Nikon's latest update to its go-anywhere compact keeps its rugged rivals at arm's length. Encased in an almost full metal jacket, the AW110 feels more hard-wearing than its slightly more plasticky Panasonic FT5 and Olympus TG-2 opponents.
Unphased by water, 2-metre drops and temperatures as low as -10 centigrade, the AW110 fits into all sorts of situations. You don't have to be a scuba diver to appreciate the 18-metre water resistance (as anyone who has drowned a camera on the Alton Towers log flume will tell you).
The AW110 uses a push/twist mechanism to keep its main door shut, and even though it sticks out a bit, we prefer this design to the sometimes fiddly double catches on other tough cams.
It's not just water that can break a camera; dust and sand can do just as much damage. The Nikon's main door seal forms a barrier against the outside world and keeps the battery nice and snug in its compartment.
Because everything is tucked away inside the case you're not going to get much range on the zoom, but the 5x optical zoom is enough for framing nearby subjects.
One of the compromises with a rugged camera is usability, party because most of the extremities are minimised so that things don't snap off. However, the AW110 compensates with a "glove mode", activated by pushing a button that's flush to the left edge. Now you can cycle through basic functions, including some popular scene settings, movie mode and playback mode, by tilting or shaking the camera back and forth.
None of this would be worth much if the picture quality wasn't up to scratch. Fortunately the AW110 does a great job in most situations, pipping its peers on fine detail, although it's a close-fought battle between the Olympus TG-2 and Panasonic FT5 when it comes to image quality. Video, at a maximum of 1080p/30fps, is good but not the best you'll get from a compact, or even a rugged compact (that'll be the FT5). Click on the sample image above for a higher-res view.
It would be nice to have a standard microUSB connection, but aside from that there's little to complain about. With great pictures and hardnut build quality, the AW110 has all you need to document your future adventures and it's the rugged entry in our list of the ten best compact cameras around.