NIKON AW1: The Ultimate Fisherman’s Camera?

3204508968PLEASE NOTE: This blog is accompanied by a video clip on my Starlo Gets Reel channel on YouTube, which you’ll find by clicking here, or going to

As a full-time fishing writer and presenter, a big part of my job obviously involves capturing photographic images and video to accompany my work, so cameras are important tools for me. My main work camera is a big, heavy, full-frame DSLR (currently a Nikon D610) with a bunch of different lenses, but I also like to carry a compact point-and-shoot: both as a back-up, and for those times when I simply need something smaller and lighter.

Photography is a big part of my job and I usually use a heavy DSLR rig.

Photography is a big part of my job and I usually use a heavy DSLR rig.

Over the 40 years or so that I’ve been writing for magazines, I’ve owned lots of cameras. I’ve eventually worn most out, broken them or drowned them… The fishing world’s a pretty harsh environment for sophisticated optical equipment! Through all of that time, I’ve always been on the lookout for the “ultimate” fisherman’s camera, and I reckon I might have finally found something close to that mark with Nikon’s AW1. While it’s certainly not the perfect solution, it ticks enough boxes on my list to come very, very close.

The AW1 is a reasonably compact, mirror-less camera with interchangeable lenses that’s capable of capturing 14.2 megapixel images in both RAW and JPEG formats via a reasonable-sized sensor… Those are all good things. But the best thing about this camera in my book is the fact that it’s fully waterproof! Not just “splash-proof”, but actually waterproof! Without any form of housing or additional case, it’s rated to a depth of 15 metres, or almost 50 feet… That’s pretty impressive! It’s also rated as shock-proof if dropped onto a hard surface from a height of 2 metres… Ouch!

The marine environment is tough on camera gear!

The marine environment is tough on camera gear!

The AW1 is sealed against dust and capable of withstanding temperature extremes I hope I never have to work in! So, it’s one tough little nut… and it feels it! At close to half a kilo or an old-fashioned pound in weight (with battery and zoom lens), it’s not exactly light, and that’s because it’s made with metal in places where lots of other cameras use plastic. I’m pretty rough with mine and it has picked up its share of scratches and dings in over a year of use, but it’s still going strong. (If you’d like to study the full stat’s and specifications for this camera, click here.)

The AW1 will take any of Nikon’s “1-series” lenses, but at the moment there are only two waterproof lenses specifically made for it: the 11 to 27.5mm f3.5-5.6 zoom that it’s usually sold with in kit form, and a faster, fixed focal length 10mm f2.8 prime lens. I’ve got both.

The zoom is usually sold with thw AW1 as a kit.

The AW1 usually comes as a kit with the 11-27.5mm zoom.

You might wonder why I bothered spending the extra dough to buy a fixed lens that’s only 1mm wider than the zoom… Well, that’s because this prime lens is a bit faster (f2.8), which makes it better suited to low light conditions. It’s also a tad sharper, in my opinion, and it’ll focus in a little bit closer than the zoom… down to about 20 centimetres. Those are all important things, especially for underwater work. So, for me, the zoom tends to live on the camera for general, above-water work and the 10mm goes on for the majority of my underwater stuff.

The Nikon AW1 is a mirrorless camera with inter-changeable lenses.

The Nikon AW1 is a waterproof, mirrorless camera with inter-changeable lenses.

By the way, don’t get too excited about the wide-angle properties of those waterproof lenses… Because of the camera’s modest sensor size, the 11-27.5mm zoom equates to about a 30-75mm in 35mm film or full frame digital terms, while the 10mm translates to a “real” 27mm… Not exactly fish-eye performance, especially underwater, where natural magnification further narrows the actual field of view… You definitely need to bear this in mind. I’d love to see a super-wide 6 or 7mm underwater lens for this camera (equivalent to a “real” 16 or 18mm)… but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting!

There are currently two underwater lenses offered for the AW1: the 11 to 27.5mm f3.5-5.6, and a 10mm f2.8.

As I said at the outset, the Nikon AW-1 offers 14.2 megapixel resolution and it can shoot in both RAW and J-PEG. It also records quality HD video, including bursts of slow motion, if you’re into that. In my opinion, the image quality for both stills and videos is pretty damn good. I’ve had plenty of photos from this camera published in magazines and used on-line. You’ll find a few sample images I’ve taken at the bottom of this blog. Video capture is equally acceptable, both above and below water. In fact, a few short grabs I’ve shot using this camera have actually made it onto free-to-air television as part of “The Offroad Adventure Show”, so I guess you can say it’s broadcast quality! You’ll find some samples of video shot on the AW1 in the accompanying video clip, here.

The biggest trick to getting acceptable underwater images — both still and video — is to have super clear water and plenty of sunshine… You simply can’t beat those two ingredients, no matter what camera you’re using.

Although it’s a reasonably small camera in my hands, the ergonomics of the controls aren’t too bad. There’s an on/off switch on top, the shutter release is next to it, and the video button sits next to that… Oh, and you can snap high-resolution still images WHILE you’re actually shooting video (without stopping the video recording)… That’s neat!

The AW1 comes in black, silver or white finishes.

The stylish AW1 comes in black, silver or white finishes.

On the back, we have the three inch (7.5cm) LCD monitor, which is your viewfinder, playback screen and menu screen. It’s quite bright and clear, but like most of these things, it’s hard to see outdoors in direct sunlight, especially if you’re wearing polarised sunglasses… a pain in the butt, in fact. And there’s NO optical viewfinder… at all. That’s probably the thing I like least about this camera.

