Sony on Tuesday took the wraps off its first digital SLR -- a high-end camera that uses interchangeable lenses -- aiming to take on Canon and Nikon in the fastest-growing and most lucrative segment of the camera market.
Sony, which recently acquired the digital single-lens reflex assets of Konica Minolta Holdings , plans to launch its first SLR camera globally in July, and aims to grab at least 10 percent of the market in the business year to March 2007.
SLR cameras are generally more expensive and offer better performance than simple point-and-shoot compact models.
Sony is the world's second-largest digital camera maker behind Canon but all of its business has come from selling compact models, having lacked the history selling interchangeable lenses for film SLRs to warrant a push into digital SLRs.
Not having a digital SLR in its line-up has been a weak point for Sony as SLR cameras yield fatter profit margins than compact cameras, which are much easier to make and under intense price pressure due to an influx of low-cost makers.
Sony expects its digital SLR camera to sell for about 100,000 yen ($890) in Japan for the body only, and about 120,000 yen for a kit that includes the body and a lens.
That would put Sony's product at the lower-end of the digital SLR market but at the same time make it pricier than entry-level models from rivals Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Olympus that sell for under 100,000 yen.
Sony aims to ship 80,000 units of its digital SLR cameras a month initially. In April it forecast it would ship 15.5 million units of its compact digital cameras in the year to March 2007, up from 13.5 million a year earlier.
The new digital SLR camera has an anti-shake mechanism built inside the body of the camera, meaning the function to avoid fuzzy pictures works on any interchangeable lenses compatible with the machine.
Sony purchased a portion of Konica Minolta's SLR business earlier this year to enable its push into the market.
Sony's cameras will be based on Konica Minolta's Maxxum/Dynax mount system, meaning that existing owners of those lenses -- Konica Minolta sold about 16 million lenses over the years -- will be able to use them on Sony's SLR.
On top of those existing lenses, Sony will offer six types of new lenses at the time of the camera's domestic launch on July 21 and plans to boost the number to 21 by the end of the year, including three Carl Zeiss lenses.
Another Japanese consumer electronics giant Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. , maker of Panasonic brand electronics, also plans to introduce its first digital SLR camera this year, gradually crowding the market.