Brian Klutch

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Photographers typically have two options when shooting underwater: double the size of their D-SLR with an expensive submersible housing or opt for a waterproof point-and-shoot with the image quality of, well, a point-and-shoot. Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras, such as the Nikon 1 AW1, produce D-SLR–quality images minus the delicate moving parts of D-SLRs themselves. The compact internals allow engineers to ruggedize and seal the camera without adding much bulk.

Internal Zoom

When a lens zooms, small crevices between the stacked components open. The entire AW1 lens is enclosed in a sealed barrel. As the camera zooms—up to 27.5 millimeters—all the parts remain protected.

Watertight Mount

The lens mount on the AW1 is raised about six millimeters above the camera body. Lenses slip over it and into a groove in the housing. A greased rubber O-ring fills in any gap between the two pieces.

Underwater Flash

The AW1’s pop-up flash can illuminate up to 16 feet of seawater ahead of the diver. The bulb is attached to a sealed two-joint hinge. Power travels from the camera body through insulated wires.

Secure Doors

To ensure that the doors to the SD card and battery compartments won’t open underwater, designers added two-button locking mechanisms and lined each door with rubber gaskets.

Protective Case

The housing is a composite of stainless steel and polycarbonate, which protects the camera—and its three-inch LCD—if it drops. Every seam is backed with rubber, too.

Nikon 1 AW1

Water resistance: 49 feet

Drop resistance: 6.5 feet

Lowest operable temperature: 14°F

Price from: $800 (including one lens)

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Popular Science.