First Look : Nikon AW1


Nikon_1_AW1___Waterproof__Shockproof__Freezeproof_Advanced_Camera_with_Interchangeable_LensesThe first run of Nikon's 1 series cameras has been a questionable success. The J1, in local experience, had a huge number of returns related to customer satisfaction. I liked the V1 although I called it the 688 given its resemblance to a Los Angeles class submarine. The J2 lasted about a week. The J3 doesn't seem a lot different from its predecessors and the V2 is, well it has a face only its mother could love. When I heard about the AW1, a waterproof 1 series camera, I first had to cry because the "credible" writer indicated it was the first underwater camera with interchangeable lenses. This is of course a complete load of poo given that Nikon themselves brought the world the Nikonos line of very serious and very credible underwater cameras and lenses.

I was more intrigued because of the possibility of a compact system camera with very good glass, a much better than PS sensor and hardened system. As readers know, I work part time at a camera store and we have the AW1 in stock. It was a bit slow today and I had some short time to play with the AW1.

The Good

AW1_Rear-2This feels serious. Construction is very solid. There is plenty of metal involved. The O Ring system that makes a seal for the lens when mounted is simple and yet very innovative as it doesn't preclude using other 1 mount lenses on the AW1, but does add the ability to use the waterproof 11mm-27.5mm lens that comes with the body. Everything is solid.

The shutter button is clean and actuates smoothly without any rocking. Same is true for the video start / stop button. The rockers on the back of the camera have similar feel and the rear LCD is bright and easy to read. The seals for the battery / memory card area look robust and the locking mechanism is both effective and easy to use.

Despite the CX sensor being the smallest of the Compact System Camera sensors, it still produces very good images.  I confess that I shot it as the buyer would out of the box, default of JPEG medium and that is never anything to write home about, but easily as good an image as one would get from an M43 sensor.

There is a simple yet effective finger grip ridge on the front and a slightly tacky thumb pad on the back.  Surprisingly there is a built-in popup flash and the spring deployment is quite aggressive so it should still deploy effectively underwater.

AW1_Top-2The zoom ring on the 11-27.5 lens is pleasantly stiff.  It's not screaming fast, at f/3.5-f/5.6 but with a top ISO of 6400 should be more than suitable for the use cases.  For those who think in full frame focal lengths, as I do, the lens is like a 30mm to 75mm.  Decent but not really compelling.  I suspect that the limited range is due to the constraints of making the thing waterproof.

That the little AW1 can shoot 15 fps with autofocus for each shot is very impressive.  The AF is blazing fast and the multiple focus points are very usable.  You can actually get up to 60 fps if you let it lock focus and just fire away.

As one would expect, the camera shoots HD video at up to 1080i.  Video is decent, like any camera of similar sensor size.

Battery has a CIPA rating of 220 frames which is quite good considering the small size of the Li-On battery.

Given the camera's use cases, I will forego my typical bitching about the lack of a proper viewfinder.  It gets the job done.

The AW1 comes in white, black and silver.  None of which is particularly useful if the thing gets away from you in the lake or the ocean but pleasant enough out of the water.  The web site does show some fluorescent orange gel type cover.  You don't need it but it would be a good idea if you were going to dive with this thing regularly.  And by dive I mean no more than 50 feet, which in most cases is not going to be a problem.

The Not So Hot

Nikon is not a software company.  I and many others find their menu layout to be designed with the apparent intent of unintelligibility.  The AW1 is nowhere near as horrible as the Android powered point and shoot, but it could be so much better.  Too much time wasted on graphics could be better spent getting to the point.  It's a small camera, so the buttons are small.

I am not a diver, but would be inclined to use the camera in cold and wet weather and I'm not sure that I could manipulate the buttons with gloves on.  I also believe I would inadvertently move the rocker while wearing gloves.

The flash is going to be of limited value underwater.  A guide number of 5 isn't going to drive much light at all.  Certainly no worse than any of the underwater point and shoots, but no better either.

It would have been nice if the zoom range was a bit greater.  The underwater PS market is typically 4x or 5x optical zoom, this lens is less than 3x.  Not a lot of versatility.

While the autofocus is blazingly fast, I did find that when face tracking engaged it slowed down a fair bit.

While I like that the camera has built-in GPS, the fact that you have to go off-board to get WiFi is just plain goofy.  Having to use the DSLR designed WU-1b WiFi adapter takes goofy to the level of stupid.

