Customer Reviews: Nikon COOLPIX AW120 16 MP Wi-Fi and Waterproof Digital Camera with GPS and Full HD 1080p Video (Orange) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
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on March 31, 2014
I'm a prosumer photographer that owns 6 cameras, as of today 7 including this one. This is my third underwater (others are Canon D10 and GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition).

I bought this as a replacement for my bulbous and dated Canon D10. I hate using water housings and would never risk one of my DSLRs in one or shell out for one anyway. I simply like the fact that I can take a waterproof camera in my swimsuit pocket around all day on the beach or on dive boats and never worry about it.

After doing more hours of research online than I care to admit, it came down to the Panasonic Lumix TS-5 and the Nikon AW120. I still had to try out each in a store before choosing, and even then wasn't sure. All of which underlines not that there's a great field of worthy choices to choose from, but each UW camera out there as of this writing has so many weaknesses it's difficult to choose the least bad one.

Here are the differences I found by briefly trying the Lumix and AW120 in-store:
- the AW120 has slightly slimmer dimensions, but noticeably less heavy, which appealed to me
- the Lumix has a far stronger, more evenly-lighting flash (or maybe it was automatically choosing slow-sync, but it doesn't matter, it looked great); I don't plan to take too many land night shots, but I've seen that underwater flash does come out better on Lumix
- the Lumix appears to have more "features", but they're basically useless: e.g. timelapse (but the shortest interval is a pointless 10 seconds, should be a half-second), "manual mode" (can only change either aperture from wide open to fully stopped down, or shutter speed from fast to 4 seconds)
- the Lumix has a terrible live view when you pan (even slowly), the display stutters to catch up; I only ever see this on the cheapest of compacts; very visually annoying as you can't see what you're about to shoot and a dealkiller for me
- the ergonomics of the Nikon are better to me; it feels more natural in my hand and the buttons feel better also
- AW120 lacks the common "Display" button though; that's annoying
- video record is on the back on the AW120, but on the top on the Lumix; my preference is on the back, where I'll never ever confuse it for the shutter release button
- reviews say the Lumix user interface is better but I found the Nikon to be more intuitive

Other reasons I bought the Nikon, even though the Lumix has definitely better dynamic range (from the pics I've seen online):
- the Nikon has f/2.8 max aperture while the Lumix has a slower f/3.3, and good light is hard to come by underwater
- the Nikon is also wider at the wide end, and I've never seen water damage complaints for the Nikons vs lots of complaints for the Lumix (and terrible customer support from Panasonic).
- the Lumix has better video quality, but it can only do 1080p in AVCHD format! Lame, since it's not Mac-friendly; I could deal with the more-painful-than-usual transcoding process of AVCHD but why do I want to transcode (and degrade) in the first place just to view on my computer? Super lame.
- the Lumix has proprietary connectors, not micro-USB like everyone else. So if I lose it among my 30-something connectors, I'm in trouble. Yes, this is what Panasonic thinks is a good idea in 2014.

Yet, you always learn more when you actually take a camera home. Here are my first impressions:

- First thing I notice is the strap. There's no true water strap. The manual describes the strap that comes with it as being for land use only, but it's really ridiculous, the kind that's so big you're probably supposed to wear it around your neck - who wears a compact around their neck?? The Lumix strap is more normal, but it still doesn't have a way to cinch around your wrist. It seems like all the manufacturers want you to buy a separate floaty strap, although I could care less if the camera floats just as long as it's cinched around my wrist. I'll just have to borrow the strap off my D10. For the record, camera manufacturers, here is a REAL water strap (notice the cinch), and they should always be included: [...]
- Second, the battery cannot be charged by removing it, putting in a simple charger, and plugging into the wall. It has to stay in the camera, with the battery door OPEN so the micro-USB can connect to the inside of the camera. This sounds good on an engineer's paper, but in the real world it's a flaw. Why? Because as the battery door lays open over an hour or so to charge, it gathers lint, dust, whatever from the surfaces it touches and the air. Anyone who understands water sealing knows it takes only a tiny hair to break the seal underwater - and sure enough, upon inspection after charging, I had two small fibers right on the rubber seal gasket. Sure I could brush them off with the included tiny brush (which I'm sure I'll lose), but why should I have to? The only upside is that the micro-USB can be used to charge directly from a computer or other device, which I can see being useful in some circumstances. The Lumix can't do that at all, you need a wall outlet.
- Also, I don't like the shutter release on the AW120. It's flush with the camera body, so you can't really squeeze it like you should, you have to press it. That doesn't help sharpness in low-light.

