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Canon Focuses On Growing Digital SLR Market

TOKYO— After years of decline, Canon is attempting to inject life into the SLR camera market by moving the segment more firmly to digital, and by bringing lower priced digital SLR cameras, like the recently introduced EOS Digital Rebel, to market at consumer price points.

Canon’s deputy group executive/photo products, Ted Ando, discussed his company’s strategy at Canon’s worldwide headquarters, here.

While the market for compact digital cameras has been booming, eclipsing film camera sales this year in North America, the market for higher-end SLR cameras was flagging until the recent introduction of digital SLRs from a variety of manufacturers, including Nikon, Canon, Olympus and Fujifilm.

But film still dominates the SLR segment. Last year approximately six percent of all SLRs sold in America were digital. Ando said he expected that number to grow to 27 percent in 2003.

“We are constantly revising our forecasts upward in this category, it is taking off,” Ando said.

Vendors sold 92,000 digital SLRs in 2002 and total shipments in the U.S. are expected to hit 325,000 in 2003, said technical information director Chuck Westfall.

Canon wants to spur this trend with the recent introduction of the EOS Digital Rebel. At a starting suggested retail price of $899 (without the lens), it is the first interchangeable lens SLR camera to break the $1,000 price mark. It is aimed at moving higher end compact digital camera users, consumers who might have bought Canon’s 5-megapixel Powershot G5 (also retailing for a suggested $899) for instance, into the digital SLR category, where there is greater profit potential in selling interchangeable lenses, larger memory cards and other accessories.

According to Ando, the company has segmented the digital camera market into three categories: the high-end professional, the pro/advanced amateur and the mainstream market. The new Digital Rebel straddles the mainstream and the advanced amateur market, Ando said.

Canon’s fortunes in the mainstream, compact digital camera market have risen sharply this year. According to Westfall, the company expects to have the number one market share in both units and dollars in 2003, supplanting long reigning Sony as the market champ. The success was achieved, in part, by focusing on cameras in the 3-,4- and 5-megapixel segment, Westfall said.

Ando also noted that the company is attempting to foster a ‘digital environment,’ removing the PC from the digital photography experience. The company’s support for the open PictBridge direct printing standard and its own proprietary direct print functions on its printers and digital cameras are a part of this effort.