Nikon Coolpix AW100 Waterproof Camera Review

Camera Reviews Featured Nikon Point and Shoot Underwater Videos

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Camera Experience

I’ve used a lot of rugged waterproof cameras. In fact, I’ve been using them since they first hit the streets, back in the mid-2000’s. The biggest issue for me has always been the compromised image quality with rugged cameras. It’s a bummer to take a bunch of what you think are going to be sweet rainy mountain bike photos, epic powder day ski photos or water park shots only to find the photos look like you took them with a camera from five years ago. And most of the time, that’s the experience I had with waterproof cameras. However, Nikon’s AW100 press release and marketing material emphasized great image quality and I was hoping that they planned to make a statement with their first waterproof point-and-shoot by setting a new standard. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t expect digital SLR quality from a point-and-shoot. But I at least want photos that I can print and maybe even publish. Although it did have a few issues, overall I was very pleased with the AW100’s image quality. But more on that in the Image Quality portion of this review.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Waterproof P&S Camera

The AW100 is a great-looking camera with an outdoor style that reflects its waterproof, shockproof build. It feels as good as it looks, and made me feel confident using it in the rain or snow or even dunking it in a near freezing creek, like I did in my intro video. I didn’t test the shockproofing (Nikon probably wouldn’t have liked that), though. I have, ummm, “tested” other shockproof cameras in the past and they all held up fine to reasonable drops and I don’t see any reason why the Nikon wouldn’t as well. Waterproofing is where outdoor point-and-shoot cameras are most likely to fail. Just as you could get a lemon car, you could get a camera that leaks. Most of the negative user reviews on this site for waterproof cameras are posted by people whose cameras leaked while they were on vacation. I did not go snorkeling or swimming with the AW100 but I did immerse the AW100 in water and expose it to a lot of snow and rain and it held up fine. If you buy the AW100, or any other waterproof camera for that matter, make sure to read the section of the manual that tells you how to properly use it underwater and care for the gaskets. Handling your camera correctly before and after a swim could be the difference between a working camera and an expensive paperweight.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 - New Year's Day Ride

Often, being there and having a camera ready is the biggest challenge with outdoor photography. Having a rugged, waterproof point-and-shoot in your pocket or on the shoulder strap of your backpack means you can always have a camera available, no matter what the weather or situation. When I’m out on the skis or bike, I usually have a digital SLR in my backpack but the point-and-shoot on my shoulder strap is my go-to snapshot camera and sometimes you get the best pictures with the most accessible camera. Also – the digital SLR isn’t going in the hot tub. Accessibility counts for a lot with photography.

Since action photography is my bread and butter, I was pleased that the AW100 had a worthy burst mode. Anything slower than 5 frames per second really doesn’t cut it for action. But the AW100’s 7.1 frames per second high-speed burst is very good – until you factor in the 3-shot limit. Although you can get a nice quick burst, you still have to time your shots pretty well or you’ll get cut off. The first few times I used the high-speed burst I didn’t realize there was a 3-shot limit and missed the real crux of an action sequence. Still, the 7.1 FPS burst speed is really fast. In fact, it’s actually as fast as the digital SLR I use for my pro mountain bike action photos. You just have to learn to press the shutter release at the last split second and not mash it down for a full second like you would with a digital SLR.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 - Snowboard Action

Although it’s not a feature I require in a camera, the AW100’s built-in GPS is pretty cool. When it’s turned on it can show your location on a map on the camera and it tags all your photos with your latitude and longitude. What’s the big deal, you say? Well, the GPS data allows you to search and share your photos by location. For instance, on Flickr you can share your photos on a map and the latest version of Adobe Lightroom (read our Adobe Lightroom 4 intro) allows you to locate and search your photos using Google Maps. So it actually turns out to be a pretty useful feature.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 - With Built-In GPS!

I had a lot of fun with the AW100. I took it mountain biking and skiing and generally used it as my all-purpose point-and-shoot until Nikon demanded I return it. One of the first times I took it out was for a cyclocross race where it rained and then dumped a couple of inches of wet, sloppy snow. I couldn’t have asked for better conditions to test a rugged waterproof camera. The camera stood up to everything I exposed it to, including the cold. Many point-and-shoot digital cameras fail in the cold because the batteries die. “Freezeproof” only means that the cold won’t damage the camera. The cold still saps battery power. However, I found the AW100 held up better in extreme cold than other rugged point-and-shoots I’ve used. Some rugged point-and-shoot cameras I’ve used failed almost every time I exposed them to sub-freezing conditions. But I don’t recall the AW100 battery ever dying on me while I was skiing.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 - Rainy, Muddy Cyclocross Race


 Review Intro |  Video |  Camera Experience |  Image Quality |  Conclusion

Next – Nikon Coolpix AW100 Image Quality >>

About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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  • Carl says:

    The IQ loss compared to other P&S cameras is likely due to the piece of glass in front of the lens used to ensure water-proofness. It has to be somewhat rugged glass, so it’s not going to be quality along the lines of ED glass, etc.

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