Monday, April 13, 2015

POS Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix AW100

The third so far in our POS camera review series. Today we are featuring the waterproof (to 30') and shockproof (to 5') Nikon Coolpix AW100. All cameras in this series must be available new or used for $100 or less.

I have used this little guy on my last two water-related outings, once on Lake Powell and once to East Clear Creek, out in Williams, AZ. Purchased at $100 on craigslist, it's at the top end of my POS camera budget. It still sells brand new on Amazon for $245, so apparently I got a good deal.

Both times, it has both irritated and pleasantly surprised me, so I'm having a more difficult time figuring out what I think of it.

THE QUICKIE REVIEW: It is semi-waterproof, so when you drop it into the lake or get splashed by the wake, you don't have to care. The lack of RAW shooting capability is really limiting on this camera, especially because it tends to overexpose everything, leading to seriously blown out (and unrecoverable) highlights in all images with shade and direct sunlight and most everything that is backlit. JPG compression is extreme, so manipulation in post requires a light hand. Overall, not horrible, but not going to turn out tack-sharp images with beautiful colors.

My favorite image so far with this camera.

SPEED: Power on is pretty good; about 2 seconds from pressing power to making your first picture. Autofocus is surprisingly good unless you or our subject are moving quickly, but good for most applications, including some watersports. It missed maybe 10% of focus. Sequential shooting is worthless, however. It only comes in a 3 frame burst, and it takes so long to shoot and write the images to the card that I gave up with shooting sequential and just tried to time it right.
Standard Point and Shoot delay between pressing the button and making a picture. About 2 seconds from pressing the button to being ready to take another photo, assuming lighting conditions haven't changed.

COLOR: This coolpix really struggles with white balance. In overcast conditions it almost always went too cool (blue) and a little green, though in direct sunlight or backlit conditions it did better. This is not a camera to use indoors, so don't even bother. It does have a flash, which I disabled in the menus. Correcting color was a nightmare, as the severe JPG compression doesn't allow for much wiggle room.
too blue...

too green...

horribly blown out sky... and way too green

good with backlighting!

LOW LIGHT PERFORMANCE: Don't bother. The grain at higher ISO is so bad it looks like every picture is out of focus... which they may well be, despite the generally-accurate focusing in broad daylight. Bright light for focus assist is an LED, but anything indoors without lots of light requires the use of the built-in flash, which I loathe.

LENS: Wide angle is pretty good. Not wide enough to get you and all your friends/family in a selfie together; you'll have to resort to the old standby of asking someone else to hold the camera and take the picture. Zoom goes all the way out to 5x, which like the SONY we reviewed, seems a bit limiting. Then again, the lens doesn't move or compress or do anything fancy - it is completely contained inside the camera housing and isn't wiggling around or getting in the way; which is nice. Location in the top left of the camera was annoying, since I'm used to putting a hand there to stabilize the camera, I took many photos of my own fingers, especially in bright sunlight when I couldn't see the rear LCD (no viewfinder, you gotta use the screen).

BATTERY: I got about 400 frames on the camera so far and the battery still reads 100%. My guess is I'll get another couple hundred before it dies. Proprietary Nikon battery and charger, which is a bummer since I'm a AA kinda guy, but the battery does well and they are relatively inexpensive if you had to buy another to have as a backup.

100% highlight reduction in Lightroom makes this image usable, though still a bit green

SPECIAL: IT'S WATERPROOF(ish) so you can take it out on the water with you! That being said, if the seals are old or you have hair/sand in them, the camera won't seal and you will ruin it. Lots of reviews on Amazon discussed how perfect the seal has to be. I would NOT recommend using this camera the same way you would use a GoPro. Rather, I take solace in knowing that if I happened to drop it, or get stuck in a thunderstorm, or get pushed into the water, the camera would probably be just fine. It also has GPS, which I don't use, but could be cool for you world-traveling types. The small size of it means nobody is likely to steal it from you either; the bright orange finish doesn't exactly scream "professional camera."

Overall, I'll give it 2 1/2 stars. Works OK. You aren't going to be making big beautiful prints from your vacation, but you'll at least have some record of the fun you had and you won't worry about dropping or losing your camera to the depths of Davy Jones' Locker. If you can find one for less than $100, it's worth having for your next snorkeling/boating trip.