Nikons's AW100 is a form over function camera that has Bear Grylls' enthusiastic attitude. It doesn't rely on tacky chrome borders to accentuate its characteristics because it draws confidence from taking good photos in all kinds of gruelling conditions.
On the top the textured shoot button rests in a natural position and can easily be pressed when wearing gloves or under water. Besides it is the power button and on its right lays an industrial strength door that conceals the battery, the SD card, a microHDMI port and a charging port. Its heavy duty design inspires confidence in the Nikon's weatherproof abilities.
On the left side is a single elongated button that commands a feature called Action Control.
On the AW100's back is a large 3 inch screen that uses 460,000 pixels to make viewing snapped images and vids a pleasure.
To its right is a menu/delete combo, the conventional directional pad labelled with shortcuts, dedicated video record and still image buttons and zoom.
The layout is intuitive, familiar and functional, ticking all of the boxes for a camera that'll be used with half of the concentration, considering you might be moments away from a crushing wave or on a quick descent down a ski slope.
Truth be told, the average camera user is more likely to reach the extent of their physical endurance before the AW100 cries out in malfunctions. It withstands waters 10 metres deep, drops 1.5m high and temperatures of -10?C, which is spot on for a tough cam.
We kept ours in our back pocket while on a leisurely swim at the local beach for hours. There may have been some waves and our boogie board may have snapped clean in half. However, the AW100 didn't break its stride, capturing the action with utter precision and admirable enthusiasm.
As with most weather cams, a clumsy user can make a fatal mistake, such as not closing its vault-like door properly. Doing so runs the risk of water seeping through its otherwise militant body, and could cause the camera to malfunction. Worse yet, it could damage your memory card and sabotage all of your photos.
Action control lets people wearing gloves change the camera settings by shaking it. It would be a welcomed addition if it was more consistent and responsive, but unfortunately it suffers from disappointing operations. For instance, if you skip an icon there's no 'back' motion so you have to cycle through all of the options again.
In-built GPS can tag images with your location embedded and charter your journey even when the camera is off. But be warned, the camera sucks more juice when this feature is enabled.
When passive GPS is off, Nikon estimates the battery will capture 250 shots.
Although Nikon cameras of old are renowned for their sophistication and detail, the AW100 sports an easy to use menu. There are three tabs that house different rows, with each one introduced by an icon and explained by easy-to-understand text. The tabs are 'shooting mode', 'movie' and 'set up.'
The AW100 doesn't sacrifice detail just because its menu is simple. When scoping out the settings for still shots, you'll find comprehensive features that will enhance photo quality and aid in taking the best possible pic. The same goes with its video capabilities.
The AW100 uses a 16MP backside illuminated CMOS sensor to capture still images up to 4608 x 3456 in resolution. A variety of savvy shooting aids, such as image stabilisation and motion detection, work together to capture fleeting moments with little blur.
When the shooting mode is set to continuous high, it'll capture up to 7.1 frames per second but will have to halt after 3 frames to process them. Switching it over to continuous low will see it process a total of seven frames at a rate of 1.2 per second.
In ideal lighting, images are rendered with vibrant colours organically fusing from one tone to the next, capturing the subtlest of hues and concealed by crisp lines.
In less favourable conditions the camera begins to struggle. The flash does its part in picking up the slack to keep images precise but during the pursuit some of the colour is either flushed out or rendered darker.
The flash also gets a little temperamental when the foreground is dark but a bit of light is shining through the distant background, choosing not to go off and leaving the image's stich visible on the screen. To bypass this you will need to manually adjust its settings.
Noise begins to rear its head at ISO 200 and compromises detail at ISO 400, but it's not much of a detriment unless you intend on using full resolution shots. Its performance sits on par with the other tough-proof cams in its league.
When playing back a video that takes place below the sea line, you hear and see things that, while swimming, you couldn't. Still images and videos are moderated to account for the different lighting conditions and produce images with meticulous attention to detail and are comprised of a colour palette not traditionally used when on land.
The colour reproduction on the AW100 sits amongst the very best in its league.
There's the faintest of motion blur when the cam tries to capture quick movements, such as people running or diving, but it's not nearly enough to dampen the experience, and the AW100 appeases this with its exceptional ear for sound.
A video-recording's complementing audio track captures the full sound spectrum with no distortion. Some underwater cams settle for muffled audio, but the AW100 does a great job at replicating audio that sounds natural.
Video goes right up to 1080p, which is the best in its class and ideal for big screen viewing. Even though it features an on board microHDMI port, no such cable is found in the box.
The AW100 is an enthusiastic camera that has a never-say-die attitude. As a weatherproof companion, it'll capture moments that phase traditional cameras in glorious colour. It has selfless character, putting its build on line to capture fleeting moments regardless of the situation. However, there's no Jekyll and Hyde debacle happening beneath its rugged exterior, because if you're heading out on a night in the town then there's other shooters that'll do better.