There's the waterproof camera that you can take to the beach, and then there's the waterproof camera that you can dive with. With one of the highest depth ratings in its class, the Nikon AW130 definitely falls in the latter category.
Nikon made pretty big improvements in the depth rating with the AW130. Where the AW120 is only rated at 59 feet, the 2015 version can head down to 98 feet. The imaging technology remains largely unchanged, but the AW130 sees a big jump in durability.
Outside of the big depth rating, the AW130 also has a bit brighter lens at f/2.8 at the widest angle (the AW110 was just f3.9 two years ago). The AW130 is also equipped with an image stabilization system that helps out both on land and in the water.
While the camera looks good on paper—how well does it actually perform in a hands-on Nikon AW130 review? The durability means making a few sacrifices in other areas, but many will find the AW130 suits their needs.
Nikon AW130 Review: Body and Design
All the water-sealing and “body armor” makes the Nikon AW130 a bit larger than the typical point-and-shoot, but it's still a camera that's easy to take along. Weighing 7.8 ounces, it doesn't add much weight to your bag. It's about an inch deep.
The Nikon AW130 feels sturdy in the hands. The front colored piece is smooth and cool, and while it is made up of plastic, it's not a cheap plastic. I felt comfortable enough to let my toddler take pictures with it, knowing it would easily survive a tumble.
Of course, to make the camera water-sealed and dropproof, there's a few sacrifices when it comes to navigation. Like many waterproof models, there isn't a mode dial—there's actually no dials at all. There is a button that brings up a mode menu, navigated through the with arrow keys.
There's also a quite odd feature called Action Control, designed for taking pictures while, say, you're wearing thick ski gloves. Press the bottom button on the side (the other two control wi-fi and GPS), and shake the camera to navigate up and down through the scene modes. You still have to press one button, but it's a larger button that's a bit more accessible with gloves than the arrow keys at the back. Initially, it's a odd way to navigate, but when I can see where it may come in handy when pushing the limits of that freezeproof to 14 degrees standard.
The LCD screen is large and clear. Like most compact cameras, the AW130 has done away with the viewfinder. Where the LCD screen is easy to read in most conditions, it's hard to use in bright sunshine.
The menu buttons are clustered on the backside to the right of the LCD screen. Where a lot of rugged cameras have buttons that are tough to use, I didn't find the buttons hard to press. The shutter release at the top does require a firm push once you've locked the focus, but that didn't cause any issues. The camera includes shortcuts for flash, exposure compensation, macro and self timer. I would have liked to see a shortcut for burst mode, though, instead of accessing it through the full menu.
Getting into the battery/SD card compartment felt a bit like breaking into a vault at first. To open the compartment, you have to hold down a button while turning the knob. Of course, that method is necessary for sealing the battery door against water. Users are warned about waterproofing precautions when using the underwater mode—which includes making sure there's no debris inside the battery door, and that the battery door is sealed. After submersion, the camera should be soaked in clean water for ten minutes, then should completely dry before the battery compartment can be opened, according to the instructions.
Unfortunately, I didn't have a scuba diving trip on my agenda while I had the review model of the AW130. I did toss it into a pond, and where the water was too dirty to get any images with any camera, it survived the submersion just fine. I handed it off to a toddler and even dropped it a few times myself—there's still not a scratch on it.
Nikon AW130 Review: User Experience & Performance
The Nikon AW130 has all the scene modes you might expect, but the camera is a bit limited in what settings you can change in what mode. When you're in a scene mode, the shooting menu just has one option: image size. You can't, say, change your focus settings in underwater mode, or even turn burst shooting on in underwater mode. While burst is available in modes like sports and pets, it could be a nice feature for capturing the right moment when photographing sea creatures or a kid diving into the swimming pool.
Auto is actually the most versatile mode. You can select a different focus mode instead of having the camera focus in the center every time. You can turn burst mode on and off or adjust your ISO, and there are five different flash modes. While I needed to adjust the white balance on auto on occasion, auto offered the most options. I would have liked to see more options within the scene modes, or even a programmed auto for even more flexibility.
The Nikon AW130 is ready to shoot quickly, shooting a photo less than three seconds from powering on. Shooting single images, there's about one second between shots with the autofocus on, about average for this category and price point.
On burst mode, the AW130 will snap at a speed of seven fps—but that's limited to five photos in a row. Once you've snapped a set of five, it takes about four seconds before the camera has processed those images and is ready to shoot again. That's a bit slow compared to other cameras that we've tested, and a big enough window you could miss a great shot because the camera's still processing.
The most impressive feature about the AW130's performance isn't necessarily how it performs, but where. It can head down to almost 100 feet underwater, which means it can perform where other waterproof cameras cannot. The shooting modes could use a bit more versatility, and it's not the fastest camera in its class. But, the AW130 certainly gets the job done, and with a better depth rating than other similar cameras.
Nikon AW130 Review: Image Quality
The AW130's depth rating won't do much good if it can't snap quality images—how do the photos live up to expectations?
Images from the AW130 are well saturated, with good color reproduction. The auto white balance works well most of the time, but there were a few instances indoors that necessitated a change to capture accurate colors.
Images from the AW130 are sharp—in fact the sharpness is quite excellent for the category. Even using the full 4x optical zoom, lines and edges are sharp. That sharpness produces a good level of detail.
|Sharpness test, 0x zoom||Sharpness test, 4x zoom|
However, detail is lost quickly at higher ISOs. The camera is best kept at or under ISO 1600, though there's still a little detail loss there. At ISO 3200, noise is quite obvious and color noise creeps in. At 6400 ISO, there's obvious grainy patches of unusual colors.
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400||ISO 800|
|ISO 1600||ISO 3200||ISO 6400|
In low light, the AW130 captures ambient light well. The f/2.8 lens helps to let more light in compared to the f/3.6 lens more commonly found on compact cameras. The noise at higher ISOs does limit the low light performance a bit though.
The AW130 will capture video at 1080p HD, at 30 fps. The quality of the footage is decent, particularly when zoom isn't used. The camera didn't refocus after zooming in, however, and the lens makes an audible noise while moving.
Nikon AW130 Sample Images
Nikon AW130 Review: Conclusion
The Nikon AW130 has an excellent depth rating and is capable of snapping photos deeper than a snorkeling trip. The camera is rugged and durable, but the trade-off is a more limited performance and higher noise in the images. None of those factors are deal-breakers, however, and the AW130 is a good camera to take underwater.
It's pretty common for waterproof cameras to make a few sacrifices for that added durability when compared to a regular compact camera—but what about when compared to another waterproof camera?
The Olympus TG-4 offers a brighter f/2.0 lens and both programed auto and aperture priority modes, solving the scene mode limitations of the AW130. But, the TG-4 has half the depth rating and has a list price that's about $20 more.
The Pentax WG-5 also has a brighter lens, but a much slower 1.5 fps burst. It's also only rated at 45 feet.
The budget Fujifilm XP80 sits about $100 less than the list price of the AW130. Along with a better price, it has a better burst mode and better video. The lens isn't nearly as bright though, at just f/3.9, which means it doesn't perform as well in limited lighting—and there's limited lighting underwater. The depth rating is also limited to 50 feet.
The Nikon AW130 is well suited for deep diving. It can head down nearly 100 feet under water without additional housing. Images are good, and while not as great as some other compact cameras, the AW130 will head places other cameras can't.