Nikon unveils S1200pj and AW100 cameras, we go hands-on

In case you were distracted by all the Sony fuss this morning, Nikon also chose today to announce a gaggle of fresh cameras. Most of the new models are incremental updates that will demand in-depth reviews when they're released in September. In the meantime, however, two cameras stand out as warranting a bit of quick hands-on attention. Firstly, there's the Coolpix S1200pj priced at $430, which is the third generation of Nikon's line of projector cameras and appears to house some significant improvements. Next up, we have the $380 AW100, which represents Nikon's first foray into the all-weather niche since the days of celluloid. It's a rugged Rambo of a camera that is waterproof down to ear-stinging depths and is a heck of a lot more expensive than the Fuji FinePix XP30 we just took fishing. So, it was only proper that we harpoon pre-release versions of both these cameras in order to provide you with some initial impressions and videos, which you'll find directly after the break.


The most obvious sign of progress with the S1200pj is its pleasant size and build. Unlike its bulky and plasticky predecessors, you probably wouldn't be too embarrassed to lug this thing to a party. It weighs in at 186g (6.6 oz) and stands 63.4mm (2.5-inches) tall, 107mm (4.3-inches) wide and 22.6mm (0.9-inches) thick -- in other words it doesn't feel a world apart from an ordinary compact. The metal build helps too, giving the device a strong and classy tactility.

General specs are par for the course: a tiny 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor crowded with 14.1 megapixels, a 5x optical zoom, a 3-inch 460k-dot LCD, and the ability to record 720p at 30fps. It's too early to say how these specs add up in terms of image quality, because Nikon understandably won't let us take sample pics with a non-final device. Nevertheless, it is clear that the burden of an inbuilt projector doesn't hurt the S1200pj's all-round credentials.

This also applies to battery life, which allows for up to 350 snaps or a full hour of projection before it delivers its final whimper. The older pj models had less stamina because they used LCOS projector technology, whereas the S1200pj adopts tried-and-tested DLP projection instead. Not only does this save on power consumption, it also yields 40-percent more brightness: 20 lumens instead of 14. In practice, this means you can see a relatively clear image even when there's some light in the room -- although we wouldn't pit the bulb against daylight or anything brighter than, say, a romantically-lit dining room.

The biggest problem with the projection isn't the brightness, but rather the fact that the projected image (the above being a self-portrait, admittedly) just wasn't very enjoyable to look at. To be fair, we were projecting onto a non-uniform wall, in uneven lighting, and the camera was handheld, creating a seriously wobbly projection. If lighting was ideal and the camera was stably mounted at a sweet spot around five feet from the wall (which would yield a picture width of approximately 35-inches), then no doubt the results would have been better. But even so, we struggle to imagine relying on the projector to convey a particularly beautiful or detailed image -- it's far more suited to rough and ready projections of bolder images and videos of the type you'd want to share among friends in a casual setting (although, as we've said in previous posts, we've yet to see anyone actually do this in real-life).

To hone in on its target market, Nikon has added support for projection directly from an iPod, iPad or iPhone. This smart feature works via a cable that goes from the 30-pin iDevice connector to a 3.5mm input on the camera. Nikon tells us that this cable will be bundled free for at least the first three months after launch -- although there's a chance it might be charged as separate accessory after that. As with previous pj models, there's also the option of a USB cable that allows for projection from a PC or Mac laptop.


The AW100 is a handsome beast with its camouflage paint job and interesting locks and seals. In terms of dimensions and weight it's very similar to the S1200pj and it also has the same 5x lens, but it's a lot more pleasurable to hold and behold.

It's freeze-proof down to minus 10 degrees Celsius and can allegedly be dropped from a height of up to 4.5 feet without smashing. But we reckon most people will want the AW100 for its underwater abilities -- it can shoot as far down as 33ft, which is a lot deeper than most cheaper waterproof cameras that stick to the 10-16ft range, and which makes this an ideal tool for snorkeling and shallow dives.

Nikon isn't trying to compete with $100-$200 rugged cameras, but instead wants to become the market leader in this niche by incorporating added features, including: a 16MP CMOS sensor that can record full 1080p (30fps) HD; GPS plus a compass and preloaded maps for geo-tagging; plus, a handy 'action button' which should make it easier to control the camera when diving or wearing gloves. Pressing this large button brings up a simplified menu and switches the camera into a motion sensing mode, where flicking it left to right or backwards and forwards cycles through menu options just like the arrow keys would during normal operation.

There's not much more to say about this camera until we're able to take it beneath the waves and grab some stills and footage. But from what we saw today, there's a good chance that the AW100 will be worth its fish-scaring price tag.