Nikon 1 AW1 review
- Sharply detailed results
- Rugged weighty feel
- Built to last
- Lack of viewfinder
- Occasional misting
- No hot shoe
Is the Nikon 1 AW1 the brand's best compact system camera of the past three years? We think so. Not only does it do all that its predecessors did and more - save for notably omitting the eye-level viewfinder seen on the Nikon V1 and V2 - but it is also its beefiest to date.
Yes the 14.2 megapixel Nikon 1 system AW1 can be dropped from a height of two metres and be frozen to -10°C without malfunctions, avoid dust intruding into its most sensitive parts, and accompany budding Cousteaus down to watery depths of 15 metres; so suggests its manufacturer.
The real thing to shout about here though is that not only is this Nikon the first and so far only interchangeable lens camera to offer such extensive destruction proofing, it is also the first to achieve it without the aid of any additional housing. You can simply dunk the camera as is into the drink.
Yes the pricer Olympus OMD E-M1 is also freeze proof, splash proof and dust proof, but we wouldn't risk dropping or going diving with it.
Such innovation has been achieved via O-ring strength sealing and rubber padding, plus double lock covers for output ports and battery and card compartments at the side and at the base respectively.
Nikon 1 AW1: Lenses
Unsurprisingly, any lens attached needs to share the camera body's near indestructible qualities and at present there are just two options (though more are promised): the 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6 standard kit zoom (roughly 29mm to 74mm in 35mm terms) supplied with our review sample, plus a standalone 10mm wide angle lens at a slightly brighter f/2.8 announced alongside it.
Even the tip of the lens has a rubber-padded ring to prevent damage, while as you twist the lens barrel it travels within its own sealed housing, rather than extending and retracting from the camera body. There's no built-in Wi-Fi, but wireless transfer can be achieved via an optional plug-in dongle. But why worry about that when we're also given a height and depth gauge and a built-in electric compass?
Nikon 1 AW1: Waterproofing
Not living near the roar of the ocean or the snowiest of peaks, the next best thing for our underwater testing was dunking the AW1 with lens attached in the Thames and our local pond.
We're pleased to report it survived the stygian depths of both, though we did notice that moisture had intruded within the battery/card compartment; thankfully it had stopped short of making contact with either.
It was a similar story when peeking beneath the cover for the output ports at the side, where we discovered a few small droplets had snuck in just beneath the protective flap.
Fortunately the camera was still in perfect working order - even if we can't attest for how it would perform after an hour under water at 15m; which is as far as its manufacturer's claim stretches.
Whether you think spending £750 on this camera and lens is a sound buy depends on how much you'd value more professional looking pictures - which is what, ultimately, this compact system camera is promising - where you wouldn't normally dream of taking a camera.
Though the AW1 could be interpreted as a niche/specialist product, we found that over a couple of weeks of testing that it actually makes quite a good all-purpose one. You can continue taking pictures in a downpour without fretting, and if the camera gets dirty and muddy you can simply wash it clean under the tap.
But naturally we're also concerned here with how the AW1 handles as a tool for capturing photos and videos pure and simple, and how good said imagery is. Have either been compromised at all in order to achieve the body and lenses' ruggedness? Read on...