Nikon Coolpix AW110 Digital Camera Review
A day at the beach with Nikon's finest toughcam
By the Numbers
Although Nikon made a lot of software changes to the AW110 in the hope of achieving better image quality, there's only so much you can improve without beefing up the hardware. Sadly, this emphasis on software tweaks leads to a bit of cheating when it comes to sharpness, but we're happy to report white balance—normally a problem for Nikon—is among the best we've seen.
In last year's review of the AW100, we noted that camera's relatively strong resolution, which helped it stand way out from the crowded toughcam market. Sure, the AW100 used a fair bit of software cheating, but what compact camera didn't? Amazing resolution just wasn't possible from such a tiny lens and sensor. Aware that the camera was fibbing a bit, we were willing to look past this rule-bending.
But the AW110 has gone completely off the deep end. Oversharpening, a technique that creates dark lines and bright halos around edges, giving them the appearance of sharpness, is completely overused in the AW110. Our tests recorded edge contrast that was, on average, 20% better than perfect. Of course this shouldn't be possible. This level of artificial sharpening places the AW110 in line with the highly mediocre Sony TX30, not the greatest company to keep.
Chromatic aberration is also a bit more prevalent in shots captured with the AW110 than those captured with the AW100. Blue and yellow fringes are noticeable near the edges of each frame, but at certain focal lengths, fringing can be seen throughout the entire frame—including central areas, where chromatic aberration is typically uncommon.
White Balance & Color Accuracy
Well, well. Looks like Nikon has been paying attention.
The AW110 has one of the most accurate automatic white balance algorithms we've seen from any type of camera—especially remarkable since this is typically a problem area for the company. Custom white balance is also very good, but we're amazed to say that under both daylight and fluorescents, automatic white balance is actually more accurate.
Under those lighting sources, average white balance errors were less than 30 K. Under incandescents, the error average was 675 K, which is still pretty darn good for this challenging light. A custom white balance can bring your incandescent errors down to around 70 K, but under any other light source, don't bother—auto mode is more than sufficient.
The AW110's color rendition is also slightly more accurate than the AW100's. We accused the AW100 of deliberately altering its gamut to provide more vibrant skies. This inconsistency has been corrected for the AW110, and Nikon also seems to have fixed a problem with flesh tones that dragged down the previous model's score.
Unfortunately, overall saturation across all colors has been increased by about 10%, throwing off this camera's accuracy across the board. After compensating for oversaturation, the AW110's chroma-corrected total color error is a rather average 3.05.
The intensity of the AW110's noise reduction software increases in a linear fashion over the course of the camera's ISO spectrum. Images are subject to only 0.71% noise at ISO 125, and this value doesn't cross 1.00% until ISO 400. It makes a pretty good case for the camera's Fixed-range ISO Auto, which, when set to 125-400, will ensure noise never reaches a distracting level. By ISO 1600, noise totals 1.49%, and ISO 3200 should be avoided due to its noise rate of 1.75%.
The same oversharpening cheats applied to still photography are present in video as well. You'll notice the telltale haloing in your clips, but there's some genuine sharpness here too. The sensor is capable of resolving 625 lp/ph in both bright and low light. Unfortunately, the AW110 is still a poor choice for low-light videography, since the slow lens and unremarkable sensor aren't very sensitive to dim light. You'll need at least 35 lux of ambient illumination to get an acceptable video signal.
With a maximum full resolution frame rate of 1080/30p, footage isn't particularly smooth. We also noticed moderate compression artifacting in the shadows, however trailing is minimal and frequency interference isn't noticeable.
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