Nikon 1 AW1 review

Waterproof wonder

Nikon 1 AW1
The Nikon 1 AW1 is making a splash as the world's first waterproof interchangeable lens camera

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We have to hand it to Nikon for introducing a toughened, yet attractive, waterproof system camera with plenty of features and decent performance.

Sure, other cameras will give you better image quality for the money, but some compromises have to be made to make this kind of versatility available at a relatively accessible price point.

Only the Olympus OM-D EM-1 manages to be splash-, dust- and freeze-proof, but it's still not fully waterproof or indeed as rugged as the AW1, plus it costs significantly more.

However, you can't ignore the competition from cheaper ruggedized compact cameras such as the Panasonic FT5 with its more versatile focal length range and respectable image quality.

The compactness of these cameras is invariably more appealing for action photography, as are common features like image stabilisation. The AW1's 30cm minimum focus distance is also no match for the super-close 1cm macro modes available on several toughened compacts. It's not as if the AW1 gives you any extra features or any more manual controls than Nikon's own AW110 waterproof compact either.

Of course you could solve any lens and stabilisation shortcomings by playing the AW1's interchangeable lens trump card, but then you'll compromise the camera's rugged abilities and in doing so lose the key benefit it has over the cheaper J3.

In the end the AW1's appeal hinges almost entirely on how much you'll use its toughness, and whether Nikon releases more toughened lenses with a greater focal length range and Vibration Reduction.

But as it stands the AW1 performs well, produces acceptable shots in most conditions and has unparalleled go-anywhere abilities. It's certainly a fine choice for those who'll value it's toughness over the lack of manual controls and current lens-based compromises.

Nikon 1 AW1 review

We liked

The AW1 is a fresh and unique entry into the digital camera market and impresses not only with its toughness, but also its shooting performance and improved image quality over a rugged compact camera.

The useful action-orientated features come in handy and the camera is even blessed with some good looks.

We disliked

A limited selection of toughened lenses is the camera's biggest drawback, as it limits focal length range and maximum aperture, and rules out any image stabilisation.

Ditching a mode dial and hiding essential settings away in menus are more minor niggles but they still irritate, as do some fiddly rear controls.

Final verdict

The AW1 will get you decent shots well off the beaten track. The limited selection of toughened lenses are its biggest drawback, so we're hoping Nikon will expand the range soon.