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Nikon 1 AW1 Hands-On Preview

Gary Wolstenholme goes hands-on with the new waterproof Nikon 1 AW1 Compact System Camera.

| Nikon 1 AW1 in Mirrorless Cameras

Nikon 1 AW1 Hands-On Preview: NikonAW1 65346

The Nikon 1 AW1 is the world's first waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof and dust proof compact system camera with interchangeable lenses. The camera retains the same CX format sensor and lens mount as other cameras in the Nikon 1 line-up, and is introduced with two new, waterproof and shockproof lenses.

It will be available as part of a kit with either the new 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens for around £749, or with a 10mm f.2.8 prime lens in addition to the zoom optic for around £949. The 10mm lens will also be available separately for around £299 and the AW1 is fully compatible with existing Nikon 1 system optics, although these are not waterproof and shockproof.

Nikon 1 AW1 Features

Nikon 1 AW1 Hands-On Preview: NikonAW1 65315

The headline feature of this new Nikon 1 series camera is its ruggedness. It is waterproof to a depth of 15 metres, which should make it ideal for underwater photography and videos in the swimming pool, at the beach, or even for scuba diving. Those who remember the old 35mm Nikonos cameras will know that underwater photography used to be Nikon's forte.

Although this isn't the first digital camera to be waterproof, it is certainly the first one to boast this feature and retain the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. This is made possible by a rubber O-ring placed around the lens mount, which the special waterproof lenses fit snugly around. Due to the contact between the O-ring and the lens, changing waterproof lenses is a little more difficult than it is with standard optics, as the seal between lens and camera is reassuringly stiff.

Nikon 1 AW1 Hands-On Preview: NikonAW1 65321

The camera and new lenses are also shockproof, with the ability to withstand a drop from two metres, freeze-proof down to temperatures of  -10°C and completely dust proof. Both the battery and HDMI/USB compartments also sport a double-locking feature to prevent them from being opened accidentally. Even the built-in pop up flash can be used whilst the camera is submerged too. As the camera is aimed at the adventurous ones amongst us, support for GPS and GLONASS positioning systems are included. Apart from allowing the sale of this camera in Russia, support for GLONASS should add enhanced positioning performance at high latitudes in the north or south. A dual altimeter/depth gauge also records your altitude relative to sea level, whether you're high up, or deeply submerged.

Image capture is taken care of by a CX format, 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, capable of taking images at sensitivities up to ISO6400. Nikon's EXPEED 3A processing engine is powerful enough to allow continuous shooting speeds up to 15fps with continuous autofocus tracking and up to 60 fps with fixed-point AF. The same hybrid AF system found in other Nikon 1 cameras also features, combining phase detection for speed and contrast detection for accuracy. Advanced shooters will be glad to know all the usual creative manual PSAM modes are included alongside easy to use exposure modes for those less interested in the technical aspects.

Nikon 1 AW1 Hands-On Preview: NikonAW1 65313

A waterproof external flash unit is expected to be released in Spring 2014. The SB-N10 Speedlight will also be compatible with underwater cases for other Nikon 1 camera models too.

Key Features

  • 14.2 megapixel CX format CMOS sensor (2.7x crop factor)
  • EXPEED 3A Dual image processing engine
  • Waterproof to 15 metres
  • Shockproof from a drop of 2 metres
  • Dust proof
  • Freeze proof to -10°C
  • Continuous shooting up to 60fps
  • Sensitivities up to ISO6400 available
  • Hybrid autofocus system
  • 1080p video recording
  • HDMI connectivity

Nikon 1 AW1 Handling

Nikon 1 AW1 Hands-On Preview: NikonAW1 65307

Even though this is a ruggedised camera, it is still compact, reasonably lightweight and it also looks the part in either the black, or two-tone silver black finishes that were presented a the launch event. A rubberised grip on the front of the camera body provides a firm hold over the camera body and the controls are larger and more prominent than you'd normally find on a camera of this size. Special consideration has been given to the camera's usability whilst wearing gloves, which is taken care of by pressing the action button. Doing this brings up a menu, which allows the user to change shooting mode by simply tilting the camera with the action button depressed.

