A while ago I wrote a post comparing 2 waterproof cameras that I had taken on a snorkelling trip, Nikon’s 1 AW1 and the GoPro Hero 4 (Silver edition). Since then that post has received quite a few hits, apparently from Google search results. I have taken both cameras on 2 more snorkelling to the Similan Islands and Ko Phi Phi again since then, so I have had the chance to do a proper side by side comparison with both cameras at the same time.
I also have made a video of this side by side test (see bottom of this page, or directly here), and by using the videoscopes in Adobe’s Premier Pro while editing it I now have a more objective result than the gut feeling of before. The videoscopes do not lie, but sometimes your eyes can fool you because of ambient light, your monitor settings or angle of view, or perhaps just slight colour blindness. Most photographers should know that what you see on your monitor may not be exactly the same as what other people may see when you upload a photo on to the internet. My original gut feeling was right though !
From just looking at this screen capture you can see that the Nikon (top) has more contrast and less of a green colour cast than the GoPro, but the videoscopes back this up.
The “YC waveform” graph shows the difference in contrast, the Nikon on left has a wider spread than the Gopro indicating more contrast.
While the “RGB Parade” shows that the GoPro has lost a lot more of the red spectrum than the Nikon ( red light is the first to be absorbed underwater, causing a green-cyan colour cast as red is the opposite of these on the colour wheel). The Nikon’s underwater modes do a good job of adjusting the white balance to counteract this. It also shows that the GoPro’s individual RGB channels are narrower and have less contrast than the Nikon.
The “vectorscope” also shows that the colour cast of the GoPro underwater (above right) is way over into the cyan, bordering on green, while the Nikon (above left) is more central or neutral. All these screen captures and videoscopes were straight out of camera before any colour correction, so what about after colour correction ?
Even after considerable tweaking in Premier Pro the GoPro still has some bias towards cyan while the Nikon is pretty much neutral.
So while you can certainly get good underwater pics and video from the GoPro you have to do a lot more post processing than with the Nikon. If you are using the GoPro for scuba diving and going deeper you would probably be advised to use a red filter, but in shallower water as when snorkelling you would end up with a red colour cast to get rid off !
The battery life from both cameras was about the same, with both set to “auto off” after a minute and only being switched back on when I was actually filming or photographing something both cameras lasted for a full afternoon of snorkelling …. just remember to turn off the Nikon’s GPS and the Gopro’s wireless as neither are any good in the water and use battery power.
The GoPro has a fixed 3mm lens, which means you have to get close to that fast moving fish or deep coral while the Nikon has either a 10mm or 11-27.5mm zoom lens, the latter being what I used. Even zoomed right out at 11mm that gets you a lot closer to the action !
The Nikon 1 AW1 is a lot more versatile as a “real” camera above water, but if you are also planning on going bungee jumping or mountain biking etc then the GoPro’s special mounts would make it the camera of choice but that 3mm wideangle lens would limit it’s use as a normal camera, IMHO
The Nikon is “only” waterproof to 15 metres, which is more than enough for snorkelling. The GoPro with standard backdoor is capable of going down to 40m which is scuba diving depths, but I think most keen diving photographers would probably use a proper camera in an underwater housing ?
Cost wise, the Nikon is quite a bit more expensive than the GoPro, selling for around 23000baht here in Thailand compared to about 14500 for the GoPro.
But is it better value all round ? well, it’s what I bought so I hope so !
If you have 4:48sec of your life (or work time ) to waste then here is the finished video. Please do not expect any cinematic masterpiece, especially the audio … I don’t have an “on air” voice ! And if anybody wants to see more live video footage from either camera, I have made separate videos from my Similan Islands trip for the Nikon and GoPro cameras.