Panasonic said on Wednesday it would launch its first digital SLR camera in Japan next month, intensifying competition in the high-end segment of the camera market now dominated by Canon and Nikon.
Digital single lens reflex (SLR) cameras use interchangeable lenses and are generally more expensive and offer better performance than simple point-and-shoot compact models.
Electronics makers are keen to get into the SLR market because SLRs yield fatter profit margins than compact models, which are much easier to produce but whose prices are falling due to an influx of low-cost makers.
Matsushita, the world's largest consumer electronics maker known for its Panasonic brand, said it would start selling its first digital SLR in Japan on July 22, one day after rival electronics maker Sony introduces its first SLR.
Although the launch timings are similar, their target customers are quite different, with Matsushita going after advanced amateur users, while Sony is looking more towards the volume segment of the digital SLR market.
Matsushita expects its digital SLR camera kit, which includes the body of the camera and a Leica lens, to sell for about 250,000 yen ($2,184), roughly double the price of Sony's.
"We target high-amateurs for this camera. We don't expect to get a large share," Matsushita Senior Managing Executive Officer Shunzo Ushimaru said on the sidelines of a news conference.
Ushimaru declined to say whether Matsushita would expand its digital SLR camera lines to include more affordable models.
"Be on the look-out for what's coming next," he said.
Following the Japan launch in July, Matsushita, which aims to double its global digital camera sales to 8 million units in the year to March 2007, plans to start offering the camera, called the LUMIX DMC-L1, in overseas markets by the end of August.
Matsushita expects the body and the lens to sell for around $2,000 outside Japan.
The Osaka-based company, which has been developing technologies and devices for digital SLR cameras jointly with Japanese precision equipment maker Olympus, targets global sales of 5,000 to 6,000 units a month.
Matsushita was the world's 10th-largest digital camera maker in 2005, with a market share of 3.2 percent, trailing far behind industry leader Canon and second-largest Sony, according to research firm IDC.
In the digital SLR segment, Canon held a 53.3 percent share in 2005 followed by Nikon with 28.3 percent.