Olympus, Nikon shoot for lower-end SLRs

On eve of Photo Marketing Association show, camera makers announce new single-lens reflex models to compete in crowded sector of digicam market.Photos: New SLRs from Olympus, Nikon
Written by Stephen Shankland, Contributor
LAS VEGAS--Digital SLR maker Olympus announced two new lower-end single-lens reflex cameras Monday, while competitor Nikon upgraded its entry-level model with a higher-resolution sensor.

Olympus' $700 Evolt E-410 and $800 E-510 come with a 10-megapixel image sensor and the company's new TruePic III image-processing chip. The E-510 also comes with image stabilization to compensate for shaky hands or low-light conditions. Adding a basic 14-42mm Zuiko zoom lens raises the models' price another $100; adding a second lens, the 40-150mm Zuiko, costs another $100.

Olympus, Nikon cameras

Nikon's D40x, meanwhile, is similar to the entry-level D40 introduced in 2006, but the new model increases the image sensor resolution from 6 to 10 megapixels, which can lead to more detailed images. That matches the product's chief rival, Canon's Rebel XTi. Nikon's D40x costs $730 for the camera body or $800 with an 18-55mm lens; the company continues to sell the D40 for $600, including the lens.

The companies announced the cameras in conjunction with the Photo Marketing Association's annual trade show, which begins here Thursday.

Canon, the top SLR maker, and No. 2 Nikon offer image stabilization in some lenses. Olympus, the No. 3 manufacturer, chose to put the stabilization in the camera body, meaning it will work for any lens.

Olympus' stabilization approach is "the nice way of doing it if you can," said InfoTrends analyst Ed Lee, but it has tradeoffs because the camera-shifting motors have to deal with such a wide variety of lens properties. "I personally think it's better in the lens, because then you can really tune the stabilization for that specific lens," Lee said. "But it's more expensive."

Also this week, Nikon introduced a new $250 55-200mm zoom lens with its version of image stabilization, called vibration reduction. The lens offers a three-stop helping hand, Nikon said--in other words, a person who could hold a camera steady for an exposure lasting a 60th of a second can manage about an eighth of a second with vibration reduction.

The new SLRs are entering a hot and increasingly crowded sector of the digital camera market. While growth has tapered off for mainstream point-and-shoot cameras, the bulkier SLR models are accelerating. Dropping technology costs have moved some models into the reach of consumers willing to spend a few hundred dollars to get SLRs' snappy response, higher image quality and interchangeable lenses.

"We're bullish on the market," Lee said. About 1.7 million digital SLR cameras were shipped in 2006, he said, and added, "We expect it to continue to grow at a high percentage rate from this year to next year."

The Olympus models have a feature called Live View that lets photographers compose shots by using the 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD, a technology that's universal on point-and-shoot cameras but rare in SLRs. They also have a dust reduction system that vibrates the sensor to remove pesky specks that plague SLR image sensors.

Olympus also announced plans for a successor to its top-end E-1 SLR. The as-yet unnamed model, with a rugged design for professionals and a Live View display, will be on view at the show and will go on sale later this year. In addition, Olympus announced four new lenses that will ship this year: a 12-60mm zoom, a 50-200mm zoom, a 14-35mm zoom and a 70-300mm zoom.

Olympus' E-410 will be available in May, and the E-510 in June, the company said. Nikon's D40x will be available in April.

Because digital SLR image sensors are usually smaller than a frame of 35mm film, lenses take on different optical properties on most digital SLRs. A lens on a Nikon digital SLR will show the same field of view as a lens with 1.5 times the focal length of a film SLR, making an 18-55mm lens operate somewhat like a 27-83mm lens on a film SLR.

Digital SLRs are now spreading well beyond the professional market where they first caught on. But they bring new complications--even for those with experience from the days of film SLRs.

Olympus and Panasonic digital SLRs, which have interchangeable lenses, have a field of view twice as narrow as a 35mm film SLR with the same lens, making the 14-42mm lens operate somewhat like a 28-84mm lens on a film SLR. Canon's entry-level models have a field of view 1.6 times narrower, the new 1D Mark III for photojournalists has a field of view 1.3 times narrower, and high-end models use a full-frame sensor that's the same size as a 35mm film frame.

Editorial standards