The concept of a waterproof camera is nothing new — most camera manufacturers offer a variety of waterproof point-and-shoots, and Nikon even made mass-market, waterproof film cameras back in the '60s and '70s. However, Nikon's now bringing something new to the waterproof market: the oddly-named Nikon 1 AW1 is a mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera based on 2011's Nikon 1 J1, but it keeps shooting when submerged in the water and is also shockproof and freezeproof.
Physically, it's cut from the same cloth as the J1, though it's obviously quite a bit more durable than its predecessor. The AW1 is rated waterproof down to 49 feet (even the pop-up flash is waterproof), shockproof up to 6.6 feet, and freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. When shooting underwater, the AW1 has a custom white balance setting to account for the unusual conditions and also features scuba and close-up modes.
Beyond its physical toughness, Nikon is also including some features meant to appeal to the rugged outdoorsy types: it includes built-in GPS for automatic geotagging of your photos and videos. There's also an altimeter, depth gauge, electronic compass, and horizon indicator — definitely fringe inclusions, but potentially useful when you're far away from civilization. The AW1 also includes built-in Wi-Fi; it's a feature that's now table stakes for just about any interchangeable lens camera, so we're glad to see it here.
A step behind standard mirrorless cameras, but a step ahead of other waterproof cameras
Unfortunately, the AW1 also includes one of the J1's biggest downsides: the CX-format sensor. While the AW1's sensor comes in at a respectable 14.1 megapixels (up from the 10-megapixel sensor in the J1), the CX format means its significantly smaller than the sensors found in other mirrorless options. However, it's larger than the point-and-shoot sensors found on just about every other waterproof camera out there — so while the AW1 won't match up to its mirrorless cousins, it could still be the best waterproof camera ever built. The AW1 features an ISO range of 100 - 6,400 and retains the J1's reputation for being a fast shooter: the camera can capture still images at 15 FPS and can go all the way to 60 FPS when the autofocus is locked. It also shoots video in 1080p and includes a slow-motion mode that captures footage at either 400 FPS or 1,200 FPS.
To go along with the AW1, Nikon is also releasing two new lenses that are similarly ruggedized, shockproof, and waterproof. There's an 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens (which covers 30-74mm in the standard 35mm format) as well as a wide-angle 10mm f/2.8 lens (which is equivalent to 27mm in the 35mm format). Nikon already offers both of these lenses in standard versions, so these special weatherproof options will only be available bundled with the AW1, at least for starters. The Nikon 1 AW1 with 11-27.5mm lens will be available in October for $799.95, while a second bundle that adds in the 10mm lens will retail for $999.95. Buyers will have their choice of black, white, and silver models, and Nikon's selling some colorful rubber grip cases along with if you want to personalize your camera further.