Nikon AW1 - My Thoughts
Lets start the whole discussion off with why? Why another camera? Why the 1 series? Why not just use a Waterproof Case? Why not just stay home, in the dry and not take pictures? Why?.... The list goes on and on, with each of us having our own unique take on the questions that are relevant to our own needs.
For me, the answer is simple and profound. The AW1 represents nothing more than a tool that helps me to accomplish a goal. In my case, and that of the AW1, take the highest quality photographs possible in the types of crappy conditions I sometimes find myself shooting. The worst offender of all is on the kayak where the environment, especially in salt water, is simply brutal. To date I have tried just about every possible permutation known to anyone that takes pictures from a kayak, and not one of them has been successful nor a reasonable compromise.
I have used little waterproof point and shoots that either produced extremely low quality images or that actually were not that rugged and waterproof after all. In the worst of all worlds, they did both, leaving me wanting for more, much more. I have tried using wipes and dry cases to carry nicer cameras (NEX-7, NEX-5) that would be stored, delicately removed, images taken, wiped down and then placed back in there container. Now I will admit, for some calm scenarios, this worked well, but it placed your gear at tremendous risk. A bobble here, a drip there, one little mistake, and the saltwater would destroy your camera in an instant.
Just ask my Nikon D3 that I still can't bring myself to throw out after it got a little (and I mean a little) saltwater in the camera via the battery compartment (which is not sealed like the rest of the camera). The note back from NPS telling me that after initial inspection they were optimistic, only to open it up all the way and discover the sea of corrosion... Yep, that was a real bummer to say the least, and yes, I still have the body!
I have tried baggies and all kinds of cases, which do an admirable job of protecting your camera, but place constraints on the optics or add significant bulk to the body and impede upon the entire shooting experience. Short of spending $2k for a soft housing for a large camera, I have tried it all. In the end, everything was a compromise and left me wanting and waiting for something else. Thus, enter the Nikon 1 series AW1.
I picked up a Nikon V1 used a while ago and began shooting this much maligned camera almost immediately. I was simply shocked to discover how much I enjoyed the little beast and how much I was loving the images, especially in B&W mode. There was something very magical about those images that I just found incredibly compelling. No, they were not the same quality as a D800E paired with a Zeiss lens, but dang, they were really good. I was loving this little camera, and the more I used it the more I loved it.
The optics were sharp and it had a near 'film like' quality to the images. The files are very pliable in LR and Capture, especially when shot below ISO 800. Even ISO 1600 worked for me, although I can hear the pixel peepers complaining about the amount of noise they see when zoomed in 100% on a 27 inch monitor viewed 12 inches away... Don't get me started on the whole pixel peeping thing, because if that is you, you are not paying attention to making images. You are stuck in the noise of your gear (no pun intended).
So, with all of the love I was feeling for the little V1 and the fact that I was convinced that Nikon had produced a gem of a camera, I was super stoked when I saw that Nikon was taking the 1 series and building a rugged version of the camera and two of the lenses, sort of a Nikonos Lite model. There are plenty of sites that will give you the technical details on the 1 series (V1,V2, J2, AW1), but suffice it to say, this little camera series rocks. Why does this matter to us adventure folks? Well, a couple of key specs that are worth pointing out.
First, read any review and they will say that the 1 series has the best AF out there. Coupled with Nikon's legendary metering system that is proven over and over, you have a fantastic one two combination. Two things that no other little waterproof P&S camera can boast. I mean this thing rocks from a focus and shutter perspective. Put the camera in Electronic shutter mode and you can choose between 10|30|60 FPS. Now, can you really achieve that, I don't know, but let me tell you, the camera will fire off a sequence of images in a second that make tracking the action absolutely a cinch. That alone, from my perspective is a huge plus.
