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Nikon Coolpix AW100 Digital Camera Review

Daniel Bell tests the Nikon Coolpix AW100 to see how Nikon's first rugged camera compares to others on the market.

| Nikon Coolpix AW100 in Compact Cameras

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix AW100 Front
Nikon Coolpix AW100 Front

We recently published our round-up of Top 7 Cameras For Active Photographers, these cameras are all waterproof, shockproof and freezeproof. Nikon didn't feature on the list as they had not released a suitable camera until they announced the Coolpix AW100 in August 2011. We take a look at this new addition to the Coolpix range to see if it's worthy of a place in the Top 7.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix AW100 Front
Nikon Coolpix AW100 Front

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Features

The AW100 has an internal 5x optical zoom lens, which is a 35mm equivalent of 28 - 140mm, as well as a 16 megapixel sensor. It is also waterproof to 10m, shockproof to 1.5m and freezeproof to -10°C. The camera also comes with a built-in GPS to record the location which your images were taken and electronic compass to check your location on the built in World map display. The camera comes with a unique filter adapter meaning you can attach a 40.5mm filter, available from Hoya and Cokin.

To help take sharp, blur free photos the camera has Hybrid VR, which combines lens-shift and electronic vibration reduction. ISO can be set up to ISO 3200 and Best Shot Selector (BSS) selects the sharpest of up to 10 sequential shots. If you like to shoot in low-light settings there are a number of modes which help even without a tripod including Backlight scene mode with Auto HDR, Night Portrait and Night Landscape.

Other features found on the AW100 include High speed continuous shooting up to 7.1 fps, Easy Panorama 360°/180°, Action Control and Underwater mode. There are also a number of digital filters available: soft, nostalgic sepia, high-contrast monochrome, high-key, low-key and selective colour. When viewing your images there are a range of editing options available. These include quick retouch, d-lighting, glamour retouch and filter effects which include colour options (vivid, black and white, sepia and cyanotype), soft, selective colour, cross screen, fisheye, miniature effect and fog removal.

Videos can be recorded in full 1080p HD with optical zoom, autofocus and stereo sound available. You can also capture a picture while video recording is in process and the camera can be connected to a HD TV for video playback.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix AW100 Top
Nikon Coolpix AW100 Top

Key Features

  • Waterproof to 10m
  • Shockproof 1.5m
  • Freezeproof -10°C
  • 16 megapixel back illuminated CMOS image sensor
  • 5x optical zoom lens (35mm equivalent: 28-140mm)
  • 3 inch, 460K-dot LCD monitor
  • Built-in Global Positioning System (GPS) and electronic compass
  • World map display
  • Hybrid VR (Lens-shift and Electronic Vibration Reduction)
  • ISO 125 - 3200
  • Best Shot Selector (BSS)
  • High speed continuous shooting (7.1fps)
  • Full 1080p HD movie recording with stereo sound
  • Easy Panorama 360°/180°
  • Action Control
  • Slim design
  • Underwater mode
  • EXPEED C2 image processing system
Nikon Coolpix AW100 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix AW100 Rear
Nikon Coolpix AW100 Rear

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Handling

The camera has a similar look and feel to those rugged cameras released by Olympus and Panasonic, such as the Tough TG-610 and Lumix DMC-FT3. The AW100 is lighter than both of them but retains a very solid design. On the rear of the camera is a 3 inch LCD screen with 460,000 dots which has Nikon’s Clear Color Display technology that minimises reflections whether underwater or in bright sunlight.

Access to the battery and memory card is via the chunky round dial on the side of the camera. You have to press the central button and turn the dial 90°. The buttons are typical for a compact camera, with buttons for video recording and selection of scene mode, but on the opposite side to the battery area is a button which switches to the World map and Action Control. If you activate Action Control in the camera menus you simply need to press it and a menu comes up on the screen. You simply flick the camera up and down to go through the menu and press the Action Control button again to make your choice. Options available are mode selection, start movie recording, and playback. This makes it easier to operate the camera even when underwater or wearing gloves. The buttons are easy to press although you do have to give the shutter release of really firm press which may add to camera shake when shooting.

The camera menus are clear and easy to navigate and the camera is ready to take photos within a couple of seconds of switching on. Focus speed is good, continuous shooting H allowed 3 frames at 5fps and continuous shooting L managed 1.3 fps during testing. The battery has a CIPA rating of 250 shots which is good although constant use of the GPS will reduce it.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix AW100 Battery
Nikon Coolpix AW100 Battery

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Performance

Detail is good in images, although soft around the edges and better when shooting wide than using the full optical zoom. There is some purple fringing on occasions, but colour reproduction is excellent, as are macro shots with a close focusing distance of just 1cm.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Lens test images

Even at ISO 125 there is some noise evident in the images and they don't look as sharp as you'd hope. On the positive side, when going through ISO 200 and ISO 400, noise doesn't increase much at all and it's only at ISO 800 where you see an impact in image quality with some of the colours losing detail. Noise increases gently through ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 but these settings are best used for images which are to be resized for use on the web.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 ISO test images

