Nikon 1 AW1: Hands-on with the world's first waterproof compact system camera

Not content with the norm, Nikon has only gone and announced the Nikon 1 AW1 - the world's first waterproof compact system camera. We would like to say the first waterproof interchangeable lens camera, but there was a film SLR back in the day. But digital, it's all new.

Now that's rather nifty isn't it? Waterproof down to 15 metres  - we were only able to test it in about 30cms of water - the Nikon 1 AW1 comes with the option of two waterproof lenses: the 11-27.5mm (30-75mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 standard kit zoom, or the standalone 10mm (27mm equivalent) f/2.8 that's sold separately.

If you're unfamiliar with the Nikon 1 series, then think of a miniaturised SLR with digital components. The system - which also has J and V-series models - means it's possible to swap lenses for different views on to the world, or to benefit from more advanced optical qualities, and as the AW1 is from the broader Nikon 1 familiy it's also compatible with all the standard, non-waterproof lenses too. Just don't forget which lens you have on the front before going diving.

It's not just waterproof either, the camera is also said to be dustproof, freezeproof to -10C and shockproof. The first two we couldn't test, but we did drop the AW1 on the floor which, despite being an awful lot of fun, resulted in no damage to the camera, only to the wooden floor. The fact the lenses are shock-proof ought to give them appeal for those who knock their kit about a bit too.

Spec-wise the AW1 sounds like a carbon copy of the Nikon 1 J3. That means the same 14.2-megapixel 1-inch sensor and Expeed 3A processing engine capable of shooting up to ISO 6400. Previously we've given the J3 a bit of a hard time when it comes to image quality, but in the context of a waterproof camera we take a bit of a different view.

Why so? Think of a DSLR system where adding waterproofing can cost £500, £1,000 and far beyond. The Nikon 1 AW1 is £750 all in, including the waterproof kit lens, and you needn't buy into additional accessories to use it under the waves. That's a lot more cash than a tough and waterproof compact camera, but it's a step up in image quality terms - enough to warrant its worth.

Well, we believe that will be the case, as short of snapping a few frames at Nikon's preview event we've not had a detailed look at how well images carry through, nor were we allowed to take pre-production samples away with us. But based on specs it ought to be a familiar tale.

READ: Nikon 1 J3 review

Other features also echo that of the J3 for the most part. Without listing every single one, the likes of 15fps burst mode, smart photo selector, 1080p movie mode and super-fast hybrid autofocus add some fun to the tough package.

However, the camera's physical design is nothing much like the aforementioned J3. This is waterproof and that means no rotational dials - it's all about bigger buttons, toggles and different ways of using the camera when in water, donning gloves and so forth. Take mode selection, for example, where the camera itself needs to be physically rotated to get a gravitated selection dial up. Quirky cool.

Menus are based on Nikon's existing system which, frankly, we still find a little muddled. But it does the job and there are plenty of options - you just need to get used to it all and know where to look.

There's also an electronic compass on board, an altimeter to measure height and depth, a virtual horizon and underwater-specific shooting modes to get the best out of images. No touchscreen is present, but we suspect water interference with that could be a nightmare.

It's also a bit chunkier than the J3, but as a tough camera the AW1 is a pretty dinky thing to behold. It's fairly niche, but for the right audience we think this looks like a little success waiting to happen.

The Nikon 1 AW1 will be available in black, white and silver and from 10 October, priced £750 with the 11-27.5mm lens. The 10mm lens, sold separately and available in black only, will be priced at £300.



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