While smartphones may be a great go-to device for all your daily snapshots, we doubt you’re eager to bring them out near the pool. Vacations can frequently entail activities likely to jeopardize your smartphone or camera. Luckily, this is exactly what rugged point-and-shoots are built for.
Enter the Nikon AW120 ($349 MSRP), a tough, waterproof camera with decent image quality, just in time for summer vacation. It’s a very minor refresh to last year’s AW110, with a near-identical feature set and slightly better low light shooting. If you manage to find the older AW110 on sale, you can feel safe that you’re not missing out on the latest and greatest.
More of the same might mean “boring” to some, but with Nikon’s newest addition to the AW line, it means sticking with a tried-and-true design. The general construction of the camera is solid, and though it’s a far cry from the premium models on the market, nothing feels too cheaply-made.
The AW120 can withstand depths of up to 59 feet, as well as recording that depth and attaching that info to the photos. Though the quality of the images will never rival that of a DSLR and a dedicated waterproof housing, a camera like the AW120 is your best bet for underwater shots if you need something under $400. However, the camera does have its limits. Drops from over 6 feet may cause damage, and dives that exceed the recommended depth could rupture the camera’s seals and crack the glass.
While all the crevices and ports are water-sealed, it’s worth noting this camera would sink like a stone if dropped in the ocean. Given that this camera is bound to be used in rough waters, holding on tight may not be enough. We highly recommend the wrist strap.
Ruggedness aside, the Nikon AW120′s image quality falls short of a typical $400 camera. The shortcomings are garden variety for point-and-shoot cameras: noise, loss of detail in dim lighting, etc. As long as you’re not expecting the performance of a high-end camera, the AW120 should do the job.
All said, the AW120 is a good bet for the summer beaches and winter trails. It will take just about anything you dish out, producing satisfying photos all the while. It’s a solid point-and-shoot that will, at the very least, do better than your smartphone.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is the fact that you’re looking in the $800 range if you want a camera with similar features but better image quality. Though the world of weather resistant cameras is ever-expanding, interchangeable lens cameras that can go underwater are still very rare. To wit, only the Nikon 1 AW1 fits that mold, while those looking for even better image quality will have to find a waterproof container for their high-end gear.