Built to withstand depths of up to (or down to) 10m, resistant to shock from heights up to 1.5m and able to withstand temperatures down to -10ºC, the AW100 is one of those rugged cameras you can take with you anywhere. It also comes with a GPS receiver, which lets you geotag your images with location co-ordinates, and even an electronic compass.
In the adverts, the AW100 says “I am an adventurer”, and it certainly looks the part. We had a matte-black AW100 which looked modern and tough enough to have come out of the Batcave (there are three other color options: Bright orange, cool blue and army camouflage). The ports – most prone to water seeping in – are safely sealed away to the side, under a circular raised lock.
To unlock it, you have to depress a small round button while twisting the lock one-quarter counter-clockwise, it’s certainly difficult enough to do on purpose, so should be near impossible to do it accidentally. The shutter release is textured, with a crisscross pattern differentiating it from the rest of the smooth camera. Especially useful in those rough situations where you need to operate the camera by feel rather than sight.
The AW100 is an automatic, not manual, camera. There are no PASM modes for you to direct shutter speed or aperture, but you can set exposure compensation. You can also set ISO sensitivity if you’re in Auto mode (not Easy Auto mode, where most controls are take off the table). Instead of a Mode dial, everything is set via a Scene button where you can toggle through a few scene modes. A handy video Record button lets you record video instantly. Zoom buttons let you zoom in and out, and they’re less precise than zoom toggles on normal compacts, but are standard on rugged cameras which can’t afford to have weak parts.
A large Action button to the left side of the camera, once pressed, is supposed to let you manipulate the controls by moving the camera, a real help when you’re wearing think gloves in tough weather, but we couldn’t get it to work as advertised. It’s too bad, because the buttons on the back of the AW100 are small, and your fingers can crop if you fiddle with them for too long.
In general, we like the design and handling of the AW100 except for the inexplicable decision to have GPS controls not within the main menu. You have to set the Action button to display a map, and then when you’re inside the map view, pressing Menu will get you into the GPS controls. It’s non-intuitive and unnecessary, when most GPS cameras simply include their controls within the main, all-in-on menu.
The AW100’s images are rich with color, but perform a lower-than-expected 1800x1400LPH (vertical &horizontal) on our resolution chart. In real-worlds images, noise levels are a tad higher than expected on lower ISO settings, and chromatic aberration can be seen. It’s not obvious if you’re not pixel-peeping, but we'd shoot at ISO400 and less using the AW100, ISO800 if we’re viewing the images onscreen. While its image quality could have been slightly better, it isn’t too far off the mark for a compact camera. Auto-focus is usually quick and on the mark, and in general shooting with the AW100 is a pleasant experience.