Both Nikon and Canon are very traditional companies. If it was up to them, mirrorless cameras would not even exist. But it is not up to them (luckily). Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and Fuji are putting all their effort in mirrorless concept and there’s a lot of customers who ditched DSLR and gone for smaller mirrorless form factor. In order to keep up to competition, Canon and Nikon released their own mirrorless cameras but there’s a catch. They didn’t want those models to compete with their own entry level DSLR models so they made them worse than they could be. Canon EOS M has dead slow AF, Nikon used too small sensor size and both were too expensive from beginning. So (almost) nobody bought them. What a surprise.
In order to compete with far more advanced NEX, OM-D and Fuji cameras, you need to have something that makes you special. After two years, Nikon finally realized that so now we have AW1. Detail that makes it different is waterproofing so this little camera can go 15m (49ft) underwater, can withstand drops from 2m (6.6ft) and will happily work at -10°C (14°F). And all that without the need for special underwater case and you can still change lenses. Now we’re talking!
Nikon 1 AW1 is built from plastic but since it is water and shock-proof built quality is excellent. All the buttons have a firm feedback. Removing the lens requires a strong force and the reason is a very tight rubber seal which prevents water entering the camera. Both battery and USB/HDMI connectors compartment have security lock.
You can use classic Nikon 1 lenses on this camera but then you lose waterproofing.
There is no grip in traditional sense but a small protruding which will allow holding the camera with tips of your finger, but it does the job. Overall handling is like on some entry level mirrorless or compact camera. There are few external controls so if you plan using AW1 in manual mode or change setting often, you will not be pleased. I gave up after only few minutes since most settings require entering main menu system each and every time. I left it on P most of the times, used only exposure compensation and that’s it.
Nikon AW1 has a tilt sensor so when you press dedicated button on the back of the camera, tilting it left or right changes settings. Sadly, Nikon did not exploit this feature enough so you can only use it to change shooting modes, scroll through recorded images and change display brightness. Too bad; this feature is perfect for use with gloves in cold weather.
LCD has standard 3-inch diagonal and 920,000 dots. It is detailed enough with wide viewing angles. There is neither viewfinder nor an option to attach one.
Image sensor has 14 megapixels and 2.7 crop factor. It is relatively small – even smaller than the one found in Olympus and Panasonic cameras, and significantly smaller than APS-C size. Image quality is fine in most conditions, but has more noise using high ISO values than all other mirrorless competitors. RAW file format is available and if you know how to use it correctly, images can really look good.
Nikon AW1 uses Li-Ion battery which is strong enough for around 200 shots what is below avarage for this type of cameras. Most competitors can squeeze out around 300 shots.
Nikon AW1 uses standard SDHC memory cards and has mini USB and mini HDMI connectors. GPS is also built in, together with compass, altimeter and depth meter.
Auto focus is very fast and this is one of the main selling points of this camera. Subjectively it feels almost as fast as the one in Olympus E-M1, at least in good light. AW1 can also shoot up to 15fps with AF and 60fps (at full resolution) without AF what is nice, but way too much to be of much use in real life. Most action shots can do with 8-10fps; there is no real need for 60fps burst.
Video mode offers usual Full HD quality, but can record at only 25p. Some Sony NEX models have 60p. Another detailed that disappointed me is the lack of any type of optical image stabilization. Kit lens doesn’t have nor the sensor. The result: shaky videos. AW1 also offers slow motion videos, but they are recorded in very low resolutions. Still, they are fun to use and can produce interesting videos.