These are smaller items of course; the pictures count most. Will update in a month or so when I've taken lots of underwater pictures.

Side note to manufacturers and everyone - why do all these UW compacts have a ridiculous 16 MP? Please stop this terrible arms race! 16 MP is HURTING image quality by increasing noise, accompanied by detail-destroying noise reduction. Start educating consumers that what's needed now are bigger apertures, bigger sensors and better processors.


OK after using this camera on a 2 week trip to Thailand, here are my additional thoughts:

- underwater photos came out quite nice, about as I expected
- land photos are so-so, but as I expected for a camera like this
- the photo review time (display time on the LCD after you shoot) is insanely short (about 0.5 seconds); there is no way I can find to extend it, which is annoying
- the photo review "info display" unfortunately is nearly useless; if you care about reviewing the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, flash mode, shot mode, and maybe depth you're out of luck
- underwater videos came out very nice, way better than my old Canon D10 (although I expect that most cameras in this class have about as good video)
- battery life was great; I used it all day without a worry; blows the GoPro away in this regard
- the on-screen barometer/depth meter is nothing short of awesome; when I was scuba diving, I never needed to look at my depth gauge because the camera told me everything; I only wish it would record the depth in the metadata but you can't have it all
- no problems whatsoever with waterproofing or condensation; in fact I definitely took it below the 18m rating on my dives; at about 22m I was freaking out because I could see the LCD slightly bending inward under the pressure, but the camera held up like a champ
- underwater auto white balance was not as accurate as the Lumix (from reviews I've seen); I later realized that the camera does have a custom white balance setting, which I should've set by shooting the palm of my hand underwater
- the Easy Auto mode very intelligently switches to Macro when you're close to a subject above water, but not at all when underwater; had some frustration in constantly forcing the camera into macro mode underwater (but I know of no camera that does it any better)
- the slow-sync flash mode, which usually produces a look I love in night land shots, is not nearly as good as Canons; shame but of course I wouldn't usually use this camera at night on land anyway
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on March 11, 2014
First off, this is an upgrade to the fairly popular AW-110, and there's a ton of YouTube videos that list the features and show comparisons to other cameras. I suspect that Nikon wanted to compete with the Olympus TG-2 with this model, which has similar features. The biggest upgrade here is the 24 mm wide-angle lens and faster maximum aperture of 2.8. The Olympus still has an F2 lens. There is of course a GPS, and Wi-Fi. I don't much use my camera as a compass, so this really wasn't a big deal for me. I can see where the Wi-Fi could come in useful for remotely controlling the camera. Nikon has also added a number of new video formats. Admittedly at highest resolution you're going to generate some humongous file sizes. Even a short video can run 500 to 600 megs. I suspect most people would be happy with the 720 mode.

I would not get too wrapped up in megapixel rating as the sensor sizes are generally very small in point and shoot cameras. More megapixels does not necessarily equate to better images. In fact, it usually means more noise. I'm not sure how this camera stacks up against other point-and-shoot cameras in its class as most of my other gear is pro equipment. To me, I see a fair amount of noise even at ISO 400, but again I think this is pretty common for this price level camera.

There's a number of things that do bother me about this camera. One is the zoom. I don't know if I have a defective camera, but the zoom is very jerky, and not smooth at all. Occasionally (Frequently) it just zooms all the way out or all the way in instead of settling at an intermediate step. I'm going to contact Nikon about this as again, I may have a defective camera. I have been unable to take any professional looking, smooth videos.

