The Nikon Coolpix AW120 ($349.95) looks a lot like the AW110 ($249.99 at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) predates it, but includes some important upgrades that are not easily noticeable at first glance. The lens has been redesigned to cover a wider angle and capture more light, and there’s a subtle change to the rear panel. The 59-foot water depth rating remains the same, Wi-Fi and GPS are still offered, and the 16-megapixel resolution remains the same. The AW120 is a good choice if you’re looking for a solid compact camera, but it can’t touch our Editors’ Choice, the Olympus Tough TG-3 ($330.00 at eBay)(Opens in a new window) . The TG-3 has a lens that captures twice as much light at its widest setting, and a Microscope macro mode makes it more than worth buying for the same price as the AW120.
Design and Features
Available in black, blue, orange or jungle camouflage, the AW120 ($439.99 at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) , like most rugged models, places the lens in the upper corner of the body. The body is small enough to slip easily into your pocket, measuring just 2.6 x 4.4 x 1 inches (HWD) and weighing 7.5 ounces. It’s a bit taller than one of those rare rugged compact cameras with front and center lenses, the Pentax WG-3 GPS (at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) (2.5 x 4.9 x 1.3 inches, 8.1 ounces). The WG-3 has an LED ring around the center lens for macro photography. The AW120 also has an LED light, but it is only used when recording video.
This lens is wider than the 28-140mm f/3.3-4.8 zoom that Nikon uses in the AW110. The AW120 doesn’t extend with a 5x zoom ratio, so its wider 24-120mm f/2.8-4.9 zoom doesn’t quite get as far at the telephoto end, but is welcome. If you’re shooting underwater, the lens’ field of view is slightly narrowed due to the way light moves through the water, and the wider lens will allow you to get closer to your subject and get more into the frame — you’ll see clearly. than a photo with less water in between you and what you’re shooting. The f/2.8 lens captures about 50% more light than the f/3.3 lens that the AW110 uses, but its light capture is only half that of the f/2 lens on the Olympus TG-3. When fully zoomed in on all three lenses, drop to f/4.8 or f/4.9, placing them evenly.
There are not many controls on the top plate, only the Power button and the shutter button. Most of the buttons are on the rear panel, to the right of the LCD screen, but there are also two buttons on the left side. One triggers the World Map feature and one triggers the Action button. Tapping brings up an overlay menu that lets you adjust shooting mode, record video, enter image playback mode, or view a World Map. It’s designed for one-handed operation, so you can shake the camera to scroll through the options and use the Actions button to confirm selections. World Maps works in conjunction with GPS to show you a map of the area you’re in and to mark local landmarks. You can also browse any area on the map, even with GPS turned on or if you’re interested in a location on the other side of the globe.
Other controls are more traditional. There’s a dial with up/down action for zooming in and out and a Record button for video on the top right rear of the AW120. There is a navigation panel with four marked positions (Flash, Exposure Compensation, Macro and Self-timer) at its key points and four unmarked sequence points. Diagonal buttons come in handy when scrolling through the World Map.
The standard menu, playback and delete controls are located on the rear panel, surrounding the 8-way directional control panel. There’s also a Scene button, which gives you access to the AW120’s various shooting modes. By default, it is set to Easy Auto, taking all control from your hands. There’s also an Auto mode that gives you limited control over exposure settings, but no actual manual, aperture-priority, or shutter-priority modes are available. Instead, you’ll have to rely on one of nearly two dozen Scene modes, including Sports, Snow, Close-up, and Fireworks, to capture the world’s best in front of the camera. You also get about a dozen artistic filters and a Smart Portrait mode.
The screen is a 3-inch OLED panel with a resolution of 921k-dot. It was bright, but I found it a bit difficult to see in direct sunlight. I like the vibrant colors the OLED delivers, but it’s not quite as visible as the LCD screen Canon uses on the PowerShot D30 for sure ($599.99 at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) . The Nikon OLED is noticeably sharper, as the Canon D30’s screen has a 460k-dot resolution.
The AW120 is rated to shoot 59 feet underwater, and while we couldn’t bring it down that far, it survived being submerged in water without issue. It also handles some drops without incident, from heights of up to 6.6 feet, and is rated for use in temperatures as low as 14°F. The Canon D30 is one of the few compact cameras. can certainly go significantly deeper underwater — it’s rated to be up to 82 feet deep.
