At WaterMaarq Freediving one of our top ten questions asked by clients is which freediving camera do we use or can recommend?

Wait no longer, it’s the BIG REVEAL!

After entering the underwater photography market with a nice DSLR and housing, we’ve now settled on two Nikon aquatic imaging products. Why? Well coming up is the low down on getting on under with some underwater imaging technology.

What’s the big deal with these two products and why don’t we use a full DSLR set-up with housing, strobes and all the paraphernalia? Take a look at our instagram profile @watermaarq and see the full range of images using these cameras.

WHAT FUNCTIONS DO YOU NEED IN A FREEDIVING CAMERA?

By virtue of the discipline we love, we don’t want to be encumbered by bulky devices that slow our progress, are cumbersome and unable to be managed with one hand. Goodness knows that that compact little sports oriented video device, the GoPro with selfie stick has gone bananas and there’s plenty of them stuck to people’s heads, masks, chests, ankles and wrists.

Given our focus is still images, the GoPro doesn’t serve our prime objective, however it does what it does extremely well.

So for us the critical items for a good freediving camera are:

  • Simple functionality
  • Can be used with gloves
  • Great in low light
  • Waterproof
  • Rugged
  • Compact

Before technology went wild and created the ability to record images to a memory card, the ultimate underwater device, the Nikonos-v film camera with lenses specifically made for underwater use, were the absolute bees knees. Good luck trying to find one these days, they’re a beautifully crafted collector’s item.

However, with action sports taking over and the desire to snap and record every moment, enter the Nikon 1 AW1, the modern day equivalent of the Nikonos. It’s actually a very good replica and produces stunning images. It has remained true to the core roots, a little like BMW did with the Mini Cooper.

As a supplement to the Nikon 1 AW1, the Nikon Coolpix AW130 is a pocket compact camera that isn’t quite as capable as the AW1 but has other features that make it a desirable companion.

Please be aware, this report is not about going into the technical peculiarities of each device, what we are going to talk about is what makes them a great device to use when freediving.

GRIPES

The Nikon 1 AW1

The Nikon 1 AW1 is a solid unit, built tough, heavy and robust. It’s capable of 15m (45ft) or 20m (60ft) depth and has two interchangeable lenses available. We’ve had three of them, so we’ve had a good chance to test them!

There are some drawbacks to owning and using this device which relate to the potential for the camera to flood. There are two cavities on the device which have enclosing doors. The cavities hold access to the interface ports and the battery/card storage. Even with the most pernickety approach, we’ve experienced flooding of the device. After each water session we fastidiously check the doors for proper silicone sealant, rinse in fresh water, dry off and air dry. One device failed underwater and another device failed after cleaning and drying. Our gripe is that the door sealing mechanisms appear less certain than maybe it could be. It’s not the locking functions, but more the sense that the doors have a loose fit, rather than snug seating. We’ve never experienced a drama with the lens connecting interface.

It’s also really heavy, so if you don’t have it appropriately tethered to your wrist or a part of you, then once you drop it, it’s probably going to disappear! Easily solved with a wrist strap though.

Image by Nikon 1 AW 1 with 10mm lens.

 

The Nikon Coolpix AW130
The Nikon AW130 is a compact unit, ruggedised for 2m drops, capable of 30m (90ft) depth and comes in an array of colours. We’ve been using this as our back-up camera and for times when we plunge beyond the 20m range.

There’s little to hold any gripes about in terms of usability, it’s a really portable and functional device. It’s only when comparing the image quality with the bigger sibling of the AW1 that you’ll maybe feel a little hard done by, but that’s just getting your expectations right. With the smaller lens, it really does tend to suffer if you’re trying to take wide angle shots and expect a lot of detail in your images in the background. This little compact shooter is at it’s best in close range, up close and personal to your subjects, human or marine. The door closing mechanism, as compared to the AW1, is very robust and gives a lot of confidence.

DSCN1307-web

Image by Nikon AW130

PRAISES

After using all kinds of devices under the surface, we’ve settled on these two devices as the permanent addition to our freediving kit bag.

The Nikon 1 AW1

The robust design of both products means that you have a really good feel about what’s going on with your camera. What do we mean by that? Well, the AW1 is quite heavy (don’t drop it, it’ll descend like an anchor!). With the additional negative buoyancy, it means that you can hold the camera really steady in currents, moving water, whilst moving around yourself and turbulent conditions. Getting the right shot in low light underwater, you really need a steady hand whilst depressing the capture button. It means that more of your images will work out more of the time. That means taking less shots but of higher quality.

The other fantastic thing about Nikon 1 AW1 is that you have the choice of two lenses. The standard 11-27.5mm Nikkor lens which is great as an all-rounder or the Nikon 1 Nikkor AW 10mm f/2.8 Lens which we pretty much use full-time to capture freedivers and marine life in their best light. The 10mm lens also means you gain an extra 5m of underwater depth, increasing from 15m (45ft) to 20m (60ft) with the pancake attached. Winning!

The Nikon Coolpix AW130

For point and shoot ease, portability, range of depth, quick capture and simplicity, the AW130 is hard to beat.

When on tour or the environment means we’re going to be in deeper depths or we’re less focused on getting the perfect full frame shot, the AW130 is pretty much the camera we tote around everywhere. It’s easy to have in your pocket, slung off your wrist or in a small carry pouch inside the kit bag. We find it’s just an ever-present device because it’s easy, a bit like knowing your smart phone is always there.

Given that you can plunge to 30m (90ft) with this little number, it’s going to make for a really cool record of your freediving, either on still or video. Designed for low light conditions, it means that your images will still show that cuttlefish, seahorse, school of salmon or cranky seal that your friends won’t believe you were talking to under water. With big buttons and an easy to use menu that you can manage above or below water, we reckon for the price, it’s one device that you’ll hang onto and find dangling off your wrist more often than you think.

 

CONCLUSION

 Depending on whether you wish to achieve a professional outcome from your underwater images, you could invest heavily in an underwater DSLR and housing such as this one. It’ll set you back more than the sum of both the Nikon AW1 and AW 130 together, but it’ll serve a different purpose.

If your objective is to take some quality images to share amongst your friends and family as a stunning record of your underwater excursions, these two devices will serve you well.

Likes:

  • Handling and ruggedness
  • Low-light performance
  • Compact and portable design
  • Pricing

Dislikes:

  • Nikon 1 AW1 susceptible to flooding
  • Nikon AW130 somewhat reduced range of image quality in landscape / seascapes

 

Keen to see more images from these Nikon products? Check us out on Instagram @watermaarq!

AVAILABLE LOCALLY, INTERNATIONALLY OR FOR DEMO?

If you’d like to check one out in the flesh, why not say hello and try one out with Ted’s Camera Stores? We’ve always received good service and satisfaction across their retail store network.

Outside Australia, you’re best to visit your local camera store or search for an on-line option, like Amazon
.

Thanks for visiting, we hope to see you in the water soon.