I began researching accordingly, reading up on sites devoted to photography within the Galapagos Islands and the conditions I am likely to encounter in the tropical Amazon downpours and humidity.
I did not want a professional or semi-professional underwater camera as I will never become a competent scuba diver, or spend huge amounts of time and energy pursuing underwater adventures.
I wanted "light, compact and easy". I also learned that a wide angled lense is recommended for landscape shots in the Galapagos, so had planned on incurring the extra weight and expense for my beloved Sony.
It is possible to buy disposable underwater cameras. However at A$25 each and with the limitation of no zoom capabilities or video, I ruled them out as an option. I may well be using lots of them. They would be bulky and add weight to my luggage. I refuse to travel with more than 15 kilos of luggage, including carry-on. Travelling light, is travelling easy!
I regard myself as a "serious amateur wildlife photographer'. It is a passionate hobby, not a profession. Photography is certainly a keen hobby of mine and as such can be easily justified to add a new camera, with new possibilities in wet conditions to my "tools of trade"!
I began to read about the Nikon AW120 and saw online comparative images between it and other equivalent cameras made by other manufacturers. The price was also surprisingly reasonable!
On a visit to Camera House Ballarat, I went in to enquire about the Nikon AW120. Much to my surprise and delight, they had them heavily reduced for Christmas. I asked could I "try before I buy" as per my previous experience of this wonderful store and again they let me go outside, with a fully charged camera and card. I played with its zoom, wide angled lense and did everything I could imagine, save diving into the local pool with my snorkelling gear on to test it underwater.
I also purchased a monopod, that doubles as a walking stick; another weight saving, practical means of stabilising my Sony, when the lense is fully extended to avoid camera shake. There is not much to rest the lense on in the Galapagos. Rocks and vegetation are most usually pretty low; no bean bags stashed away in the safari vehicle, like those provided in Kenya and Tanzania!
The Nikon Coolpix AW120 comes in a range of colours. I was very tempted by the electric blue, but practicallity got the better of me. It would attract tetse flies in Africa and would scare off birds and animals, not just due to its bright hue, but also its reflective surface. The camoflage model was the other extreme; just way too ugly, if practical for birding. I settled for "basic black", feeling a little like Goldilocks, having eliminated choices until I found the one that was "just right"!
So far I am thrilled with my new Nikon AW120. It has the bonus of wide angled lense settings, so saved me from buying another lense for my Sony. It has both automatic and manual overide settings and is waterproof to a depth of 18 metres.
It also has a blue reduction process, when in its underwater setting, to filter excessive blue out for clearer, sharper underwater shots.
It is the first camera I have ever owned with GPS location finders inbuilt, to record where you are shooting. This is new technology for cameras I am in two minds about. Maybe it's great for my personal records, but when it comes to publishing this data, do I want wildlife poachers discovering where I photographed rare and endangered rhinos, or elephants. I think not!
I guess the inbuilt compass may be useful should I have the misfortune to become lost in the wilderness, but then again, I would need to know my batteries would not run out and locations of nearest villages were accurate. I wouldn't be relying on GPS alone, if my life was endangered in "the wilderness"!
It is marginally heavier than my other Nikon Coolpix, my much loved P300, which has take quality photos ever since the day I purchased it. The extra weight of the AW120, is due to slightly more robust materials in its construction and mechanisms to ensure it is water tight, for underwater shots and very wet conditions.
Like the P300, the Nikon Coolpix AW120, is really straightforward to use. Batteries remain only chargable within the camera itself, so it means carrying at least one or two fully charged batteries, lest I be unable to shoot due to a flat battery. Luckily however, the battery it takes is the same as for the Coolpix P300, so I already have two possible spares to have in readiness!
The other negative, is that, despite quite high resolution capacities, it is not possible to shoot in raw. It also has no viewfinder, so you are reliant on the digital screen, which can be trying, in sunny situations. It will not take the place of my Sony and superzoom lense for long distance intimate animal and bird shots, but I did not expect it too. It will however, allow me to take quality shots, over a range of distances that all but the most ardent birder and animal photographer would ever require.
It is compact, light and performs very well so far. I am thoroughly pleased with it, so early in its life.
Of course, it only takes "selfies" on its self timer!
As for those underwater shots, I am in training to master snorkelling at the local pool; when I am satisfied with my snorkelling efforts, I will take it down to the depths and shoot in video mode, which is recommended for those new to underwater photography, where everything moves quickly and time to focus is limited. I can then freeze frames to get my stills!
Here are some shoots that I have taken during its first week of familiarisation and experimentation.