Sony, Nikon and Canon play hardball.
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 its 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 competition and we had trouble carving out a niche for ourselves,’’ Ellwood says. ‘‘ It was very difficult to get mind-share in the market and stake out our own territory.’’
Last year the company tried a different tack, launching two entry-level cameras with a see-through 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 set-up 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 It 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 out this month, 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, however. 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 size-conscious snappers.
Nikon will launch two compact system cameras in the Nikon 1 V1 and J1 next month, while two of Olympus’s 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.