Nikon Coolpix AW120 Review

May 29, 2014 | Jack Baker | |
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Image Quality

All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 16 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 5Mb.

In good light and at low sensor sensitivities, the AW120 produces attractive images with vibrant colour and a fair amount of detail. Viewing at 100% does show up the limitations of the small 1/2.3-in sensor though, as fine detail is inevitably smeared in the battle to minimise image noise. This is usually most apparent in landscape shots, which can take on a watercolour look. Viewing at smaller sizes mostly hides this, but if you compensate for the relatively short telephoto zoom by cropping in on an area, you’ll soon see these shortcomings.

Step inside or into less optimal lighting and the camera struggles again. Although the exposure metering does a good job, underwhelming dynamic range means the camera prioritises highlight areas at the expense of shadows, meaning the overall exposure can look somewhat dark with muddy, undersaturated colours. The auto white balance is also occasionally fooled in difficult light and leaves some shots looking even more washed out.

The camera does minimise high ISO image noise pretty well though. Colour speckling is kept pretty much at bay up to ISO 3200, and grain doesn’t become too distracting until this sensitivity. Detail suffers much sooner, however, becoming noticeably more smeared from ISO 400 upwards. By ISO 1600, shots of all but the closest subjects show considerable smearing when viewed full size.

Fortunately there’s little to complain about optically. The 5x zoom lens doesn’t show any noticeable distortion at any point in its focal length range and maintains good corner sharpness. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) can be spotted in some high-contrast shots, but it’s rarely distracting. Nikon’s Vibration Reduction system again does a great job of holding things steady so you can keep your shots sharp.

Noise

The Nikon Coolpix AW120 has seven sensitivity settings at full resolution. Smart Auto mode uses a range between ISO 125 and ISO 1600, or you can switch to regular Auto mode to reveal ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 settings.

ISO 125 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

iso125.jpg iso200.jpg
   

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

iso400.jpg iso800.jpg
   

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

iso1600.jpg iso3200.jpg
   

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

 
iso6400.jpg  

Focal Range

The AW120’s internally-focussed 5x zoom lens achieves a maximum wide-angle focal length equivalent to 24mm, and is capable of a telephoto reach of 120mm (in 35mm-camera terms).

24mm

120mm

focal_range1.jpg focal_range2.jpg

Sharpening

Here are two 100% crops - the right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images from the Nikon Coolpix AW120 are slightly soft at the default sharpening setting and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can alternatively change the in-camera sharpening level to suit your tastes.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)

sharpen1.jpg sharpen1a.jpg
   
sharpen2.jpg sharpen2a.jpg

File Quality

One quality setting accompanies each image size, with only the maximum 16.0MP setting offering a Fine option, which roughly doubles the file size of each saved image from approximately 3 to 6MB.

Fine (5.79Mb) (100% Crop)

Normal (3.25Mb) (100% Crop)

quality_fine.jpg quality_normal.jpg

Chromatic Aberrations

Given the range of the zoom lens, the Nikon Coolpix AW120 shows some purple fringing, with limited effects in areas of high contrast as shown in the examples below.

Chromatic Aberrations 1 (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations 2 (100% Crop)

chromatic1.jpg chromatic2.jpg

Macro

The AW120’s lens will focus as close as 1cm, however you’ll usually find the camera will cast a shadow over your subject at such a close range.

Macro

Macro (100% Crop)

macro1.jpg macro1a.jpg

Flash

The camera’s flash is capable of up to a 5.2m range and has four settings: Auto, Auto with red-eye reduction, Fill flash (always on) & Slow sync (best for night portrait shots). Shooting a white surface from a distance of 1.5m, the flash provides even coverage with the lens zoomed in, though some vignetting is visible in the wide-angle shot.

Whether the flash is set to Fill flash or Auto with red-eye reduction, the camera successfully avoids any trace of red-eye.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (24mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (24mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64
   

Flash Off - Telephoto (120mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (120mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are a couple of portrait shots. As you can see, neither the Fill Flash or the Auto with Red-eye reduction options caused any amount of red-eye.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)
flash_on.jpg flash_on1.jpg
   

Red Eye Reduction

Red Eye Reduction (100% Crop)

flash_redeye.jpg flash_redeye1.jpg

Vibration Reduction

Lens shift Vibration Reduction ensures you get sharp shots even if you’re caught up in the action. The system works well, though in general use when you’re able to stand still, it’s not essential given the AW120’s fairly limited focal length range.

Shutter Speed / Focal Length

Anti Shake Off (100% Crop)

Anti Shake On (100% Crop)
1/20th sec / 120mm antishake1.jpg antishake1a.jpg

Night

Night Landscape mode offers two settings: Tripod and Handheld. The former captures a scene with a longer exposure for less image noise, or you can shoot handheld, whereby the camera will snap multiple exposures and combine them into a single image. This shot uses the Tripod setting.

Night Night (100% Crop)
night1.jpg night1a.jpg

Backlighting

This setting automatically captures two exposures of a high-contrast scene to record shadow and highlight detail separately, then merges them into a single HDR image.

HDR Off

HDR On
hdr_off.jpg hdr_on.jpg

Special Effects

The AW120 offers eleven colour effects, all of which are previewed live. Your options are: Soft, Nostalgic sepia, High-contrast monochrome, High key, Low key, Selective colour, Pop, Super vivid, Cross process, Toy camera effect 1 & Toy camera effect 2.

Soft

Nostalgic Sepia
effects_01.jpg effects_02.jpg
   

High-contrast Monochrome

High Key

effects_03.jpg effects_04.jpg
   

Low Key

Selective Colour

effects_05.jpg effects_06.jpg
   

Pop Art

Vivid

effects_07.jpg effects_08.jpg
   

Cross Process

Toy Camera 1

effects_09.jpg effects_10.jpg
   

Toy Camera 2

 
effects_11.jpg  

Easy Panorama

Pan the AW120 left or right and it’ll automatically stitch together a 180 or 360-degree panorama. The results are considerably downsized though and detail suffers as a result. Not being able to stop panning at will is also annoying if you don’t want to cover a view as wide as 180 degrees.

Easy Panorama
panorama.jpg