Nikon Coolpix AW110 review: Rugged camera ready to shoot and share

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The Good The Nikon Coolpix AW110 is rated to survive being underwater down to 59 feet and drops of up to 6.6 feet along with being freezeproof and dustproof; has built-in GPS for geotagging among other things and Wi-Fi for easy shooting and sharing with iOS and Android devices. It is well priced considering its features and durability specs.

The Bad While its shooting performance is good, the camera's spongy buttons might slow you down a bit and the camera's slow lens requires a lot of light to get the best shots.

The Bottom Line If you're looking for a rugged camera, but don't want to sacrifice on-the-go sharing, the Nikon Coolpix AW110 is a good place to start.

7.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

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.

Picture quality
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.

Shooting performance
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.

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