Nikon Coolpix AW120 review: Tough and then some

Plenty tough, just mind the night time noise

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Nikon Coolpix AW120
  • Nikon Coolpix AW120
  • Nikon Coolpix AW120
  • Nikon Coolpix AW120
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5


  • Excellent tough credentials
  • Wi-Fi direct
  • GPS maps
  • Great day time photos


  • Night time photos suffer from image noise
  • Not the smartest auto mode
  • No slow motion recording

Would you buy this?

The styling of the AW120 is on the subtle side. From afar it looks like an ordinary compact camera, which means you can take it white-water rafting and then to a wedding.

Look closer and a couple of traits stand out. There’s a vault-like door on its right charged with protecting the SD card, a 1050 milliamp-hour battery, the microUSB charging port and a micro-HDMI port. The waterproof door requires the pressing of a button and the rotating of a latch before it can be opened. It clicks in place when closed just like the ‘tick, tick, tick’ of a safe.

On the back are the usual buttons found on any compact camera. They rest adjacent to a 3in OLED display that plays back photos legibly, even when you’re under direct sunlight.

The final distinct design trait are two buttons that can be found on the AW120’s left side. The top button launches HERE maps, which works with an in-built GPS receiver to geotag photos and pin points of interest. The second button enables one hand use by allowing you to alternate between five modes by simply shaking the camera.

There are other signs of smarts on this tough cam, including the ability to send photos to your smartphone by creating a Wi-Fi direct connection. The tech also makes it possible to remotely control the Nikon AW120, although you will have to download the application first from either Apple or Google’s app store.

The Nikon 'Mobile wireless utility' app
The Nikon 'Mobile wireless utility' app
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These technologies nestle in a camera body that can be drowned in water 18 metres deep for an hour, withstand temperatures of -10 degrees celsius and drops of 2 metres.

Good Gear Guide dunked the Nikon camera into water a few times over our review period. Every time it emerged fine, whether it rested idle in a fish tank, took on water from a waterfall or tolerated the rain.

One time we dunked the Nikon AW120 in water and then placed it in the freezer for an hour. After cleaning frost from the lens, the toughcam stayed true to its name by immediately working.

Photos captured with the AW120 measure 16 megapixels in size. Nikon has fitted the cam with a 1/2.3in CMOS sensor, an ISO ranging from ISO 125 to ISO 6400 and 5x optical zoom.

The AW120 joined us on a seven hour hike, which involved traversing cliff edges and scaling rocks beneath waterfalls, at the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. Most of the photos captured by the camera retained the vibrant colours that made the sights picturesque. We particularly liked the subtle hues in the sky and the tones present in clouds.

The large 16 megapixel resolution came in handy as it helped hide some of the image noise. Photos will appear without flaw on most screens, but viewing them at native resolution reveals a great deal of image noise. Take photos at night and it only gets worse.

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Familiarising yourself with Nikon’s camera interface doesn’t take long. This is a good thing because the auto mode isn’t the most intuitive. The AW120 requires Macro mode to be selected before close photos are snapped. Once done though, the compact camera can practically touch subjects while keeping them in focus.

Disappointing us was the panorama mode. There’s no way to manually stop a panoramic shot without dancing in circles. The resulting photos will either need cropping or will need to be deleted.

Sample photos

Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120
Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120

Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120
Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120

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Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120
Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120

The photo at 100 per cent of its resolution - Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120
The photo at 100 per cent of its resolution - Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120

Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120
Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120

Macro shot - Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120
Macro shot - Taken with the Nikon Coolpix AW120

Videos recorded with the AW120 max at a resolution of 1920x1080 at 30 frames per second. We feel action cameras should offer some slow-motion recording and the AW120 is at a disadvantage for not supporting videos with a higher frame rate.

Final thought

Nikon’s Coolpix AW120 is a tough, connected and a proficient shooter -- provided the lighting is right. Situations with complex lighting will require some tinkering with the modes, but in the AW120’s defence, it will continue to chug along well after most of its rivals have failed.

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