Review: Nikon AW100

I work in the Geodesy/Surveying team of ARCADIS Netherlands. Many of the surveying projects we do require taking pictures, e.g. for inventarisation purposes. Knowing the location where pictures have been taken is a huge benefit, so I was very happy when Sony brought out the DSC-HX5V, with built-in GPS receiver and electronic compass. I like the Sony (10x zoom, decent image quality, manual control possible) and we own several, including one DSC-HX7V, the successor. I also tested the Casio Exilim EX-H20G, but was disappointed – lacking an electronic compass, the directional accuracy was much worse than the Sony’s.

A complaint about the Sony was the lack of outdoor-proofing (Ricoh makes an outdoor-proof GPS camera, which is much larger and more expensive). Then, Nikon announced what might be the perfect camera for us: The AW100, waterproof and shock-resistant, with built in GPS and electronic compass, just like the Sony. We have bought two, I have tested one of them for a couple of days. The image quality is decent – most apparent is the reduced dynamic range compared to the APS-C DSLR (Nikon D90) I’m used to. The lens is quite slow, so it’s not a replacement for a large-sensor compact like the Canon S95/S100. I have summed up my other findings:


  • Quick start-up.
  • No extending lens.
  • Waterproof, shock-proof.
  • Accurate GPS and electronic compass.
  • Built-in map, also shows location of pictures.
  • Logging functionality (drains the battery, though).
  • Useful image sizes (includes 5MP, 3MP, and 1024×768).
  • Embedding of date and time into images possible.


  • Practically no manual control over exposure (not a big issue considering the small max. aperture).
  • Slow GPS cold start – can be improved considerably by downloading an assist file from Nikon, but this is unfortunately not automated.
  • Battery indicator shows only full or almost empty.
  • No standard mini-USB connector, but thankfully it uses SD cards.


Accurate GPS and electronic compass, water- and shockproof, sufficient zoom range (most of our shots are wide-angle anyways), fool-proof interface. I really don’t get why manufacturers put 16 MP sensors into these things, 10 MP would be much more reasonable. Luckily, you can set the AW100 to 5 MP… It seems to be the perfect camera for our desired use, but I’m disappointed by the slow GPS cold start – with a current AGPS file, fixes are very fast. We’ll have to see whether our surveyors are patient enough to wait for GPS acquisition. Manually downloading the assist file and putting it on the SD card is way too inconvenient in my opinion.