The overall performance of the Nikon AW100 leaves a good impression. It does what it claims it can do, and in some cases, like the GPS function and Action Control, surprisingly well. What it lacks in image quality and battery performance (more on that later), it makes up for with ruggedness, convenience and practicality.
For a camera designed for those with an adventurous "need to capture the moment fast" kind of lifestyle, the AW100 performs up to par. One major benefit that might be overlooked is how quickly the camera turns on and is ready to shoot. Many other point and shoots take their sweet time booting up, but the AW100 is ready to go almost as soon as you press the ON button.
Another surprising feature is its ability to capture sharp photos taken with a long exposure. In the dark shooting modes like "Night Portrait" and "Night Landscape," the ambient light exposures are well lit and not as blurry as one might expect at slow shutter speeds like ? and ?. The auto focus is quick in low light situations as well.
The macro shooting mode allows the camera to get surprisingly close (centimeters, not inches) to the subject while still being able to focus quickly and capture a clear, sharp image. One of the best functioning features on the AW100 is the image stabilization. The vibration reduction, or "VR," works better than most point and shoots and is probably one of the main reasons why shooting in low light is so effective.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Nikon Coolpix AW100||0.01|
|Sony Cyber-shot TX100||0.01|
|Panasonic Lumix FH7||0.02|
|Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS||0.03|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS||0.21|
|Panasonic Lumix FH7||0.22|
|Sony Cyber-shot TX100||0.32|
|Nikon Coolpix AW100||0.50|
|Sony Cyber-shot TX100||10||11.4|
|Nikon Coolpix AW100||3||8.5|
|Panasonic Lumix FH7||∞||1.2|
|Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS||12||0.8|
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
The AW100 continuous shooting mode is also notable, and Nikon claims it can shoot 7.1 frames per second and can fire them off in three or eight shot bursts. Operation is simple and faster than one would expect from a point and shoot, but far slower than a DSLR. The "BSS" continuous option is interesting, and it stands for "Best Shot Selector." When the shutter button is held down in this mode, ten shots are fired off and the camera chooses the best one (the one with the most details). More often than not, it actually worked to my liking, though I'm wary of having any camera or computer select my "best shot."
It's not all great news, however. The EN-EL12 rechargeable lithium battery will drain slowly as long as the camera is only being used as a simple point shoot. As soon as features like video, panorama, HDR and continuous shooting are introduced, the battery drains very quickly and without much warning - and good luck finding a spot to charge it on the mountain top. In addition, the "Smart Portrait" face detection mode is irritating and too slow to be useful.
Nikon lenses are quality pieces of glass, and the AW100, although just a point and shoot, is no exception. The 5x Wide Angle Zoom Nikkor ED glass lens (35mm equivalent of 28-140mm) outperforms most point and shoot lenses with its ability to maintain image clarity even when zoomed out all the way. The camera ships with a 40.5mm adapter that can be used with filters (sold separately) to enhance tonality. Unfortunately, the camera does not offer any kind of lens protection when not in use, leaving the lens susceptible to fingerprints and scratches from dirt and sand. It's a glaring omission, considering the camera's intended user. I also experienced an unusual amount of lens flare while shooting at night, even though it handled chromatic aberration well.
The flash is mediocre at best, and it appears extremely bright indoors (to the subject, at least) but it doesn't travel very far and struggles to evenly illuminate an entire subject.
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