The following images are examples taken using some of the more popular scene modes available on the AW100, both landscape images have a good boost to the blues and greens creating a pleasant scene despite it being quite an overcast day. The camera can also take a good portrait picture with pleasing skin tones and only a slight touch of red-eye. Sport mode has been used to capture the fast moving wind turbine on a very blustery day, with a shutter speed of 1/1250 required to ensure a sharp image. The AW100 can shoot 180° and 360° panoramics via a sweeping method, which means there are no mismatched joins but if you look really closely there is some slight ghosting on occasion.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Sample Photos

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Digital Camera Review: Panoramic 360° | 1/640 sec | f/3.9 | 5.0 mm | ISO 125
Panoramic 360° | 1/640 sec | f/3.9 | 5.0 mm | ISO 125

Auto white-balance (AWB) does a great job on the majority of occasions which can be seen under our testing studio lighting. Under the incandescent lighting the AWB and incandescent presets take almost identical images, both of which show a good white balance. Under the fluorescent lights the AWB does fine, with the fluorescent preset actually giving a slight magenta cast in the image.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 White-balance test images

Below are example images using some of the digital filters available. There are also effects which can be added to images after they have been taken, examples of which can be seen in the ePHOTOzine Equipment Database.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Digital filters

Video Mode

Below is a sample video shot at full 1080p HD with stereo recording and the camera also utilises the optical zoom during recording, an example of which is available on the ePHOTOzine Youtube page.

Value For Money

The Nikon Coolpix AW100 is currently priced at £294.95, making this one of the more expensive tough cameras on the market. If you want the most waterproof and shockproof camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 ticks the box. At the cheaper end of the markets are the Fujifilm FinePix XP30 and Olympus Tough TG-310.

Camera Waterproof Shockproof Freezeproof Price
Kodak Easyshare Sport C123 3m - - £43.99
Fujifilm FinePix XP30 5m 1.5m -10°C £123.00
Olympus Tough TG-310 3m 1.5m -10°C £128.00
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT10 3m 1.5m -10°C £149.99
Olympus Tough TG-610 5m 1.5m -10°C £179.95
Pentax Optio WG-1 / (GPS) 10m 1.5m -10°C £204.00 / (219.00)
Canon PowerShot D10 10m 1.2m -10°C £214.99
Olympus Tough TG-810 10m 2m -10°C £218.00
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT2 10m 2m -10°C £248.99
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 12m 2m -10°C £266.00
Sony Cyber-shot TX10 5m 1.5m -10°C £269.00
Nikon Coolpix AW100 10m 1.5m -10°C £294.95
Ricoh G700 5m 2m -10°C £449.00
Ricoh G700SE 5m 2m -10°C £649.00

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Verdict

The Coolpix AW100 is remarkably good for Nikon's first venture into the rugged camera market. Its main strength is its range of features. Not only is is waterproof, shockproof and freezeproof, it comes with built-in GPS, full 1080p HD video recording and much more. Although one of the more expensive rugged cameras available, the camera produces good images and videos and therefore takes its place in our Top 7 Cameras For Active Photographers.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Digital Camera Review:
With a excellent set of features and good image quality, Nikon Coolpix AW100 comes recommended.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Pros

Feature packed
Waterproof, freezeproof and shockproof
Unique filter adapter
Plenty of ways to be creative
Good image quality

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Cons

One of the more expensive rugged cameras
Noise at lowest ISO setting


Nikon Coolpix AW100 Specifications

Max Aperturef/3.9 - f/4.8
35mm equivalent28mm - 140mm
Optical Zoom5x
Image Sensor
Pixels16Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)4608
Pixels (H)3456
Sensor TypeCMOS
Sensor Size1/2.3 inch
Sensor Size (width)6.16mm
Sensor Size (height)4.62mm
Aspect Ratio
  • 4:3
  • 16:9
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3in
Screen resolution460k
Touch ScreenNo
Min Focus1cm
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/1500sec
Shutter speeds longest4sec
Bulb modeNo
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Scene modes
  • A
  • Centre-weighted - Average
ISO sensitivity125 - 3200
White balance
  • Manual
  • Outdoors/Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
  • Flash
Exposure Comp+/-2
Shooting Options
Continuous shootingNo Data
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution
  • 1920x1080 FullHD
Video FPS30
Stereo SoundNo
Optical Zoom with VideoYes
Other Features
Image StabilisationYes
Card Type
  • SD
  • SDHC
  • SDXC
File Type
  • JPG
Power Source
Battery TypeEN-EL12
Battery Life (CIPA rating)250shots
Box Contents
Box ContentsCamera Strap AN-CP19 Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL12 MH-65P, UC-E6, EG-CP16 and UR-E23

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Photographs taken using the Nikon Coolpix AW100

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dhmiller Avatar
19 Nov 2011 2:46PM
Which of the rugged/waterproof cameras has the best image quality and did you try any of them underwater?
joshwa Avatar
joshwa Plus
13 927 1 United Kingdom
21 Nov 2011 2:41PM

Quote:Which of the rugged/waterproof cameras has the best image quality and did you try any of them underwater?

Have a look at our guide, the performance rating is based on image quality:

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