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Monday, January 09, 2017

First Impressions: Nikon AW130

The Nikon AW130 isn't nearly as good a camera as a high end smart phone. While it will start up pretty fast and take pictures, and the optical zoom is obviously better than any smart phone's, the camera is missing features like Auto HDR, and the sensor in the camera isn't any bigger than your smart phone's.

The lens features awful distortion and the wide end (see the curved horizon line above), which even Lightroom is unable to correct (I'd have to pull up Photoshop). At the wide end, it probably any better.

Of course, it's 30% of the price of current high end smart phones (at $199), and it shoots pictures under water even down to a depth of 100 feet. The camera also features shock-proofing for a drop from 7'. The zoom is internal, so there are no moving parts underwater to break, and it features wireless connectivity to your phone so pictures can be exported without a 3rd party app. It does all this without a case, but unlike say, the Olympus TG-4 ($379), does not feature RAW mode.

In practice, the pictures from the camera are better than the Moto G 2015. I picked the camera because there was a sale during Black Friday for ($199), which made it too attractive given a snorkeling and diving trip that we had in December. The price difference between it and more expensive cameras is such that I'd rather have this one with the better depth rating like the above-mentioned TG-4. I opted not to go with an underwater case for one of the better cameras because I've flooded way too many cases in the past, and the extra bulk didn't seem worth it.

In practice, the lack of RAW is by far the most punishing problem with the camera. Let's face it, under water, I'm not going to be adjusting white balance, zooming, or setting aperture and shutter speed. I would rely on RAW post-processing for all that. Because the camera only shoots in JPG, I can't do that and have to  live with limited adjust-ability. In ideal conditions that's not a big deal but in challenging lighting conditions or murky water your keeper ratio is just going to drop like a rock.

Another issue is that the camera is not neutrally buoyant, so you're going to have to find a way to secure it or it'll sink like a stone if you let go. During this trip it wasn't a big deal. Every time I needed to use both hands for other uses I'd just stuff the camera down my wet suit and recover it later. But the camera does not come with any kind of strap suitable for underwater use, so I'll have to find another solution for the long term.

Waterproofing is done via a lock on the chamber that provides access to micro-USB charging and the SD card. There are no rubber grommets to break and lose, and the inside of the chamber is colored bright yellow so you know that the camera hasn't been waterproof'd. The closure is a bit finicky and I'm fearful that the locking mechanism will break some day, so I would avoid opening and closing the chamber frequently. The wireless transfer via smartphone would be one way to avoid doing that, but Nikon's solution/app is even worse than Canon's, which surprised the heck out of me. The result is that I'd process photos every other day rather than  every day.

Overall, I do like the camera enough to recommend it at $199.00 (which Amazon  still supplies). Hopefully, competition will drive one of the major manufacturers to provide a better camera in the future for a similar price, but for the moment this is the best compromise for the money.

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