Like most pro shooters I know, I get really nervous when anything that can splash comes near my gear. Coffee on a desk in the studio or the hint of rain on location prompts an overwhelming impulse to throw a tarp over my D800. After so many years, it's become instinctive for me to protect my cameras, so it took me a while to get used to the idea that the COOLPIX AW110 I got to play with a few months back actually likes to get wet. It's a point-and-shoot that fits in a pocket, comes in colors to match your style, is lightweight and totally automatic...and totally at home in the water. No need for my well-refined, ninja-like protocol of gestures and gyrations to guard against the splash. If fact, I could toss this hardbody beauty to someone in the pool or face a full cannonball dive head-on without a worry. And I could shoot above water to get the dive approach, then duck beneath to shoot the underwater impact. The little wonder worked equally well in still and video modes—colors were cool, image quality impressively good.
While I discovered that bubbles are a fascinating subject, my main subjects were my daughters and a few of their friends. I photographed them in the backyard pool as well as on and around the boat and the bay, where I discovered that about the only difference was the need to snap a neck strap on the AW110 because I knew I wouldn't be able to make it to the bottom if the camera slipped from my grip.
When our pool day turned into evening I pushed the ISO, then turned on the flash. My shutter finger was shriveling, but we were still having fun. When I realized I was more hungry than the mosquitoes that were enjoying a banquet at my expense, it was time to fire up the grill and load the day's images for a slide show.
Did I mention the capability of slow-motion video? Simply shoot in high-speed mode—at 120 or 240 frames per second—and the slo-mo playback is smoothly beautiful; a whole new experience that elevates this camera to an entirely new creative plane.
Check out the cool video I shot (at right).
Best things about the camera: it refines the "go anywhere" model with a big, bright three-inch screen, a quick shutter response, a maximum ISO of 3200, close focusing to about one-third of an inch and the qualities of shock resistance and freeze resistance.
What I learned: I can't tread water and make manual settings at the same time, but I can trust the camera's automatic functions and don't have to waste opportunities by looking at the screen to check previous results. I also learned that things I had to learn were second nature to kids, things like shooting selfies underwater, coming up with movie shot ideas, adding effects and using wi-fi download. And finally, something that a pro, even on a day off, should have known: capabilities inspire ideas. This notion of shooting in extreme conditions and underwater with a rugged little camera pushes the boundaries of what is photographable.
It was great to not have to concentrate on not hurting my camera. Camera gets dropped in the mud? Hose it off for Take 2. Spill your beer on my gear? See if I care.