Nikon Coolpix AW130 Review

Nikon Coolpix AW130 Review ImageNikon Coolpix AW130 Review Image

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Introduction

Announced earlier this year, the Nikon Coolpix AW130 is a 16-megapixel waterproof (100ft / 30 m), shockproof (7ft / 2.1 m) and freezeproof (14F / -10C) camera with built-in NFC and Wi-Fi support. Boasting a 3-inch, 921k-dot OLED display, the Nikon AW130 also offers an integrated GPS module and world map, as well as a Nikkor branded 24-120mm (eq.) f/2.8-4.9 lens. The camera can even be remote-controlled over Wi-Fi, using a smartphone or tablet. The Coolpix AW130 is currently available for £219 / $299 in the UK and the US, respectively.

Ease of Use

Outwardly, the new Nikon Coolpix AW130 looks a lot like its predecessors – the AW100, the AW110 and the AW120 –, featuring the same rounded-yet-boxy design, with the most obvious novelty being a small, textured hand-grip on the front plate of the camera. While this grip seems more like an add-on than an integral part of the design, it does enable you to hold the camera firmly in your hand.

The Nikon Coolpix AW130’s lens is located in the top-right corner when viewed front on, shielded by a clear lens cover that is open when the camera is turned off and on. The lens is a 5x zoom of the internally stacked variety, so it does not extend upon power-up or zooming. In 35mm equivalency, it spans focal lengths ranging from 24mm to 120mm. Aperture-wise it is fairly fast (for a fixed-mount compact camera lens, that is), its brightness being f/2.8 at the wide end and f/4.9 at full telephoto. It features a lens-shift vibration reduction mechanism that enables you to take sharp hand-held shots at shutter speeds that would otherwise be critically slow for the chosen focal length. On the front of the AW130 there’s also a slimline flash unit, four small holes below the lens for the camera’s stereo microphones, and the shared self-timer/AF-assist/movie light lamp.

Nikon Coolpix AW130
Front of the Nikon Coolpix AW130

On the top plate there is a large shutter release button with a cross-hatched texture to aid location, a round, recessed power button and a sign indicating that the camera features a built-in GPS module. This records the exact latitude and longitude and stores it in the EXIF data of each image. The Nikon AW130 has a sophisticated suite of GPS options, from using it to set the camera’s clock, displaying points of interest, creating a log of your routes even when you don’t take any pictures, to even a built-in electronic compass. Your current position and logged routes can be displayed on the built-in offline world map. Do note that using the GPS receiver has a knock-on effect on the battery life, though.

The camera’s rear plate hasn’t changed much from the AW120, and the few minor modifications that have taken place are mostly cosmetic in nature. The back of the camera is still dominated by the 3”, 921,000-dot OLED display, which offers excellent viewing angles and a 5-step brightness adjustment. Curiously for an “all-weather” rugged camera, our review unit arrived with several clearly visible scratch marks on the screen; serving as a reminder that while its shockproofing might allow the shooter to carry on working even after it has been dropped from a height of 2.1m, it does not guarantee complete immunity against all kinds of mechanical damage.

Nikon Coolpix AW130
Rear of the Nikon Coolpix AW130

The camera’s rear-mounted controls include a thumb-controlled zoom rocker, a movie record button, a multi selector with centred OK button, plus separate Record/Scene, Playback, Menu and Delete buttons. A number of frequently used functions such as Flash Mode, Exposure Compensation, Macro Mode and the self-timer have been mapped unto the four-way pad for quick access. All of these buttons require a bit of force to operate, which you might find a tad unusual at first. A small flash indicator lamp in the upper right corner completes the inventory.

On the left side of the camera, there is a vertical row of three large buttons including World Map, Wi-Fi and Action Control, plus a monaural speaker. Of these, ‘Action Control’ may require a bit of explanation. Basically, it is a clever mode that makes the AW130 easier to use when wearing gloves or underwater. When activated, you can control certain functions of the camera by moving it from front to back or tilting it up and down. In practice this system works well once you’ve got the knack of it, although the number of settings that you can change is somewhat restricted.