Both GPS and Wi-Fi are integrated here. The GPS module adds your location information to the photo; took about a minute to lock the signal, but updated pretty quickly after that in my tests. You can transfer photos from the AW120 to your iOS or Android device using the free Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility app. The camera acts as a hotspot that you can connect to using your device, so you won’t need to be near your home network to make it all work. Transferring photos is easy, and you have the option to move photos in full size, 1.5 megapixels or 0.3 megapixels, and it only takes a few seconds to copy from the camera to your smartphone or tablet. The app also allows you to use your mobile device as a remote viewfinder. The Live View feed is smooth and you can adjust the focal length of the lens and trigger the shutter, but no other controls are available.
Performance and Conclusion
Performance and Conclusion
The AW120 kicks in and ascends in about 1.3 seconds, which is the equivalent of a compact camera course. It can lock focus and take pictures in about 0.1 seconds, and has a burst mode that takes 5 shots in quick succession at 7.5 fps, but makes you wait about 6 seconds to take a single shot. another photo after continuous shooting. You can shoot at a lower speed (1.2 fps) for as long as you like, with just a 3-second gap between stopping a series of shots and taking the next. Olympus TG-3 is faster; it boots up in 0.9 seconds, focuses in 0.05 seconds, and can shoot 30 shots in quick succession at 5 fps before slowing down.
See how we test digital cameras
I used Imatest(Opens in a new window) to check the quality of images captured with the AW120’s 24-120mm lens. It’s pretty sharp, scoring 2,539 lines per image height in our center of gravity test at its widest angle. That’s a lot better than the 1,800 lines we require to classify a photo as sharp, but the outer third of the frame is a bit blurry due to the 944 line average. When zooming in a bit, performance is much more uniform — at the 60mm equivalent setting, the average score rises slightly (2,860 lines) and rises above 2,100 lines. At maximum zoom, the average score is still good (2,443 lines) and the top edge again is 2,000 lines. Soft edges at wide angles are not uncommon in waterproof cameras, as the internal zoom design offers a compromise when compared to a lens that can extend beyond the camera body. Olympus Tough TG-850 ($289.99 at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) scored 2,330 lines in the same center of gravity test, but its 21mm wide-angle lens shows similar performance on its outer edges.
The AW120 managed to keep noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 200 and displayed just 1.6 percent at ISO 400. Take a close look at the photo on the calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W LCD monitor ($999.00 at Amazon. )(Opens in a new window) showed decent image quality through ISO 400, and the smooth lines in our test scene started running together at ISO 800. At ISO 1600, the lines were completely blurred together. That’s similar to what you’ll see with the Olympus TG-3, which performs slightly better and displays 1.5% less noise through ISO 400. At wider angles, you’ll be able to shoot at low ISOs. than with Olympus. The lens captures twice as much light when compared to the AW120, which gives Olympus a significant advantage.
Video is recorded in QuickTime format with quality up to 1080i60, 1080p30 or 720p30. You can also record slow-motion video at a variety of speeds and resolutions, including half-speed at 720p, quarter-speed at 480p, and eighth-speed at 240p. HD footage looks pretty smooth, and while the lens is a bit audible when zoomed in, it doesn’t overwhelm the background music. The AW120 does not have a micro HDMI port to connect to an HDTV. You will have to open the locked pin door to access. That’s also where you’ll find the micro USB port, which doubles as the charging port (it comes with an AC adapter but there’s no way to charge the battery outside of the body) and an SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot.
The Nikon Coolpix AW120 is one of the sturdier compact cameras on the market, but it doesn’t quite match our Editors’ Choice Olympus Tough TG-3 for image quality or versatility. When you consider that the two cameras are about the same price, it’s easy to see why we would recommend the TG-3 so enthusiastically. But the Nikon is a good choice if you like its design or simply have your heart set on a camera with a camo finish. If $350 is a bit too steep, consider the Olympus TG-850 for $100 less. It has a wide-angle lens and rear tilting LCD, but its lens doesn’t capture as much light as the TG-3 and you won’t get Wi-Fi or GPS.
With Wi-Fi, GPS, and an OLED display, the Nikon Coolpix AW120 is one of the better compact cameras you can buy, but it’s not quite an Editors’ Choice.
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