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Nikon AW120 waterproof camera review

I love taking pictures. I’m not a HUGE camera buff, but love having the pics to share with friends and have a memento. Having recently added Kayaking into the mix and my new Kayaking blog I’ve been fussing with what I wanted to do to take pictures while kayaking. So many beautiful images waiting to be captured! At first I started using my iPhone in a waterpoof bag. This was clumsy and overall the pics while adequate weren’t great. I dug out an older Canon SD450 I had stopped using and figured if it ended up in the drink so be it. This improved the picture quality over the iPhone but this camera’s days are long past. I’d love to take my Canon rebel XS DSLR but the idea of it ending up in the drink would make me want to cry. If I can come up with a way to carry it around, and get it in and out easily while in the kayak I’ll eventually do that, but for now … For comparison, my main point and shoot is Canon ELPH 330 HS. By the way, the AW120 is by no means a current camera, it’s at least 4 years old, I bought it used off Kiji. There is a newer AW 130 but there’s shockingly little new in the 130.

Let’s start with some simple comparisons:

5 / 12 / 16 mp
4 / 10 / 5 x zoom
4.94 / 4.41 / 7.5 oz (weight)

This camera could replace the SD450, on paper at least, but the 330HS is still a better camera IMHO.

Physically the camera is a bit on the chubby side, compare to my Canons. To make this camera waterproof all of the moving parts of the lens are hidden inside the camera, it’s one of the reasons why the zoom is so low. There is digital zoom you can use, but this has always seemed silly to me, just crop it afterwards. Fortunately it can be turned off. The lens is nicely recessed to protect it, but there is no lens cover or auto closing shutter on the front. The positive side of this is that the camera jumps to life almost instantaneously whereas the Canons all have a slight delay while the lens opens up. This may seem trivial but as a bird unexpectedly jumps into flight that delay can result in missing the picture.

Like most of these waterproof cameras all of the ports (micro USB, micro HDMI, SD slot and battery) are all hidden behind a rubber sealed door. The camera attempts to detect when this isn’t sealed properly and alerts you to reseal it.

The battery for this camera is a EN-EL12 and it can be replaced, or you can carry a spare. They are readily available on Amazon. The battery is charged using a standard micro USB cable. There is no external battery charger although you can buy it as an option if you wish. According to Nikon it charges in about 2 hours. This same micro USB cable is also used to transfer the images off the camera without removing the SD card. Once plugged in (on Windows) the camera shows as usual as a media device and you can simply and easily copy off the pics. The camera can not be powered on while charging, so you will need to wait until charging is done to play …

This camera is packed with sensors/features … let’s jump into them briefly.

Barometric altimeter displays on the screen your current elevation/depth. A neat add, but the data is NOT stored in the meta data. Electronic compass is displayed on the screen and the data is stored in the log files of your pictures, but not in the picture itself. More about the logging in a bit … There’s even a GPS in the device to add Geotagging automatically to your pics meta data. I love this, and would be an incentive to upgrade my current camera. It gets suprisingly quick locks. I’m sure it has impact on the battery life, and you can turn it off if you wish, but I love this feature. GPS can also be used to set the clock automatically which would also take care of time zone changes …

Update: To create quick position locks for geotagging, the GPS is always on. Past cameras I am told were notorious for ending up with constantly dead batteries. On this one I brought the phone in the house in between uses and got 3 weeks before the battery was showing half dead. When in the car however when there was constant motion the camera was dead in a week. So if you think your going to be not using the camera for a while and don’t want to come back to a dead camera when you need it, turn off GPS or always have a spare battery!

The camera has WIFI, well sort of. The ONLY thing you can do with the WIFI is use it to connect to a smart phone. Connecting is SUPER clumsy and poorly implemented. Nikon could learn a thing or two from EYE-FI. To use it you have to first set it up on the camera/phone. Once setup you need to initiate from the camera the connection to the smart phone, then go to the smart phone (I’m on an iPhone, no idea if Android is any better), start up the Nikon app, then manually transfer the files you want. If there is a way to make this happen automatically to keep your camera backed up to your phone, I sure don’t see it. You can also use the WIFI connection to remotely take pics, a nice touch. Lastly you can see the exact battery level of the camera on the phone.

There’s internal storage on the camera (320MB) but it’s really not meant for using. When there is no card present WIFI is disabled, a bizarre combination. Images stored on the internal storage are copied over by the camera itself when you insert an SD card. But other than that the only way to get images off the camera would be the USB cable.

Most of the back of the camera is dominated by a large screen. It’s a HUGE scratch magnet. If you buy one of these cameras your going to want a screen protector, a case or both. The buttons to control the settings are all fairly small. Almost impossible with any form of glove and challenging if you have large fingers. Fortunately the zoom control is on it’s own and relatively easy to control.

Turning the camera on shows you the battery status (in a small indicator) as well as the number of shots left. Pretty standard stuff. There are a MYRIAD of icons all showing the status of the camera and it’s sensors. I mean a LOT!

There are mount points for lanyards on both sides of the camera, allowing this point and shoot to be carried using a shoulder mount. There’s also an optional floating strap that will provide enough buoyancy to make sure the camera doesn’t sink if dropped into the water. If yours didn’t come with one you can find them on Amazon. There’s also a tripod mount on the bottom of the camera, a must in my mind!

The camera shoots pretty quickly onto internal storage, and then seems to write it back to the SD card. If you try and view the image before it’s done you will be told to wait 🙂

The camera has an interesting log mode, that uses the internal GPS and takes and stores bread crumbs of where you were that day. This can be viewed on a map. It also logs anywhere you took photos. An interesting feature that would take some sorting out to figure out what to do with it.

Scene shooting modes are super limited at just Easy Auto mode, Scene mode, Special effects, smart portrait and auto mode. Flash can easily be turned on, off or auto, something Canon buries behind a number of menus for some BIZARRE reason. Self timer is easily accessible from a dedicated button. Very well done.

Overall this is a good camera, but honestly if I paid full price for it, around $350 I would likely return it. At the price I paid it just now depends on if the resulting image quality is good enough … The edges of the picture once zoomed in are definitely soft as you can see below.

Complete list of specs.

Here are some sample images, my use case is 100% outdoors …

There is no macro mode on this camera so super close ups are not as good as other cameras.


August 3, 2017 Posted by | Other reviews, Uncategorized | Leave a comment