The focus is fairly fast. I will have to play a little bit with post production with the images, but the camera needs lots of light for best results. I really would like to see an even faster lens. As to apertures, there is basically two. I believe it's 2.8 and 4.2. (Fireworks mode does stop the camera down more, but also changes the white balance). There is no way(mode)to stop the lens down further for greater depth of field or any kind of creative effects. The cameras is capable of slower shutter speeds, but you would have to put some neutral density filters in front of the lens if you want to access them for creative effects. I believe the Olympus has an advantage here.

My understanding was that the older 110 model came with a filter adapter to allow you to use 40.5 mm filters, but this new does not include one. I'm not sure if they are available as an accessory or not. There are quite a few "Scene modes" and then an easy auto if you really don't want to think about anything. Namely the camera will do its best, based on its programming, to get you a good picture. The auto mode (different than easy auto mode and scene mode) gives you much greater control, and you do have the option at least of turning the flash on and off, using fill-in flash, or slow sync, redeye reduction, timer, macro mode, etc. each scene mode add some kind of attribute. The party/event mode for example adds a redeye reduction, the close-up mode puts the camera into macro mode, the sports mode uses a high shutter speed, the fireworks mode turns off the auto white light balance, and puts the camera into a different color temperature and stops the lens down more and decreases shutter speed, the list goes on. The more you know about photography, the less you would be likely to use these modes, but I'm sure many people will appreciate them.

If you're interested in more of the auto features I think these are very similar to the older model, and you can read about them in other reviews. I actually wish there was more manual control, but not very common with point-and-shoot style cameras. All the buttons are very small and pretty tough to read. I think you may be able to press the shutter release with a pair of gloves on, but other than that you would have to remove gloves to operate. Here again I think the Olympus has an edge.

I was able to see the screen in sunlight, but it does tend to wash out. You can see well enough to compose your shot. I believe Nikon also attempted to improve the image stabilization as I see there is a "hybird" mode now. I really can't comment on how well it works over previous models, but my handheld videos look quite good.

Color accuracy looks quite good, and I suspect resolution is decent for this class of camera. Again, don't be fooled by the 16 megapixel rating. My eight-year-Canon D-20 takes much better pictures at eight megapixel with less noise. Of course, this started out as a $1500 camera, so not exactly an apples to apples comparison.

I would say for the price this camera has a lot of outstanding features. It's small, lightweight, has some pretty nice video with plenty of options, and image stabilization seems very good. The scene mode gives you loads to address most situations, but don't expect manual control here as you're not going to get any. I would say the still modes would give you good enough quality to produce a very nice 16 x 20 print. I even tried a 24 x 36 print last night and it held its own--impressive. The fill-in flash mode worked very well in my few test, whereas used as a main flash it's a bit harsh. Again, pretty typical for a point-and-shoot.

I only tried a few underwater shots, and did not even have the camera set to the proper mode, and got some good results. I think this camera could easily replace something like a Go Pro, and you can actually frame and see what you're shooting! Overall I think it represents an excellent value. Oh, I will add that I accidentally dropped the camera from 4' (thought I had it attached to the tripod screw and did not-ooops!) and it bounced a couple of times on my laminate floor. Not even a scratch!

I'm taking off one star for the very poor zoom function.

if you would like to know about any specific feature please don't hesitate to post a comment.

