The Nikon 1 AW1 is the world's first waterproof and shockproof interchangeable lens digital camera, and features built in Wi-Fi and GPS. The AW1 is fully compatible with existing Nikon 1 system optics, although these are not waterproof and shockproof.
Nikon 1 AW1 Features
The key 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, and they produce a number of waterproof compacts, such as the Nikon Coolpix AW110.
Although not 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 gives a 2.5x zoom range roughly equivalent to a 30-74mm lens used on a 35mm format camera. A 10mm f/2.8 lens 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.
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
Freeze proof to -10°C
Continuous shooting up to 60fps
Sensitivities up to ISO6400 available
Hybrid autofocus system
GPS + GLONASS positioning
1080p video recording
Nikon 1 AW1 Handling
With a rugged design, the build quality of the AW1 is excellent, with a metal body and solid construction. The camera features a textured metal grip at the front, with a smaller rubber grip on the rear for your thumb. We tested the shock and water proofing, and the camera and lens withstood the punishment without missing a beat. However, when dropped the flash did have a habit of popping open, and the Nikon website states that the 2m shockproof rating: "Does not apply when built-in flash is raised."
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 rather stiff. Greasing up the rubber O-ring with the provided silicon grease makes attaching and removing the lens easier, and instructions on how to do this are in the provided 144 page printed manual.
The lens has a large metal zoom ring that adds to the solid feel of the camera, although the white parts on the camera shown below are made of plastic, with a rubber ring at the front of the lens to cushion drops. You can also attach a filter to the front on the 40.5mm thread.
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 choose the best image from the batch, or helps aid the selection process by narrowing the number of images down to five automatically for you. Motion Snapshot takes a slow-motion movie just before you press the shutter.
The menus are laid out in a clear and easy to understand manner, with large icons that make navigating the options quite easy once you get used to the layout. 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, and the card and memory card compartment features dual locks. A tripod socket is also provided, located just off the optical axis on the base of the camera.
- Battery life is rated at 220 shots according to Nikon / CIPA test results, and is quite short for a mirrorless camera.
- We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.
Nikon 1 AW1
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo
Shot to Shot without Flash
Shot to Shot with Flash
Continuous Shooting - JPEG
(shots before slow down)
60fps (20 shots)
Continuous Shooting - Flash
Continuous Shooting - RAW
60fps (20 shots)
Shutter response, focus speed and shot to shot speeds are impressive, and the flash recharge time is also impressive. Continuous shooting is very impressive, shooting at 60fps, for 20 shots whether shooting RAW or JPEG. The camera can also shoot at 15fps with continuous AF active.
Nikon 1 AW1 Performance
Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database
, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.
Nikon 1 AW1 Sample Photos
- Flash performance is good with the camera showing little to no red-eye in our portrait photo, and detail is good in images taken with flash. Exposure is reliable, and results are good, although in low light the lack of image stabilisation can result in needing a higher ISO and image quality suffering as a result. If you use the camera underwater in low light then you may need to use the flash for the best detail, as increasing the ISO setting can result in low levels of detail, but outdoors in good light the camera does a good job at keeping the ISO setting low.
Nikon 1 AW1 Lens test images
- Some barrel distortion and vignetting can be seen when shooting wide-angle, although the built in distortion correction option does a good job of correcting it so it shouldn't be too much of an issue. For the majority of shots the lens is fairly resistant to flare unless shooting with the sun in the frame, where this can cause flare. Purple fringing is visible in some photos where there are high levels of contrast, however for the most part it is not a huge issue. Macro performance is reasonable, although not great. Detail is reasonably good, although images are very slightly soft when viewed at 100%.
Nikon 1 AW1 ISO test images
ISO Noise Performance
- Noise is quite low at ISO160, and ISO200, however increases at ISO400, and can be seen in darker areas of the image. Detail starts to degrade at ISO800, and again at ISO1600 although noise is quite well controlled. At ISO3200 noise becomes much more noticeable, although photos may be usable if resized. ISO6400 shows a high level of noise, and is best avoided.