Nikon 1 AW1 Hands-On Preview: NikonAW1 65328

Standard menus are laid out in a clear and easy to understand manner, with large icons that make navigating for options a breeze. The screen is bright and clear, even when the camera is submerged underwater. Images are recorded to an SD, SDHC or SDXC memory card, which is located next to rechargeable lithium-Ion battery in the base of the camera. A tripod socket is also provided, located just off the optical axis on the base of the camera.

Thanks to its rugged design, the build quality of the AW1 is superb. We tested the shock and water proofing, and the camera and lens withstood the punishment without missing a beat. As is the case with other cameras from the Nikon 1 line-up, several aids designed for capturing action are included. Best moment capture either takes 20 images in quick succession, allowing you to chose the best image from the batch, or helps aid the selection process by narrowing the number of images down to five automatically for you.


Nikon 1 AW1 Hands-On Preview: NikonAW1 65357

Two brand new water/shock/freeze/dust proof lenses have been introduced alongside the Nikon 1 AW1. The 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens is only available as part of a kit with the AW1 camera. It offers a 2.5x zoom range roughly equivalent to a 30-74mm lens used on a 35mm format camera. A 10mm f/2.8 optic is also available, either as part of a kit with the zoom lens, or on its own for a shade under £300. Both lenses feature internal focusing, and the 11-27.5mm lens also keeps its zoom mechanism internal, so both lenses remain the same length at all times. Lens hoods are optional accessories for both lenses.

Nikon 1 AW1 Hands-On Preview: NikonAW1 65294

If water/shock/freeze/dust proofing isn't of the utmost importance, the camera can be used with any current Nikon 1 series lens, or even Nikon F-mount lenses via an adapter, which greatly expands creative possibilities with the camera.

Value for money

The launch price of £749.99 seems quite well priced when you considered that the underwater case compatible with the Nikon 1 J1 and J2 cameras costs the same amount without the camera, and it also makes the whole package quite a bit more bulky. However, the underwater case is waterproof up to a depth of 40 metres, so may still be the choice for those who are really serious about underwater photography.

Nikon 1 AW1 Verdict

Tough compact cameras from the likes of Olympus, Fujifilm or Pentax have been very popular for travel and those who partake in active pursuits for many years, and this camera addresses some of their limitations. It provides fast autofocus, high sensitivities for low light shooting, and plenty of creative control. The fact that it also supports interchangeable lenses adds another dimension of flexibility not seen before in a compact travel camera, which may win this camera many fans.

Nikon 1 AW1 Specifications

Image Sensor
Pixels14.2Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)4608
Pixels (H)3072
Sensor TypeCMOS
Sensor Size1inch
Sensor Size (width)13.2mm
Sensor Size (height)8.8mm
Aspect Ratio
  • 3:2
  • 16:9
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3in
Screen resolution921,000 dots
Touch ScreenNo
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/16000sec
Shutter speeds longest30sec
Bulb modeNo Data
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Aperture-Priority
  • Shutter-Priority
  • Manual
  • Scene modes
  • A
  • Centre-weighted - Average
  • Spot
  • TTL
ISO sensitivity100 - 6400
White balance
  • Auto
  • Manual
  • Outdoors/Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
  • Shade
  • Underwater
Exposure Comp+/-3
Viewfinder ResolutionNo Data
MagnificationNo Data
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting60fps
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution
  • 1920x1080 FullHD
  • 1280x720 HD 720p
Video FPS60
Stereo SoundYes
Optical Zoom with VideoYes
Other Features
Image StabilisationNo
Card Type
  • SD
  • SDHC
  • SDXC
File Type
  • RAW
  • JPG
  • RAW + JPG
Power Source
Battery TypeOne rechargeable Li-ion EN-EL20 battery
Battery Life (CIPA rating)220shots
Box Contents
Box ContentsEN-EL20 Rechargeable Li-ion Battery, MH-27 Battery Charger, USB cable, Strap for on-land use, BF-N2000 Body Cap, PA-N1000 O-Ring Protector, WP-G1000 Silicon grease, ViewNX 2 software, Short Movie Creator software

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