Beat out the Black addition of the Go Pro:
See [....]
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on March 12, 2014
This camera does what I ask of a point-and-shoot. It's easy to use with a minimum of work to extract useable photos and video. But as of right now, this camera costs $130 more than the camera it replaces, the Nikon AW110. I purchased the AW120 over the AW110, with no reviews to guide my decision, hoping it resolved some of the AW110's shortcomings. Here are some of my initial impressions:

1. 24mm equivalent wide angle is more versatile than the 28mm AW110.
2. There seems to be an extra lip around the lens to prevent unwanted fingers wandering into the frame.
3. Longer rated battery life (using the same battery).
4. The sensor and image processor appear to be identical to the AW110 - acceptable 16MP photos with heavy noise reduction smoothing (standard for this class of camera). No improvement here.
5. Smart auto mode appears biased toward "night" mode in low light. This has the effect of relatively longer shutter speeds and blurry subjects if they are moving. Setting the camera to portrait or regular auto mode seems to enable the flash and eliminate the blurry phenomenon. From reviews of the AW110, the AW120 seems very similar with perhaps no improvement.
6. Videos have a quiet ticking sound when using zoom during filming, but I found it acceptable.
7. Charger does not have the option of charging the battery out of camera. I believe this is a change from the AW110.
8. Display screen is higher resolution than the AW110, but may still be prone to washout in bring sunlight.
9. Buttons are on the mushy side. They are probably the same as the AW110. They are useable, but inferior to the Panasonic TS5 buttons for sure.

So it boils down to a few modest improvements over the AW110 for quite a hike in price. I really appreciate the 24mm wide angle and longer battery life (if true), but the rest of the camera is functionally equivalent to the AW110 (for me, anyway). You'll have to decide for yourself if it's worth the premium.

Since my original review, the AW120 street price has dropped considerably, and the AW110 has been discontinued (although still available), so the comparison is no longer appropriate. After using the AW120 for several months, here are some additional thoughts:
1. The 24mm wide angle lens is truly useful--not just for still photos but especially for videos. To achieve the HD video aspect ratio, the top and bottom of the sensor's image are cropped, effectively zooming in and reducing your field of view. Having a wide angle to start with gives you a fighting chance to keep your close subjects in the frame.
2. Brightly lit, outdoor casual snapshots are about as good as other point and shoot cameras. No complaints here.
3. Indoor shots are another matter. The AW120 really likes to show off its image stabilization feature with slow shutter speeds. The problem is that moving subjects needs faster shutter speeds and there really isn't a good way to control shutter speed. None of the auto modes favor faster shutter speeds, nor is there a manual mode. Forcing flash helps somewhat but the AW120 still tends to slow-sync even with flash. I found that bumping up ISO sensitivity (instead of leaving it in auto) did force the camera to choose a faster shutter speed, but Nikon dropped the ball with their smart modes here.
4. The f/2.8 aperture is a bit of a marketing gimmick. It is only f/2.8 at 24mm. But with just two taps of the zoom lever, the aperture jumps up to f/4.2 (and then increases somewhat linearly to f/4.9 at max zoom). Not that this is a huge deal or anything, it takes snapshots just fine. Just don't buy it for the f/2.8 lens!
5. The neck strap is ridiculous. Nobody wears a point and shoot like a dSLR. I commandeered a wrist strap from an older camera and installed it on the AW120.
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on July 5, 2014
I bought the AW120 to take with me on a rafting expedition on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I knew I needed a rugged, waterproof camera, but which one? I didn't necessarily want a camera with all the features of the AW120, but the way the market is defined today, you just can't get a decent rugged camera without them.

Being a many-times-over Nikon user (currently using a D7000 with an 18-200 VR zoom lens), the AW120 was a candidate even before it was available to replace the AW100 and AW110. My most important criteria was sharpness of the pictures (surprise!); but as I read review after review for the AW120 and its competitors, sharpness didn't seem to be in the portfolio of any of the rugged cameras. In this category, you can get built-in GPS and WiFi, as well as dozens of "smart" exposure and focusing modes, but you can't get manual setting of shutter speed or f-stop. Judging by the reviews I've read, it seems you can't get a decent lens either. Or so I thought...