Why Go This Route

My Canon 1Dx is a professional grade camera.  I shoot it in crappy conditions.  But if I want to make GPS encodings on the images, I need to buy an insanely expensive add-on that gets in the way.  If I want WiFi transfer, same deal.  Stupidly high price for a nothing piece of kit.  I would consider putting one of these things in the bag and grabbing the first shot at a location with it for the GPS and also for quick updates for field level work.  The lens is Nikon, so sharp and with great contrast and the little beast is surprisingly tough.  It actually feels like Canon's EOS-M in construction quality but with autofocus that doesn't suck.

I haven't yet gone the route of a compact system camera.  Technically, the Leicas are mirror less cameras but I don't think of them the same way I might think of a Sony NEX or Lumix.  I like the GX-7 and the Olympus OM-D EM-5 very much, but not so much that I would drop coin on either of them.  I do think that the AW1 is overpriced in its space, but it will likely drop in price as Nikon gets the market sizing right.  This is a very spiky vertical marketplace.  At $799 it's a tough sell.  If they could get it to $499 it would slay the other vendors by adding use cases beyond the "smaller lighter interchangeable lens" banner.

The three sample shots here are literally fully auto JPEGs right out of the camera.  Had I more time, or better mentally engaged, I would have switched over to RAW or at least JPEG Fine.  Given ISO selections between 800 and 1250 by the camera, noise is well handled and contrast is ok.  I did NO processing on these shots at all, and am confident that working in RAW I could get significantly better colour and contrast even at higher ISOs.

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Thanks to Henry's of Newmarket for letting me use the camera for this First Look

Specifications courtesy of Nikon


  • Type

    Advanced Camera with Interchangeable Lenses
  • Lens Mount

    Nikon 1/Nikon Waterproof 1 Mount

Image Sensor

  • Picture Angle

    Approx. 2.7x lens focal length (Nikon CX format)
  • Effective Pixels

    14.2 million
  • Sensor Size

     x 8.8mm
  • Image Sensor Format

  • Image Sensor Type

  • Total Pixels

    15.13 million
  • Dust-reduction system

    Dust Shield
  • Image Area (pixels)

    Normal Panorama, horizontal pan (40:7 aspect ratio) 4,800 x 920
    Normal Panorama - vertical pan (8:25 aspect ratio) 1,536 x 4,800
    Wide Panorama - horizontal pan (80:7 aspect ratio) 9,600 x 920
    Wide Panorama - vertical pan (4:25 aspect ratio) 1,536 x 9,600
    Still Images (3:2 aspect ratio) 4,608 x 3,072 3,456 x 2,304 2,304 x 1,536
    Still images (taken during movie recording; aspect ratio 3:2) 4,608 x 3,072 (1080/60i, 1080/30p) 1,280 x 856 (720/60p, 720/30p)
    Motion Snapshot (16:9 aspect ratio) 4,608 x 2,592

File System

  • File Format

    Compressed 12-bit NEF (RAW) JPEG: JPEG-Baseline compliant with fine (approx 1:4), normal (approx 1:8), or basic (approx 1:16) compression NEF (RAW) + JPEG: Single photograph recorded in both NEF (RAW) and JPEG formats
  • Storage Media

  • Card Slot

    1 Secure Digital (SD)
  • File System

    Compliant with DCF (Design Rule for Camera File System) 2.0 DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) EXIF 2.3 (Exchangeable Image File Format for Digital Still Cameras) PictBridge


  • Viewfinder



  • Lens Aperture

    electronically controlled


  • Shutter Type

    Electronic Shutter
  • Fastest Shutter Speed

    1/16,000 sec.
  • Slowest Shutter Speed

    30 sec.
  • Flash Sync Speed

    Up to 1/60 sec.
  • Bulb Shutter Setting

  • Shutter Release Modes

    Single-frame [S] mode Continuous Self-timer mode
  • Frame Advance Rate

    Approx. 5, 15, 30, or 60 fps
  • Top Continuous Shooting Speed at full resolution

    15 frames per second
    with AF; 30/60 fps with focus locked on first frame
  • Self-timer

    2, 5, 10 sec. Timer duration electronically controlled
  • Remote Control Modes

    WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter


  • Exposure Metering System

    TTL metering using image sensor
  • Metering Method

    Matrix Center-weighted: Meters 4.5 mm circle in center of frame Spot: Meters 2 mm circle centered on select focus area
  • Exposure Modes

