Third-placed Sony in fight for spoils

The tra­di­tional cam­era is un­der threat from new tech­nol­ogy, writes Jen­nifer Dud­leyNi­chol­son

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

THE dig­i­tal SLR cam­era is un­der at­tack. Ma­jor cam­era mak­ers are as­sault­ing its reign with new com­pact sys­tem cam­eras, with Nikon join­ing the pack this month. New mir­ror tech­nol­ogy also is chal­leng­ing the dom­i­nance.

Sony is poised to move its en­tire dig­i­tal SLR cam­era range to a new tech­nol­ogy fea­tur­ing trans­par­ent mir­rors, of­fer­ing a ma­jor speed boost, more ef­fec­tive fo­cus and bet­ter Live View mode.

The move could be risky, how­ever, as mar­ket lead­ers Canon and Nikon stay the course with SLR tech­nol­ogy.

Sony first en­tered the SLR mar­ket with its Al­pha range just five years ago — a move dig­i­tal imag­ing prod­uct spe­cial­ist Sean Ell­wood ad­mits was late in the tech­nol­ogy’s life.

‘‘ We en­tered the mar­ket later than some of the compe- tition and we had trou­ble carv­ing out a niche for our­selves,’’ he says.

‘‘ It was very dif­fi­cult to get mind­share in the mar­ket and stake out our own ter­ri­tory.’’

Last year the com­pany tried a dif­fer­ent tack, launch­ing two en­try-level cam­eras with a seethrough mir­ror in­side.

While the mir­ror in­side SLR cam­eras is used to trans­mit an im­age from the lens to the op­ti­cal viewfinder, that mir­ror must move in or­der to trans­mit the im­age to the cam­era’s im­age sen­sor.

With a trans­par­ent mir­ror, the im­age goes di­rectly to the im­age sen­sor and is then trans­mit­ted to the cam­era’s rear LCD screen or elec­tronic viewfinder.

The di­rect na­ture of this setup lets the cam­era use more ef­fec­tive phase-de­tec­tion aut­o­fo­cus even when shoot­ing pho­tos in quick suc­ces­sion and saves time as the mir­ror no longer has to move.

This type of cam­era is called an SLT cam­era, or sin­gle-lens translu­cent cam­era, re­plac­ing sin­gle-lens re­flex (SLR) tech­nol­ogy, and will soon make up all of Sony’s Al­pha range.

‘‘ We’re look­ing at it as a new tech­no­log­i­cal foun­da­tion to build up from,’’ Ell­wood says.

‘‘ Now we’ve tried it in the en­try-level cam­eras, we’re push­ing it up into the more de­mand­ing mod­els.’’

Those mod­els in­clude the Al­pha A77, due mid-Oc­to­ber, that de­liv­ers a shoot­ing speed of 12 frames a sec­ond thanks to its trans­par­ent mir­ror and a new im­age pro­ces­sor.

Sony’s top-of-the-line dig­i­tal cam­era, the A900, will also be re­placed by an SLT model soon, com­plet­ing Sony’s move to SLT tech­nol­ogy.

Sony’s move from SLR cam­eras has down­sides, how- ever. By us­ing a see-through mir­ror, slightly less light en­ters the cam­era — a third of a stop — and op­ti­cal viewfind­ers are no longer pos­si­ble.

Re­gard­less, Ell­wood says the move is nec­es­sary to cre­ate a point of dif­fer­ence for the com­pany and to in­crease the speed of its cam­eras.

‘‘ It’s one of those things where there’s a crit­i­cal mass you need to re­ally push out into that space,’’ he says. ‘‘ Now we’re be­gin­ning to get more trac­tion in ar­eas of the mar­ket where peo­ple are re­ally set­ting opin­ions, like the en­thu­si­ast mar­ket.’’

Sony is a ‘‘ clear but dis­tant third’’ in the ad­vanced cam­era mar­ket, with Canon and Nikon duk­ing it out for top po­si­tion.

The com­pany closed the gap some­what on the world­wide mar­ket, how­ever, reach­ing a 16.3 per cent share of all cam­era sales last year.

As well as SLT tech­nol­ogy, the SLR is be­ing hit with com­pe­ti­tion from com­pact sys­tem cam­eras that of­fer in­ter­change­able lenses and smaller forms to ap­peal to size­con­scious snap­pers.

Nikon will launch two com­pact sys­tem cam­eras in the Nikon 1 V1 and J1 next month, while two of Olym­pus’ three new mod­els went on sale in Aus­tralia re­cently and Pana­sonic launched the slen­der G3 and GF3 cam­eras with in­ter­change­able lenses.

Sony’s new NEX sys­tem cam­eras are also pro­vid­ing SLR com­pe­ti­tion, with a new NEX-7 cam­era fea­tur­ing a 24.7-megapixel APS-C sen­sor an­tic­i­pated soon. Jen­nifer Dud­ley-Nicholson trav­elled to Sin­ga­pore as a guest of Sony

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