Gadling gear review: Nikon CoolPix AW100 camera

The Nikon Coolpix AW100Buying a digital camera is no easy task these days. As cameras have grown in popularity, the market has become flooded with dozens of models, all with a dizzying array of features and specs, and few ways to distinguish one from the next. Aside from minor variations in shape and color, most of them all look about the same, and it is difficult to know which one is the best fit for each of our individual needs. That simply isn’t the case for the new Nikon CoolPix AW100, which not only has a unique look, but an identity all of its own. This is a camera that is built for travel, and will have a great appeal to adventure travelers in particular.

After removing the AW100 from its box, the first thing you’ll notice is how solid it feels in your hands. The ruggedized body conveys the sense that this is a camera that can take a lot of punishment, which makes it a great option for those excursions that take us to the far flung corners of the planet. The AW100’s tough shell keeps it waterproof to 33-feet, while allowing it to withstand temperatures down to 14ºF and survive drops up to five feet in height. Those qualities alone help to set it apart from nearly any other digital camera on the market and make it an attractive option for scuba divers, climbers, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who demand a high level of performance out of their gear.

Don’t let this camera’s rugged body fool you however, because under the hood, it has plenty of brains to go along with its brawny exterior. This CoolPix features a 16 megapixel CMOS sensor that not only takes fantastic photos, but also manages to capture video in full 1080p HD as well. It has a vibrant 3-inch screen, an easy to use (and understand!) interface and Nikon’s new Action Controls, which make the AW100 a snap to operate, even while wearing gloves.Perhaps my favorite bit of technology included in this camera is its GPS functionality, which allows you to geotag your photos automatically. This nifty little feature embeds a bit of locational data into your photo files, which when shared with friends and family allows them to see exactly where they were taken on a map. The camera’s GPS functionality extends beyond that however, as Nikon has included a built in world map, that includes thousands of points of interest, and an electronic compass. That means that you can use the AW100 to navigate just like any other handheld GPS device, which is definitely a handy feature to have in a pinch. Be warned however, as with all things GPS, using this feature does burn through the battery at a faster clip.

As you might expect from a camera built by Nikon, the image quality produced by the AW100 is very good. Photos were sharp and detailed, with excellent color reproduction, even on action shots. The fact that it has the ability to shoot as many as 3 photos per second ensures that you can always get the photo you’re looking for and helps to set this camera out from the pack as well. I would have liked to have seen better low light performance however, both in terms of photos and video, but that is one area in which nearly all point and shoot cameras struggle.

The Nikon CoolPix AW100The Coolpix AW100 stands out in a lot of ways. It has a nice, smooth, autofocus with a variety of settings, it comes with 20 pre-set scene modes for quick and easy adjustment to your subject matter, and it even has a variety of built-in options for editing photos right on the camera. One area that it does lag behind a number of competitors however is in the optical zoom department. Nikon was only able to incorporate a 5x zoom into the AW100, although that is more likely a by-product of the ruggedized design rather than some technical issue. Longer zoom lens extend out from the body, which make them more susceptible to damage and would make it more difficult to keep the camera waterproof. It does have the option for an additional 4x digital zoom of course, but we all know you want to avoid using digital zoom as much as possible.

With a price tag of $380, the AW100 isn’t the cheapest option available in a point and shoot either. If you drop by your local big box electronics store, you’re likely to find numerous cameras on display at a lower price point. But that said, few are so well designed for travel, and adventure travel in particular. Because this camera is waterproof, shockproof, and freezeproof, it will quickly become a favorite for outdoor enthusiasts and extreme sports junkies alike. After all, this is a camera that you can take with you from the depths of the ocean to the top of a mountain, shooting great photos and video the entire way. This is a device that is versatile, tough, and fun to use and – as someone who owns several digital cameras – it feels great to not have to worry about breaking it while on an active outing.

If you’re in the market for a new point and shoot camera that takes great photos and can withstand the rigors of active travel, the Nikon CoolPix AW100 is an excellent choice. It is a compact, lightweight, option for travelers who expect a high level of performance out of their gear, even when they abuse it in the field. This camera can take everything you throw at it and still deliver the goods, and that brings a nice sense of confidence no matter where you go.