    Programmed Auto with flexible Program (P) Shutter-Priority Auto (S) Aperture-Priority Auto (A) Manual (M) Scene Auto Selector
  • Scene Modes

    Portrait Landscape Night Landscape Night Portrait Close-up Auto Underwater
  • Shooting Modes

    Advanced movie mode (includes slow motion) Auto Photo mode Best Moment Capture mode (includes Slow View and Smart Photo Selector) Creative mode (including: P, S, A, M, Night Landscape, Underwater, Night Portrait, Backlighting, Soft, Easy Panorama, Miniature Effect, and Selective Color) Motion Snapshot (16:9)
  • Exposure Compensation

    ±3 EV in increments of 1/3EV
  • Exposure Lock

    Luminosity locked at detected value with AE-L/AF-L button


  • ISO Sensitivity

  • Active D-Lighting

    On Off


  • Picture Control

    Standard Neutral Vivid Monochrome Portrait Landscape Selected Picture Control can be modified User-customizable Settings
  • Autofocus System

    Hybrid autofocus (phase detection/contrast-detect AF) AF-assist illuminator
  • AF-area mode

    Single-point AF: 135 focus areas; the center 73 areas support phase-detection AF Auto-area AF: 41 focus areas Subject tracking Face-priority AF
  • Focus Lock

    Focus can be locked by pressing shutter-release button halfway (single AF)
  • Focus Modes

    Auto (AF) Auto AF-S/AF-C selection (AF-A) Single-Servo AF (AF-S) Continuous-Servo (AF-C) Full-time Servo (AF-F) Manual Focus (MF)


  • Built-in Flash

  • Guide Number

    5/16 (m/ft ISO 100, 20°C/68°F) Approx.
  • Flash Control

    i-TTL flash control using image sensor available
  • Flash Mode

    Fill-flash Fill-flash with slow sync Red-eye reduction Red-eye reduction with slow sync Rear curtain sync Rear curtain with slow sync Off
  • Flash Compensation

    -3 to +1 EV in increments of 1/3 EV
  • Flash-ready indicator

    Lights when built-in flash unit is fully charged

White Balance

  • White Balance

    Auto Incandescent Fluorescent Direct Sunlight Flash Cloudy Shade Preset Manual Underwater All except preset manual with fine tuning


  • Movie Metering

    TTL exposure metering using main image sensor
  • Movie Metering Method

    Matrix Center-weighted: Meters 4.5 mm circle in center of frame Spot: Meters 2 mm circle centered on select focus area
  • Movie File Format

  • Movie Video Compression

    H.264/MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding
  • Movie Audio recording format

  • Movie Audio recording device

    Built-in stereo microphone; sensitivity adjustable
  • Movie

    HD: 1920 x 1080/60i HD: 1920 x 1080/30p HD: 1280 x 720/60p HD: 1280 x 720/30p Slow-motion: 640 x 240/400fps Slow-motion: 320 x 120/1200fps Motion Snapshot: 1920 x 1080/60p (plays at 24p) Audio file format: ACC Movie file format: MOV


  • Monitor Size

    3.0 in. diagonal
  • Monitor Resolution

    921,000 Dots
  • Monitor Type

    TFT-LCD with brightness adjustment


  • Interface

    USB: Hi-speed USB HDMI output: Type C mini-pin HDMI connector
  • GPS

    Yes (Built-in)


  • Supported Languages

    Arabic Bengali Chinese (Simplified and Traditional) Czech Danish Dutch English Finnish French German Greek Hindi Hungarian Indonesian Italian Japanese Korean Norwegian Persian Polish Portuguese (European and Brazilian) Romanian Russian Spanish Swedish Tamil Thai Turkish Ukrainian Vietnamese
  • Date, Time and Daylight Savings Time Settings

  • World Time Setting



  • Battery / Batteries

    EN-EL20 Lithium-ion Battery
  • Battery Life (shots per charge)

    220 shots (CIPA)
  • AC Adapter

    EH-5b AC Adapter Requires EP-5C Power Supply Connector


  • Tripod Socket

    1/4 in.
  • Approx. Dimensions (Width x Height x Depth)

    4.5 in.
     (113.5 mm)
     x 2.9 in.
     (71.5 mm)
     x 1.5 in.
     (37 mm)
    Excluding projections.
  • Approx. Weight

    11.1 oz.
     (313 g)
    camera body only
  • Operating Environment

    14 to 104°F (-10 to 40°C) on land; 32 to 104°F (0 to 40°C) in water Less than 85% humidity (no condensation)