Nikon 1 AW1 White-balance test images
White Balance Performance
- Auto White Balance (AWB) gives a warm result under tungsten lighting, with the tungsten preset giving a slightly better result. AWB performs extremely well under fluorescent lighting, although the fluorescent preset gives quite a strong magenta colour cast.
Panoramic | 1/250 sec | f/3.5 | 11.0 mm | ISO 2500
- The camera features a panoramic mode, where you simply click the shutter button and pan the camera in the direction you want to take the photo. Stitching is generally very good and detail is also good, although it would be nice if the resolution was higher.
Nikon 1 AW1 Digital filters
Digital Filters - The camera has a number of effects, including Backlight / HDR. To enhance dynamic range, the camera has the option to switch on D-Lighting, this adjusts the shadows to bring out more detail in them, or HDR mode combining a number of shots. The camera features three underwater modes: Standard, Scuba, and Close up.
- Full HD video is recorded at 60i or 30p with stereo sound and quick continuous phase-detection focus. Video quality is good, although the lack of image stabilisation doesn't helps with smooth videos. There are options to adjust the mic level, as well as turn on the wind-filter
. There are a number of high speed video modes including 400fps (640x240) or 1200fps (320x240) the later mode needs better than indoor lighting. Both of the slow motion video modes can only record 5 seconds.
Value For Money
The Nikon 1 AW1 is available for £697 with 11-27.5mm lens
, or £786 with twin lens kit
which makes it quite good value for money, and is more compact than a mirrorless camera with an additional waterproof housing.
Alternative mirrorless cameras to consider include the Olympus Micro Four Thirds series although a waterproof enclosure is likely to be more expensive they often let you go much deeper, up to 40 metres, and start at around £700 with the camera
, or you could look at a serious compact and a waterproof enclosure available for around £600
. Or a waterproof compact such as the Nikon Coolpix AW110
, available for £209
, and with a bright lens the Olympus TOUGH TG-2
available for £250
You'll also need to buy a memory card
and a case or bag to keep your camera safe and protected - have a look at our complete guide to camera bags
Nikon 1 AW1 Verdict
The Nikon 1 AW1 is unique in offering a completely waterproof and shockproof interchangeable lens camera, making it ideal for travelling, swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, or for giving to the kids to take photos with. Although with a limited number of lens options that are also waterproof, the choice of waterproof lenses is a little bit limiting at the moment, and it would benefit from a brighter prime lens or a wider zoom lens, as the standard zoom lens isn't very wide or very bright. The waterproofing of the camera body and lens also makes it quite a large (and heavy) camera to carry around with you, with cameras like the Sony NEX-5T seeming extremely compact in comparison, however it is much smaller than buying a mirrorless camera and a separate waterproof enclosure.
The camera has a number of impressive features, particularly the extremely quick focus and shutter response as well as some of the quickest continuous shooting modes available of any camera currently available, except for other Nikon 1 cameras, shooting at 15fps with continuous AF, or 60fps with fixed AF. If you want a camera with interchangeable lenses, for the occasional underwater adventure, then the Nikon 1 AW1 would be a very good choice, as there are now a good number of Nikon 1 lenses available, with the last count at 11 lenses, with two of them being waterproof versions.
Nikon 1 AW1 Pros
Waterproof to 15 metres
High speed shooting at 60fps
Full HD and high speed video
Shock proof and freeze proof
Silent (electronic) shutter
2 year warranty
Built in GPS
Nikon 1 AW1 Cons
Only 2 waterproof lenses available so far
Flash pops open when dropped
Lacks image stabilisation
Short battery life
VALUE FOR MONEY
Nikon 1 AW1 Specifications
|Sensor Size (width)||13.2mm|
|Sensor Size (height)||8.8mm|
|Screen resolution||921,000 dots|
|Shutter speeds shortest||1/16000sec|
|Shutter speeds longest||30sec|
- Scene modes
- Centre-weighted - Average
|ISO sensitivity||100 - 6400|
|Viewfinder Resolution||No Data|
|Optical Zoom with Video||Yes|
|Battery Type||One rechargeable Li-ion EN-EL20 battery|
|Box Contents||EN-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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