micro-USB port. Having everything under one door limits access points for water and the door has a nice big seal on it as well as a lock that requires you to push in a button while turning a knob, so it's fairly secure. I say fairly because if you for some reason forget to turn the knob all the way till you hear the button click, the door can be closed but not locked.
The battery is charged with an external adapter. Normally, this doesn't bother me, but for a rugged camera to require an outlet and charger is silly. If it charged over USB, you'd have other options for refilling your battery. If you're considering the AW110 for a trip where you won't have an outlet for a while, you'll want to bring an extra battery or two.
|Nikon Coolpix AW110
|4.4 inches by 2.6 inches by 0.9 inch
|Weight (with battery and media)
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type
|16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CMOS
|Display size, resolution/viewfinder
|3-inch OLED, 614K 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; external wall charger included
The 3-inch OLED display is nice for framing your shots and gives you sharp text for when you're navigating menus. However, even with the brightness cranked up, it doesn't get all that bright and was difficult to see in full sun.
GPS performance has been solid on other Coolpix cameras, and that's the case with the AW110. 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.
A second button on the left can be used for the camera's Active Control system. Again, the buttons on the AW110 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.
Turning on and off the Wi-Fi requires a bit more menu diving than the GPS. Assuming you have enough battery life to use it (the menu option will be grayed out if you don't), you just turn it on and pick up your mobile device. Open the Wi-Fi settings on your device and select the camera from the available networks. From there you open the app (Nikon's Wireless Mobile Utility application must be installed on the device before it can be used with this camera) and you get two options: take photos or view photos.
With the app you can set a self-timer, zoom in and out, and release the shutter. You can also opt to have every shot stored on your device and the camera -- perfect if you want to upload or e-mail a picture immediately. The app will also tell you your aperture, shutter speed, and battery life.
If you choose to view your photos (and movies), the app will download previews of everything stored on the camera's memory card. From there you can just flip through your shots on your device or, if there's something you want to share, you can select and download them from the camera to your device.
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.
|General shooting options
|Nikon Coolpix AW100
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)
|Auto (125-800), 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
|Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash, Manual
|Auto, Easy Auto, Scene, Special Effects, Smart Portrait
|9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF, Subject tracking AF, Macro
|0.4 inch (Wide)
|Sepia, High-contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key, Selective color, Soft
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)
The AW110'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.
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
For anyone who wants a point-and-shoot to use in places where they just don't want to risk shooting with their smartphone, the Nikon Coolpix AW110 is a good choice.