Call it a Rebel with a cause. Canon's introduction of the Digital Rebel digital SLR (d-SLR) at a sub-$1,000 price point in Sept. 2003 instantly created a new market where none previously existed, bringing interchangeable lens digital photography to the masses — at least to the masses with $999.
"It's truly a milestone product," said Elliot Peck, director of sales, Canon, who likened the digital Rebel's impact to that of Canon's first consumer-priced film SLR camera, 1977's AE-1 that brought advanced film photography to the hobbyists.
Peck said the "primary reason" for the unit's success was the price point. For under $1,000 consumers could, for the first time, purchase a d-SLR with the lens in the box.
The unit appealed to two market segments, Peck said: repeat buyers searching for a fuller featured, higher performance digital camera, and old film Rebel owners looking to make the move to digital with a camera that would accept their existing store of Rebel lenses and accessories.
"There are limitations in the point-and-shoot digital camera market," Peck said. Slow shutter speeds, small focal lengths and limited shooting options gave more experienced digital camera owners an impetus to upgrade.
"The d-SLR gives the experienced digital user more options that, prior to the Rebel, were out of reach to mainstream consumers," Peck said.
Unit sales of the Rebel were modest compared to the overall market for consumer digital cameras, but it still outsold models from name-brand vendors that were less than half of the Rebel's $999 suggested retail, landing it atop the market in dollar sales.
The market for d-SLRs was virtually non-existent at the beginning of 2002, with 90,000 units sold mostly to professional users. In 2003, that figure hit 300,000, thanks in large measure to the Digital Rebel. This year, Peck said, unit sales for the total d-SLR category should nearly triple to reach 850,000, as the Rebel enjoys a full year on store shelves and competitive products, such as Nikon's D70, reach the market.
The initial demand for the Rebel caught even Canon by surprise, Peck admitted.
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Dollar sales at retail, June 2003 – May 2004