Panasonic plans lower-end SLR camera

Company to release a second digital SLR model this year, bolstering efforts to penetrate a high-growth segment of the market.
Written by Stephen Shankland, Contributor
LAS VEGAS--Beefing up its attempt to penetrate a high-growth segment of the camera market, Panasonic plans to release a second digital single-lens reflex camera this year.

The new lower-end model will be a geared for a more mainstream audience than the company's debut model last year, said Ichiro Kitao, manager of Panasonic's camera group product planning team.

"The next one should be more a consumer type," Kitao said in an interview here at the Photo Marketing Association trade show. The company's goal is to release the camera this year, he said.

Panasonic has done well in the point-and-shoot market, but now is one of several consumer electronics companies trying to carve out a niche in the more prestigious, demanding and profitable SLR market as well. Panasonic, Sony and Samsung are trying to use their digital expertise to take on SLR makers with a film camera history: Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Olympus and Pentax.

"SLRs will be a good growth area, especially for consumers moving from film SLRs or compact cameras," said Ed Lee, an analyst with InfoTrends. "We've just barely got to the $500, $600 level. It's going to go down to $400 or $300 in the next few years."

The consumer SLR market is lively. This week, Nikon introduced its D40x and Olympus its Evolt E-410 and E-510. Those compete with Canon's EOS Digital Rebel XTi and others.

Panasonic entered the market less than a year ago with its DMC-L1, a higher-end model that carries retro features such as a ring around the Leica lens to adjust lens aperture. The 7.5-megapixel, $2,000 camera also has a flat top because Panasonic skipped the traditional bulging pentaprism in favor of internal mirrors to direct light to the viewfinder. And it uses the Four-Thirds lens mount, meaning that it can interchange lenses with Olympus SLR cameras.

"That product was aimed at the high end of the market. They looked at it as a technology statement," Lee said.

Kitao offered a few specifics on the new model:

• It will have a resolution of at least 10 megapixels.

• It will have Live View, letting photographers preview shots on the camera's display as well as frame shots through the viewfinder.

• It will employ Panasonic's image-stabilization technology, which shifts the sensor to counteract camera shake.

• It will feature a mechanism to clean the sensor of dust.

• It will be available with a Leica lens.

Kitao declined to say whether Panasonic plans to enter the top-end professional side of the SLR market, currently dominated by Canon and Nikon. "We have to learn more of the SLR business," he said. "First we'll expand the SLR range to the mass market."

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