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The Nikon AW130 is one of my favorite rugged waterproof cameras. It’s not perfect for everyone, but it does well in both photos and video, and better yet, I think it’s tougher than the competition.
This summer the pros over at B&H Photo Video hooked me up with seven — that’s right, seven — waterproof digital cameras, which I promptly took fly fishing and out playing on the river . . . all at the same time. The Nikon AW130 was one of these waterproof wonders. The experience of using it, right next to other great cameras, revealed what I like about it most — and where I wish it could improve.
To be clear, the only reason to buy the AW130 is if you want a tough, rugged, waterproof camera that you can swim with, take boating, use in the rain, snow, mud, or sand. If this sounds like you, read on!
*Note: Nikon has a new and improved waterproof camera now, the Nikon COOLPIX W300. It’s basically an updated AW130 that shoots improved video. Learn more in our best waterproof cameras guide.
Hands-On: The Nikon AW130 Review
The 16 megapixel Nikon AW130 is waterproof down to 100 feet, shockproof to 6.6 feet, and freezeproof down to 14°F.
It has a 24-120mm equivalent f2.8-4.9 lens, which isn’t as fast as the f2.0-4.9 lens in the Olympus TG-4, but it’s pretty good. In fact, in my side-by-side tests, I had to intently pay attention to notice the only slight difference.
It has an optical 5.0 zoom.
Overall, the Nikon AW130 is one of the best waterproof cameras available in this class today. The photo quality is excellent in this class of camera, and the video quality seems to be a bit better than I expected out of 1080p at 30 fps — probably because of the AW130’s 5-axis vibration reduction. Basically, if you’re interested in filming any sort of action video, 1080p at 60 fps is the baseline I expect; however, for mild action like swimming or snorkeling or playing with the kids on the beach or the occasional fishing video, most people will be quite happy with the Nikon 1080p at 30 fps.
Let’s put it this way: If your astonishing video is going to go viral on YouTube, this camera is not your limiting factor.
So where does the AW130 shine? Its rugged toughness. The Nikon AW130 feels like it has the most solid build quality out all the waterproof cameras that I’ve held that cost only a few hundred dollars or less.
If, for example, you needed something solid to drive a wooden stake into the heart of a monster, I’d reach for the AW130 to get the job done first.
Not only does the build quality feel tougher, the AW130 is rated down to a waterproof depth of 100 feet, which is quite a bit farther than average. At the same time, Nikon must be paying attention to the details. For instance, the AW130 is the only camera I tested this summer that had raised bumps around the rear LCD glass, which means you could place the camera LCD down and the glass wouldn’t touch a relatively flat surface.
The Nikon AW130 waterproof camera excels with superior toughness.
The Nikon AW130 looks great wet.
AW130 top view.
AW130 rear view, one note: my unit’s video recording button was not red, but all others seem to be red now.
Gotta love being able to go to the beach and not worry about sand and water. . . .
WiFi, GPS, and Shooting Modes
The AW130 has a built-in GPS unit that keeps track of your location for each shot, as well as records water depth. It includes built-in WiFi for easy photo uploading and sharing, plus you can use a Nikon app with your smartphone to use your smartphone as a remote control. For travelers, Nikon also includes a Points of Interest feature that can show you nearby photo-ops like scenic lookouts and historic landmarks.
As you would expect with Nikon, the menu system is intuitive and easy to learn. The automatic shooting modes are solid, but I also like the rapid-fire option: Hold the shutter button down and you can nail up to 5 shots per second, which is great for action sports shots, kids that are running around playing in the yard, or wildlife.
Weakness? AW130 Video
Like the TG-4, the AW130 is limited to 1080p at 30 fps. As a comparison, an iPhone 6 will handle 1080p at 60 fps and it produces great video for the size of its fixed lens. Of course, I’m not going to go snorkeling with my iPhone, even with a waterproof case. The point is, if you want liquid smooth action for fast action shots, the best point-and-shoot rugged camera for that is the Panasonic Lumix TS6.
But there is more to AW130 video than meets the eye. If you’re trying to take a video of any human or animal just 40 yards away, with a fixed-lens camera (like on the iPhone or on a GoPro action camera), your subject is going to seem even farther away in the video. The AW130 has a 5x optical zoom, which means you can reach out and get much closer to your subject. For example, if I’m trying to take video of a baby mountain goat licking its mom’s nose, that 5x zoom in the AW130 is going to be critical to getting good footage.
Test the Waterproofing First
Every manufacturer recommends that you test the waterproofing capabilities in your shiny new camera by placing it underwater for a period of time — in a bucket, in your sink, whatever. They also warn you about making sure that the rubber gaskets that seal out dirt and water are completely clear of debris . . . because a little piece of sand or even a hair can break the seal, letting water inside. Some of the one-star reviews online seem to be from people who didn’t test their unit first . . . or maybe weren’t paying attention. Either way, testing can reveal a manufacturer error, so be sure to do it at home first.
Of course, you should also go into a rugged camera investment knowing this: Pocketable waterproof cameras do not produce the same level of picture quality that you can get out of full-size DSLRs or the newer mirrorless cameras, but they can produce sweet photos of things you would never capture if you were lugging around a more breakable camera — that’s the bargain: Pretty darn good photos vs no photos at all?
Recommendation for the AW130
Get the Nikon AW130 Tough camera if you want super rugged build quality, a full GPS-enabled feature set, and excellent overall performance in its class. The AW130 simply feels tougher and a bit more solid in your hand than the competition.
One last note: Be sure to buy a fast, high-quality SDHC card. For the best overall value and fast speed, I use the SanDisk Extreme Pro — totally worth a few bucks extra over slower cards (because slower cards can sometimes limit camera performance).