Second, the AW1 sports both complete waterproofing (down to 15m), is shockproof and freeze-proof. These three features mean that all of a sudden, no more bags or dry cases or other forms of 'How do I keep my camera dry' protection. Sea Kayaking -- no problem, just stick a paddle leash on the camera and slap it under your deck lines. Time to shoot, well you can wipe off the lens if time permits or you can use the surf photographers technique of spit, wipe, dip, shoot. Yes it works, but you gotta do it almost every time. Out biking, well, just use a black rapid strap and hang the camera off of your back. Who cares if it is raining, snowing, dusty, etc. Just grab the camera and shoot!
However, and too the point, none of these things matter if the image quality isn't there; if the camera doesn't produce images that are worthy of your needs. Each of us has very different needs and requirements for what we expect from our images. Are we printing them; submitting them to magazines; selling stock images; creating blog and web content; or just documenting our travels.
While I have only had the camera for a week, I am comfortable in saying that I believe I can do all of the above. Now, the one question is how large can I print before things begin to degrade, but I have seen some pretty amazing prints from sensors smaller than the 1 series, so I am not too worried.
Some details about my first week of shooting in no particular order:
- The battery life is awesome. I am more than a week in, 100% battery, first charge!!
- The camera offers an outdoor display mode which is awesome in bright light
- One handed operation is very nice, with some cool innovative ways to control the UI by tilting the camera. I wish they had gone a bit farther with this, but it works really nice as is.
- Get the rubber casing, even though monetarily it is a rip off, it does make the camera much nicer to hold
- I miss EVFs and tilting screens, but again, I do understand why they did this
- Electronic shutter mode is silent, so it is impossible to know when you are actually snapping the shutter, which at 10,30,60FPS is a bit of a problem if you get my point
You can probably tell from everything above that I like the camera. It is not perfect and in the end, it is still a tiny sensor, but compared to the other options for a waterproof and rugged camera, this is a rocking little device. The images that I am getting are more than useable for my needs. I still prefer B&W out of the 1 series over the color profile, but I just need to dedicate some time to tweaking my LR color profile. The color rendering is just a bit vivid for me where as the B&W is so sharp and gritty. I just love those B&W files.
The camera has a great feel to it with a very nice and balanced heft. Yes, you have to shoot from the LCD, but it is big and bright, and on the bike or in the kayak, that is the way I would use it most of the time anyway. The detail rendered from the little sensor is pretty amazing. I shot most of my images on auto ISO, 400-800 so as to maximize my shutter speed, and it worked brilliantly. I have not done any real high ISO testing with the AW1 but based on what I am getting from the little V1, it should be fine.
Negatives, well, I don't have a lot of them right now... Their are currently only two lenses out that are rugged, the 10/2,8 and the little 11-27.5 zoom, which I have. I will acquire the 10/2,8 as soon as it is available. The AW1 will support the use of all Nikon 1 lenses, but it does not work the other way. This means that you cant use the rugged AW1 lenses on a regular 1 series camera. This is a function of the way Nikon chose to waterproof the lenses. A reasonable compromise in my opinion.
The camera is not going to replace any of my other photographic tools. However, what it does do is open up shooting in environments where previously I had really crappy camera choices. Heck, I even think with the little 10/2,8 lens, this thing could be a bit of a GoPro killer for me. Yep, you heard it here. Now, I am not mounting one on my head or my chest or at the end of a ski, but on my kayak or bike or car? Heck yes and I get so much more functionality and such better image quality that it is a no brainer. Yep, I already ordered a few mounts with an eye towards using this on the bike and kayak in some killer ways. Oh, and HD video, which I have not even addressed...
Time to go shoot.
Below are a few more from the AW1 -- More to follow
Additional Info and/or answers to questions:
Q: How did I carry the camera on the Kayak
A: Basically I used a Black Rapids toggle that screws into the tripod adapter. I attached one end of the paddle leash to that and the other end to my deck lines. I stored the camera everywhere, under the deck bungy, in my lap, even over the side. Now remember (I know you know), the camera does NOT float!! When I wanted to hop in the water, I just unscrewed the adapter and then used the Jobo wrist strap (which is really cool on its own).