The Nikon Coolpix AW 100 Underwater Point and Shoot Camera

Posted May. 14th, 2012 by Daniel J. Cox

Just before I left for the Galapagos, I decided to pickup the relatively new Nikon Coolpix AW100 underwater point and shoot camera. I made the decision not to bring the huge amount of equipment normal large DSLR cameras create when shooting below the water’s surface. I wanted light, quick, and easy. As I’ve discussed in the past, my local Nikon dealer, F-11 Photo, has a great selection of equipment, and I was lucky to be able to drop down to Main Street and collect a black version for my trip to Ecuador. If you just want to see the photographic results of this mini review you can follow this link: Nikon AW 100 Underwater Camera Test Shoot in Galapagos and Machupicchu.

Stone scorpionfish (Scorpaena plumieri mystes) is a master of deception, disguising itself as a rock, clump of vegetation, or piece of coral. James Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador


The main reason for wanting something to shoot underwater was our planned snorkeling excursions while in the Galapagos. Our Galapagos trip is as much about being in the water as it is on land. We spend a great deal of time hiking the varied landscapes, but after our morning hike and before our afternoon hike, each day we would be spending 45-60 minutes exploring the reefs full of fish, sea lions, and magnificent corals.

Sally lightfoot crab (Grapsus grapsus). James Bay, Galapgaos Islands, Ecuador

Overall the camera did a reasonably nice job with the photo opportunities I used it for. It’s simple to use if you give it the freedom to do what it was mainly meant to do and that is “point and shoot.” If you can believe it, I left the manual at home and there were several things I wanted to try but could not figure out without the manual. In fact, one of our guests had the exact same camera and between the two of us we could not decipher out how to set the GPS option to the ‘on’ position. It wasn’t until I was able to download the manual, when I got back to a hotel with high speed Internet that I finally got it to work.

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming near Lobos Islet , San Cristóbal Island, Galapagos, Ecuador.

Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming near Lobos Islet, San Cristóbal Island, Galapagos, Ecuador.

Here’s a bulleted list of pros and cons I found from working with this camera for nearly a month.


  • Turns on fast and focuses relatively quickly
  • Is very small and lightweight—fits into a purse or briefcase without you even noticing
  • Decent, easy-to-use controls
  • Exposure compensation easily at hand without digging into the menu system
  • Very good closeup/macro setting
  • Very good Movie quality at 1080P for the normal home movie experience
  • Menu system fairly easy for 90% of the things most people will want to do
  • Very well sealed for snorkeling—no issues with leakage or anything to do with water issues
  • Dedicated flash button on back of camera that allows easy customization of flash—good for forcing flash for fill light in bright sunlight
  • Difficult to figure out how to take more control from the camera. If you can live with Point and Shoot it’s no problem.
  • Some menu items are difficult to find such as the GPS function. I’m still not sure how I finally got there.
  • Lens is located at the left upper corner. Hard to point quickly due to the lens being off-center. If holding with two hands, left fingers often get in the way and show up on image. Really do not like the position of the lens.
  • 16-megapixel sensor – too many pixels crammed onto the sensor which creates noise, especially on such a small digital sensor. The images look great until you look at them at 100%. Then it looks like A LOT of noise reduction, AKA smearing is going on. For normal-sized prints this should not be an issue but then you don’t need a 16-megapixel chip.
  • Substantial lag after each shot. Camera seems to be processing and not allowing additional photos until it’s finished.
Overall the camera did an admirable job for what I wanted it for. I haven’t made any large prints from the JPEG only files yet since I’m writing this while still on the road. I recently sent my assistant Jill a full sized JPEG to print so it should be there when I get back to the studio in a couple of days. Will update when I get a chance to give the 11×17 inch print a good review. Let me know if you have any questions by sharing them on this Blog. If you’re interested in joining you can check out our Invitational Photo Tours and apply by visiting Natural Exposures Invitational Photo Tours
Here’s a video of a hammerhead shark I saw:

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