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Nikon Coolpix AW110 Digital Camera Review$349.95
A day at the beach with Nikon's finest toughcam
The AW series is one of Nikon's youngest, dating back only to 2011 with the release of the AW100. That camera distinguished itself with durability features that were more rugged than the competition, as well as a forward-thinking GPS interface with very detailed built-in mapping software.
This year, for the AW110 (MSRP $349.95), Nikon has implemented new WiFi connectivity and... not much else. This model's ruggedization is still some of the best around, but the ground has risen under Nikon's feet, and stiffer 2013 competition makes the advantage less impressive. In the meantime, image quality has been increased, but not dramatically, and physical design has gone largely unchanged. The result is a camera that's certainly compelling, but no more so than the predecessor.
At almost $100 more than the aging AW100, we were hoping the AW110 could do a little better than "just as good as the last one," but that appears to be all this camera offers. The Coolpix AW110 is available now, in either orange, black, blue, or our favorite: camouflage.
Design & Handling
Few changes were made, but few changes were needed.
Nikon has really gone out of its way to differentiate the AW110's design from the old AW100. Fundamental improvements have been added, such as swapping the traditional zoom rocker with a vertical lever, and converting the video record button from round to square.
We're kidding. The AW110 looks almost exactly the same as the AW100, and the handling profile is nearly identical too. The flat, glossy surface on the front panel has no dedicated grip, but this isn't really necessary given the rear panel's comfortable thumb rest. On rare occasions, you may find it difficult to depress the shutter while keeping the body still, but this shutter release does have a nice long stroke. On the whole, it's one of the best we've used on a toughcam this year.
Ironically, that now-vertical zoom lever, which we half-seriously call the AW110's most important hardware change, actually makes handling more difficult. You'll need to adjust your grip each time you zoom in, and more often than not, this meant that we had to cradle the camera with both hands.
Durability has been improved dramatically, so it's actually quite amazing that Nikon was able to give the AW110 such a close resemblance to its predecessor. In fact, waterproofing has been nearly doubled. The AW110 will hold its seal down to 59 feet underwater, making it one of the most resilient toughcams of the year.
We do get a new OLED monitor this time around, and although OLED is the kind of feature that seems to sell cameras, we don't see much of a difference in practice. Brightness still isn't sufficient for use in broad daylight, and the AW110 joins in on the peculiar tradition of tough cams with monitors that are prone to scratching.
The small lens is surrounded by a square filter mount, just like the AW100. It's a cool idea and a fun diversion, but for us, the mount's best quality is the way it blocks errant fingers from accidentally smudging the glass.
Image quality improvements are thanks to software, not hardware.
Perhaps the AW110's most important image quality improvement comes in the form of white balance—something Nikon has historically struggled with. The AW100 wasn't one of the company's worst offenders, but the AW110 is still a marked improvement. This camera earned some of the most accurate automatic white balance scores of any 2013 model, and AW110 users won't need to bother with a custom reading unless they're shooting under incandescents. Daylight, where users will no doubt spend most of their time with this camera, results in near-perfect color temperatures.
You're also likely to notice the AW110's fast overall operating speed. Even when a continuous shooting mode isn't in use, the camera's shot-to-shot rate is maybe half the speed of an entry-level DSLR, and that's very quick for a compact. If you are shooting in bursts, the AW110 maxes out at 6.66 frames per second for 6 shots.
New WiFi, plus some of the best GPS available in a compact
WiFi connectivity is a brand-new feature for the AW110. The camera acts as its own hotspot, which you can connect to using a smartphone or other mobile device. From there, you may use your device to take photos remotely, zoom in and out, or view images stored on the camera's memory card. It's a pretty cool feature. We're not sure we'd use it in the field, but pretty cool nonetheless.
Full-HD video is supported, but the maximum frame rate at full resolution is 30p, so clips aren't quite as smooth as we would've liked. The footage also suffers from noticeable compression artifacting in shadowed areas. Video sharpness is solid, but just like stills, movies suffer from severe oversharpening that will cause halos around high-contrast subjects. Like the AW100, the AW110 can also shoot high speed video at up to 240 fps, albeit at a huge resolution penalty.
Go with last year's model, if you can find one.
If this is your first toughcam and, for some reason, you cannot find an AW100 for sale anywhere else, then by all means purchase a Coolpix AW110. This is especially relevant if you plan to use your new adventure cam for serious adventuring, like diving or climbing. The thick exterior probably isn't the most attractive on the market—in fact it looks rather toylike—but this camera's armor will hold up better than most competitors, and image quality is solid too.
That's why the AW110 is such a missed opportunity. Compare this camera's test results with other 2013 toughcams and you might think Nikon had given the competition something to worry about. Noise reduction, sharpness (oversharpening aside), white balance, and even shooting speed are all way above average for this category. But with Olympus and Pentax already pushing f/2 lenses into their latest toughcams, it feels like Nikon is a year behind, regardless of performance.
Buy the AW110 if durability is most important to you and the AW100 is unavailable. If not, this year's competition can achieve more attractive results. Check out the best of the best in our 2013 Waterproof Showdown.