Wi-Fi, which was first introduced to the Nikon AW series in the AW120, enables users to download the photos they captured to a smartphone or tablet without having to remove the memory card or plug cables into a possibly still wet camera. It also allows you to control the camera remotely using the Wireless Mobile Utility app. We tried the iOS version, which worked well but provided only a limited degree of control over the picture-taking process.

Nikon Coolpix AW130
Top of the Nikon Coolpix AW130

NFC (Near-Field Communication) is a completely new feature on the Nikon Coolpix AW130. This functionality enables anyone with an NFC compliant smart device to establish a wireless connection and start up the Wireless Mobile Utility simply by touching the NFC antenna on the device to the N-Mark on the camera.

On the right of the camera you will find a single, waterproofed door that covers the battery, memory card, HDMI and USB sockets. An ultra-secure locking mechanism that requires you to push a button and rotate a dial to open the compartment door ensures that it doesn’t get accidentally opened to the elements.

Like its predecessors, the Nikon AW130 is a highly automated compact camera that relies on a variety of auto and scene modes to capture photos. The lack of a diaphragm in the lens means that the aperture and shutter priority modes preferred by many enthusiast photographers were not possible to implement in this model (this is typical of small-sensor compacts). The available shooting modes are Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Smart portrait, Special Effects and Short movie show. The camera’s suite of scene modes includes portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach, snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, food, fireworks show, backlighting, pet portrait, and, of course, underwater photography. For time-lapse movie recording and panoramic photography, you will also need to delve into the Scene mode menu.

The Nikon AW130 can capture Full HD/25p/30p movies with stereo sound, and the optical zoom can be used while filming. It is also possible to capture stills while recording a movie, although resolution will be limited to 1920×1080 pixels or less. Additionally, you can extract and save frames from movies already recorded (with the same restrictions on resolution).

Nikon Coolpix AW130
The Nikon Coolpix AW130 In-hand

In use, the Coolpix AW130 proved to be a pleasantly responsive shooter. Start-up takes just over 1 second, and focusing is also commendably fast, at least in good light, especially at the 24mm (eq.) end of the zoom range. In Continuous H mode, the camera can shoot full-resolution stills at a very respectable rate of about 7fps, but only for five consecutive frames (i.e. less than one second). Continuous L mode is considerably slower at approximately 2.2fps, but you can capture about ten full-res shots and track your subject while shooting. Faster burst modes – offering shooting speeds up to 120fps – are available, but these impose severe restrictions on image resolution.

The AW130’s main claim to fame is its robust waterproofing, which allows you to take the camera to depths of up to 30 metres. While we weren’t in a position to test this, we did take the camera to a local swimming pool, where it performed admirably, although we did find the display somewhat difficult to see underwater.

The Nikon Coolpix AW130 runs on a dedicated EN-EL12 Lithium-ion battery, and records images as well as videos on SD / SDHC / SDXC cards. As already mentioned, the battery and card share a common compartment with the HDMI and USB ports, whose lockable, sealed door is found on the right of the camera (looking from the rear). The quoted number of images that can be captured on a single charge is 370, but this will be greatly influenced by GPS and Wi-Fi usage. The battery needs to be charged in-camera, using the supplied USB cable and EH-71P charging AC adapter. Charging takes just over 4 hours when connected to a computer via USB, and 2 hours 20 minutes using the  power adapter. The battery is also compatible with the separately sold MH-65 charger.

Nikon Coolpix AW130 Review ImageNikon Coolpix AW130 Review Image

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Image Quality

All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 16 megapixel High JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 7Mb.

When viewed at 1:1 magnification, the images captured by the Nikon AW130 can look quite disappointing, with smeared details and other signs of overzealous noise reduction. That being said, the photos still print very well up to at least 18×24cm and also look great at most screen resolutions. The internally stacked zoom lens covers a very useful focal range of 24-120mm (in 35mm terms) but tends to produce noticeably soft corners at most focal lengths. As with other small-sensor compacts, dynamic range limitations can be an issue, but at least there is an HDR option to fall back on when shooting in contrasty light. The lens-based anti-shake (VR) system does a remarkably good job of countering the image blurring effect of camera shake.

Noise

The Nikon Coolpix AW130 has 7 sensitivity settings ranging from ISO 125 to ISO 6400. The effects of noise reduction are evident even at base ISO and become progressively more pronounced as you go up the sensitivity ladder, but ISO 800 (and perhaps ISO 1600 in a pinch) is still adequate for regular-sized prints.