Jumping ahead, I took some 1500 exposures during our 8 day river run. I've got about one-third of them displayed on a web site for other trip members and friends, and the comments I have gotten back from my SLR-using friends has been nothing but excellent. I am working on assembling a short video on the rapids we shot, and can't wait to have that examined as well. Yes, there's a bit of a ticking you hear when zooming, but the video and audio quality (particularly music audio) is excellent for the type of documentation I envision doing with it.

As I mentioned, image sharpness was my first concern... Why did so many reviewers rate the sharpness as a liability for this class of camera? I think it might have something to do with lack of information from Nikon and other manufacturers on which modes to use for maximum sharpness, best dynamic range, depth of focus to expect at different zoom lengths, etc., etc. The AW120 does not come with a decent manual. So, in the few weeks I had before the trip, I downloaded a copy of the AW120 Reference Manual from the Nikon site. It's really an instruction manual as well as a reference. Anyway, the document was 236 pages (all in English), which I printed two per sheet on letter size paper.

I then started looking for the modes I thought I might want to use on the trip, when to use them, how to set them, and what they do. I discovered a lot about the camera (and I'm nowheres near done). One of the most interesting things I found was a listing of the JPEG compression algorithms used in the different 'Image Modes" of the camera. Only one of the camera's 8 "Image Modes" uses 4:1 JPEG compression; all the others use 8:1 JPEG compression. The lower the compression ratio, the larger the file but the better the image quality.

Here's my secret: the single mode for best picture quality is the first choice on the Image Mode Menu, designated "16M*". That's a star or asterisk following the M. In my home tests, it was virtually impossible to get a really sharp photograph at any focal distance, with any other Image Mode setting. Use the Menu button in picture taking mode to select the 16M* image mode and be careful not to change it by accident. If you really need smaller files, buy a larger SD chip, say 32 GB.

The AW120 is a feature-laden, rugged point and shoot that can be a very capable and satisfying friend. If you make sure you are always using the starred 16 M mode, you will get very sharp pictures. Selecting a small amount of sharpening from your photo program can usually improve this kind of situation, but you'll end up sharpening images that just don't have the resolution to start with.

I downgraded what I hoped would be a 5 star rating on the AW120, primarily due to the quantity of documentation that Nikon makes you go through to figure out why and how to use many features. Those features are mostly not intuitively invoked or described in a way that I can remember when to use them and how. Fortunately, there is a very straight-forward AUTO mode that I found myself basically glued to. Operating the camera in the AUTO mode allows quick and intuitive changes to the flash system for Flash Auto/ON/OFF and back-light compensation; quick on/off setting of the macro function to allow close-ups nearly touching the front of the lens; and fast +/- changes to the exposure being suggested by the auto system.

The positives of the AW120 are many and (in my opinion) certainly support a 5 star rating if you aren't sensitive about having to wade through hundreds of pages of instruction to figure out what you bought.

To mention a couple of characteristics that were important to me... It's VR system works very well, even when shooting videos. The camera is resistant to submersion in water and to blowing fine sand. I had no trouble washing and drying it every day when I replaced the battery. It's easy on batteries. The number of shots per battery charge works out to be more than 350 (or about an hour of 1080P HD video). I actually took 8 batteries with me on the rafting trip and used a fresh one every day. I ended up taking only about 175 pictures per day, so on average, I was only running the batteries down half-way. Although I haven't tried it yet, the camera has built-in GPS including maps. I'm looking forward to doing some caching on my photo trips.

Bottom line...the AW120 is living up to my expectations and requirements. I am not finished by any means with the manual, but I am impressed with the basic camera and its photographic image quality. I like its design and feature set and the way features are implemented. I would recommend the camera to a more advanced photographer, but prior experience with a Nikon really doesn't help since many features are new and more familiar features are implemented differently. You just have to anticipate what you would like to do in certain situations, and practice a little at home to make sure you get the results you want.
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on June 11, 2014
I've got my Nikon Coolpix AW120 more than a month ago. It is my first rugged camera. We are Nikon fans and we have Nikon D7000 and we just got Nikon Coolpix S32 (don't buy this one! we will return it!!). In addition I also have GoPro Hero3 Silver, a very old Sony point-and-shoot digital camera and a small old Sony video camcorder.