The typical controls you find on this sort of camera all work well, and there are a couple of nice little short cuts using the main command dial: such as toggle left to adjust your shooting rate, from single frames to 5, 15, 30 and even 60 frames per second! However, if you go that fast, you’ll only get a brief burst before the buffer for the memory card fills up. Also, at the fastest rates (over 15 fps), auto focus locks on whatever it was for the very first frame, so it won’t follow a moving subject. For those reasons, I rarely go faster than 5 or maybe 15 frames a second. There’s also the option of 10, 5 and 2 second self-timer settings, which are great for “selfies” holding a fish or whatever… except that they only work for ONE shot, then you have to go in and set them again, which is rather annoying! There might be a way around this, but I haven’t found it yet…

The AW1's electronic viewfinder is fine, but hard to see in direct sunlight.

The AW1’s electronic viewfinder is fine, but hard to see in direct sunlight. I wish it also had an optical viewfinder!

Toggling right on the main control gives you access to exposure compensation. At the default zero setting, I’ve found that highlights often wash out, so I spend a lot of time shooting at -0.3. That seems to work well, except in very dark, gloomy conditions. Interestingly, this exposure compensation setting stays where you set it, even if you switch the camera off and back on, despite what I’ve read to the contrary in some tests. This is good in a way, but not if you forget!

Toggling up on the main command dial takes you into shooting modes. There are some interesting and useful modes, too, including miniature effect, selective colour, easy panorama and so on… One thing I would say, though: don’t worry too much about the “Underwater” mode, especially if you’re working within a metre or two of the surface. It’s really for divers going significantly deeper, where colours shift dramatically… And if you use it, you can’t capture images in RAW.

Control lay-out is good, with some great short-cuts to functions.

Control lay-out is good, with some great short-cuts to functions.

Toggling down takes you to different flash modes for the built-in, pop-up flash, which works both above and below water and is reasonably effective. However, using flash underwater only works when there aren’t too many suspended particles in the water… otherwise you’ll capture a snow storm! It’s also easy to end up with over-flashed and washed-out images, so you may need to play with exposure and flash compensation.

The pop-up flash works well.

The pop-up flash works well.

Of course, you can get to all of this stuff through the standard menu, as well, and it’s pretty straightforward, but do spend a bit of time studying the printed manual to learn exactly what lives where… I didn’t always find the location of functions within the menu be completely intuitive.

Staying on the back of the camera, there’s a display button to bring up or hide various on-screen data… Oh, and another interesting button, right next to the thumb rest on the back. Holding it down actually allows you to cycle through the various shooting modes by tilting the camera one way or the other! Pretty clever. It’s designed for divers or snow skiers wearing thick gloves and, to be honest, I’ve never used it! Just be careful you don’t activate it accidentally if you have fat fingers like me. Pity it doesn’t have a “lock”.

Battery life is fair to good.

Battery life is fair to good.

Moving to the bottom of the camera, we have a standard tripod socket and the access door for the battery and memory card. The access doors on the AW-1 all have a fail-safe, double-locking system for underwater work, and if you leave a button unlocked, you’ll see a little yellow warning panel exposed. The battery is a lithium ion job and naturally enough, you get a charger with the camera. I’ve found the battery life to be fair to reasonable, without being great… maybe a couple of hundred frames per charge. Turn the built in GPS/compass thingy on and that battery life goes right out the window… the GPS really chews battery power! Leave it off, I reckon.

The overall ergonomics and handling of the camera are okay, although it would be fairly easy to drop it when operating in the water… and it sinks like a stone! Have a think about fitting a wrist strap or whatever.

The camera handles quite well.

The camera handles quite well, but consider a wrist strap for in-water work.

Lens swapping takes a bit of pressure, for good reason. The seals are tight and they’re backed up by rubber O-rings, lubricated with a special silicone grease. You need to keep these O-rings clean, re-grease them occasionally and ideally replace them every year or so… it’s all in the manual, and you’ll be reminded about it by a pop-up screen message every time you turn the camera on. Obviously, it’s pretty important!

The rubber O-ring must be kept clean and greased.

That all-important rubber O-ring must be kept clean and greased at all times and replaced every year or so.

So, basically, that’s it… the Nikon AW1… I’d have to say it’s the closest thing I’ve yet found to being the perfect fisherman’s camera. Yes, there are a few little things about it that niggle me — like that lack of an optical viewfinder — but overall, it hits the mark beautifully. If you’re a keen angler, a fishing guide, a crew member on a charter boat, a skipper or a budding fishing journalist, I think you’ve probably GOT to have one of these. They’ve been a bit of a well kept secret up until now, but I can tell you that a lot of the shots you’re seeing in magazines and on-line these days are coming from these, and the pro’s have been playing that fact a bit close to the chest! I guess I’ve now let the cat out of the bag.

For well under a grand if you shop around a bit, they’re also pretty good value for money. (If you’re shopping for one, have a look here at Digital Camera Warehouse, or here at JB Hi-Fi for an idea of current pricing.) I know I’d be lost these days without my Nikon AW1, and when I finally break this one, or drop it over the side of the boat, I’ll definitely get another one… Who knows, there might be an Mark-2 version by then: with an optical viewfinder, better battery life and a few of the other little niggles ironed out. Until then, the Nikon AW1 wins my vote as the ultimate fisherman’s camera!

Below is my listing of the major pros and cons of this camera (in my opinion), and below that are a few of my favourite images captured so far on the AW1. Also, make sure you watch my YouTube clip about this camera. You’ll find it on my Starlo Gets Reel YouTube channel, or you can go directly to it simply by clicking here, or going to Tight lines and happy snapping!







Miniature effect!

Miniature effect!