ISO 125 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

   

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

   

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

   

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

 
 

Focal Range

The lens has a 35mm equivalent focal range of 24-120mm, which is very useful.

24mm

120mm

Sharpening

Images from the Nikon Coolpix AW130 are adequately sharp in the middle of the frame, but rather soft in the image corners. Additional sharpening cannot fix this lens-related issue, but it can brig out some extra detail in the image centre, as demonstrated by the examples below.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)

   

File Quality

For full-resolution photos, are two JPEG quality settings available on the Nikon Coolpix AW130, standard and high. The latter is marked with a five-pointed star in the image size menu. The average file size is approximately 3.5MB for standard-quality images and nearly 7MB for high-quality ones.

High (100% Crop)

Standard (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations

The camera obviously applies a clever algorithm to get rid of any chromatic aberration in the images, and it’s mostly successful. The 100% crops below show you what to expect in the absolutely worst case.

Chromatic Aberrations 1 (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations 2 (100% Crop)

Macro

The Nikon Coolpix AW130 has a 1cm macro mode, which enables you to achieve a very high magnification. Geometric distortions, chromatic aberrations and corner softness are quite extreme at this setting, and properly lighting your subject also becomes a challenge, but this super-macro mode does enable you to get REAL close to your subject.

Macro

Macro (100% Crop)

Flash

The available flash settings are Fill-flash, Slow-syc, Auto, Auto with red-eye reduction and Off. These pictures of a white ceiling were taken at a distance of approximately 1.5 metres.

Flash Off – Wide Angle (24mm)

Flash On – Wide Angle (24mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64
   

Flash Off – Telephoto (120mm)

Flash On – Telephoto (120mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

The built-in flash didn’t produce much of a red-eye effect.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)
   

Red Eye Reduction

Red Eye Reduction (100% Crop)

Vibration Reduction

The camera features Nikon’s proprietary Vibration Reduction system, which does an excellent job. The following pair of crops are taken from two photos taken at a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second at the 120mm equivalent zoom setting.

Anti Shake Off (100% Crop)

Anti Shake On (100% Crop)

Night

The Coolpix AW130 has a night landscape scene mode for taking photos at night, with Hand-held and Tripod options. In hand-held night landscape mode, the camera takes several photographs in quick succession, and combines them into a single image. If the Tripod option is selected, the AW130 will take one image with a slow shutter speed. The following photo was taken at a shutter speed of 1s and a sensitivity setting of ISO 800.

Night Night (100% Crop)

HDR

When the Backlighting option is selected, you can turn on HDR (High Dynamic Range) exposure blending to minimise detail loss in the highlights and shadows alike.

HDR Off

HDR On

Post-Capture D-lighting

If you forgot to turn on HDR (or photographed a subject that doesn’t lend itself well to HDR exposure blending), you can still apply post-capture D-lighting to your image to lift the shadows. The examples below demonstrate the effect.

D-lighting Off

D-lighting On

Special Effects

The Nikon Coolpix AW130 has 8 so-called Special Effect Modes including Soft, Nostalgic Sepia, High-Contrast Monochrome, Selective Colour, Pop, Cross-Process, Toy Camera Effect 1 and Toy Camera Effect 2.

Soft

Nostalgic Sepia
   

High-contrast Monochrome

Selective Colour

   

Pop

Cross Process

   

Toy Camera 1

Toy Camera 2

Quick Effects

In addition to the afore-mentioned Special Effects Modes, there are seven quick effects available, including Painting, Photo illustration, Soft portrait, Portrait (colour+B&W), Fish-eye, Cross process and Miniature effect.

Painting

Photo Illustration
   

Soft Portrait

Portrait
   

Fish-eye

Cross Process
   

Miniature

 
 

Slow-Motion Video

The Nikon AW130 can capture 480p videos at up to 120fps for slow-motion playback.

Time-Lapse Movie

The camera can automatically take up to 300 frames at a specified interval to create 1080p time-lapse videos, which are then played back at 30fps.

Easy Panorama

The Nikon AW130 has an Easy Panorama mode that allows you to take panoramic images simply by sweeping the camera from left to right or vice versa. There are two options available, Normal and Wide.