I have to say as unlike the GoPro, the AW120 have it's own body for protection, I was little nervous to test it underwater. First took it in the shower, then put it in a glass of water. Finally we went to Cuba, so the serious test was that I put it in the very salt Caribbean water and did some photos and videos underwater. Must say I am not a professional, so my review will reflect the casual user point-of-view.

Here are my impressions:

As a whole the camera performs very nice. Focus is fast enough. Different modes are fun. As a whole, the camera is very fun to use. However this camera is not geared towards the very novice user. True, the camera is easy enough for novices, but the menus are detailed and even that the menus are not like on a DSLR, they could be little frustrating for a newbie.

Out of the water the camera performs well. I have no issues. Both pictures and video. Speaking of which the microphone does nice too.

Underwater it was great too. But I must point out that I never went for the deep water. So I had plenty of light underwater. The sand was bright-white so lots of reflected light too. Videos were very nice. I think I cannot put my Youtube links here, but if you search Youtube for "strayferal" and "aw120" you will see my underwater videos, which I uploaded completely unedited, so you will get the idea.

What I like:
- Nice metal body - yeah, there are plastic parts, but the front part is metal
- Built-in filters (effects) - this makes the camera real fun to play with
- lots of other goodies which I never use - it can add voice note to the picture, it can record the current barometric pressure, location and other stuff to the picture, built-in map and more - it's cool, I just don't need it

What I dislike:
- When doing a video and I use the zoom, it's very noisy - wish they fix it somehow

The bottom line is I started to love this camera. I have it always in my backpack wherever I go.
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on February 23, 2015
This camera is amazing. Dove in cozumel with it 60 ft. I also ended up taking a slip on a wet stair in heels before dinner one night and in the midst of catching myself I dropped the camera off the side of the balcony one story up! Not a scratch on the camera and I managed to save myself from injury. Fabulous photos and perfect for an on the go couple/family. Looking forward to canoe trips, camping and family fun. Definitely exceeds my expectations. I am attaching a photo that I took underwater 45 ft with the camera and another of above water.
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on December 10, 2014
This camera was perfect for my trip to Hawaii. I got one of those floaty straps for it and took a ton of great photos in the pool and ocean. (Make sure to read the cleaning instructions!)
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on September 22, 2014
I have had many Nikon cameras including manual UW and pro level DLR's so I am familiar with the Nikon approach to its menu structure. But it helped very little with the Coolpix AW120 where it ships with the Easy Auto mode setting engaged which it turned out disables many of the submenus to make it easier in theory for users. I had to first download the PDF manual to locate how to get out of this mode.

After a month I found that the camera would drain a fully charged battery in a day or two with the camera turned off. It would then lose the settings like the data and the time and go back into "Easy Auto" mode. The way to change the menu selection from Easy Auto to Auto to Landscape to Snow to Underwater involves pushing a special button and then flipping the camera back and forth physically to change the settings - how "special" is that?

I sent the camera in for repair to Nikon who has their P&S cameras repaired by Luxtech. I got the camera back with a note stating that the battery had no charge when they checked out the camera. I had included a note stating that this was the problem and I had fully charged the battery before sending it out with the camera. The camera is under warranty but it is of no use to me with this problem that Nikon will not repair.

My next point and shoot camera will definitely not be a Nikon one.
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on November 20, 2014
Flooded on third use. Managed to rescue the SD card, but the camera is toast. Very disappointed, and it looks like I am out 300 bucks (past the 30 day mark).
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on August 27, 2014
I have to say that I am quite disappointed with this camera I just purchased for my trip to the Caribbean. I had it in the shallow pool for a couple hours and it fogged all up and then shutdown. I now have no camera for the rest of my trip. I plan on returning it as soon as I return. Not sure if I just got a bad one. Should have left it submerged before my trip. Lesson learned.
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