Sony aims to dethrone Canon in cameras
By Kim Yoo-chul
The global camera market is dominated by a handful of Japanese companies, but Sony aspires to eventually establish itself as the clear-cut industry leader at the expense of its domestic rivals Canon and Nikon.
Most of the competition will come in the market for premium, interchangeable lens cameras, where Canon and Nikon combine for a 70 percent global share.
These are two tough foes indeed, but Sony is confident that the latest additions to its Alpha series of translucent mirror cameras will prove to be among the first of many intriguing products that could eventually shake the hierarchy.
Sony recently launched the Alpha 33 and 55 cameras in Korea, where the growth in the demand for interchangeable lens cameras appears to be gaining pace.
The two cameras, which look like digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras but are more compact and weigh less, are distinguished by translucent mirrors that separate the optical pathway between the main image sensor and a phase-detection autofocus sensor.
The technology allows the cameras to track fast-moving objects with better precision, Sony officials said.
The cameras also replace the traditional optical viewfinder with a liquid crystal display (LCD) electronic viewfinder, which allow the cameras to be designed smaller.
DSLRs have been the kings of the interchangeable lens camera market, but a new wave of products, which are smaller and cheaper than DSLRS, while providing comparative quality in pictures, are proving to be a disruptive force.
Sony’s translucent mirror cameras certainly counts among them, as are its ``mirrorless’’ cameras, a product type that is also pushed by rivals like Panasonic, Olympus and Korea’s Samsung Electronics, which avoid the bulky mirror and prism systems used in DSLRs.
Kimihiro Itoki, who heads Sony’s Korean business unit, said Sony looks to edge Nikon for second-place in the interchangeable lens cameras market here, including both the DSLR and the new breed of high-quality shooters, by the end of next year, to gain on Canon.
``The latest Alpha models will help us claim and solidify the second-position in Korea’s interchangeable lens digital cameras market and narrow the gap with Canon,’’ Itoki said in a recent news conference in Seoul.
Sony had about 20 percent of the Korean market in interchangeable lens cameras at the end of the third-quarter, due to the popularity of its Alpha Nex mirrorless models.
The Alpha 55 will sell at 1.05 million won here, while the Alpha 33 was priced at 898,000 won.
Tsusue Yoichi, a senior executive at Sony’s Consumer Professional and Devices Group, claimed that the newest additions to the Alpha series are embodied with the most meaningful advancement in optical technologies for consumer cameras.
``Sony has revamped the structure of DSLR by adopting translucent mirror. Phase-detect autofocus (AF) will add a new dimension to shooting both still pictures and videos, which will provide new value in consumer experiences,’’ he said.
Samsung looms as mirrorless competitor
Sony has established leadership in the emerging market for mirrorless cameras here with an estimated market share of 40 percent due to the popularity of the Alpha NEX. The goal is to achieve a 50 percent share, Itoki said.
Most of the competition in the mirrorless camera segment is expected to be provided by Samsung, which released its NX10 model in April and followed by the NX100 last month.
The market for mirrorless cameras, which are significantly smaller and cheaper than DLSRs but provide comparable quality in pictures, has been growing rapidly here thanks to the acceptance from serious amateurs and professionals.
The global market for mirrorless cameras is expected to grow by around 60 percent annually, according to Samsung officials, reaching 1.5 million sales this year and 9.3 million by 2013, when it will first exceed those of DSLRs, and over 15 million by 2015.
Samsung is getting serious about strengthening its presence in interchangeable lens cameras and is ready to bet its house on the mirrorless segment.
Samsung chief executive Choi Gee-sung recently declared to boot the company’s spending to improve its capabilities in lens developing and other optical technologies.
Industry sources also believe that Samsung is sniffing for merger and acquisition (M&A) opportunities to acquire a lens-making company to reduce the technology gap with its Japanese rivals.