Mirrorless, interchangeable-lens models turn heads with smaller size, quality pics, ease of use

Camera show breaks SLR mystique


Staff Writer

Digital mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses grabbed the spotlight Thursday at CP+2012 as the nation’s biggest international camera and imaging show opened in Yokohama.

The concept is camera makers’ latest cash cow, and competition is expected to heat up as this uncultivated market develops. The show at Pacifico runs through Sunday.

Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras, which debuted in 2008, are as small as compact cameras but more capable of shooting quality photos on a par with single-lens reflex cameras.

Unlike traditional and digital SLR cameras, however, the mirrorless ones lack the built-in mirror box that supplies the viewfinder image. Eliminating the mirror saves space, allowing a smaller camera to be made.

The Japanese market for this type of camera is steadily expanding, as 52.2 percent of the interchangeable lens cameras shipped last month were mirrorless, the first time they exceeded 50 percent, said BCN Inc., a Tokyo based market researcher.

Manufacturers and industry observers said demand is brisk because the new products match demand for cameras that can take high-quality digital photos without the SLR bulk. SLR models, on top of being expensive, are rather unwieldy and difficult to use in casual photography.

When it comes to digital SLRs, people have images of “heavy,” “big,” “expensive” and “difficult,” but “the mirrorless models have removed those hurdles,” said Keiichi Yamaguchi, senior manager of the digital imaging marketing department at Sony Marketing (Japan) Inc.

Your average mirrorless model is a bit larger than a compact camera with a price of around ¥50,000 but way smaller than an SLR. Some are even as small as compacts and priced as low as ¥30,000, while premium models can cost more than ¥100,000.

“(Mirrorless models) have really expanded choices for customers,” Yamaguchi said at the Sony booth, where its NEX series cameras were attracting interest.

Since the first digital mirrorless interchangeable lens camera was released by Panasonic Corp. in 2008, nearly all major camera makers have jumped into the market, with the exception of Canon and Casio.

“The market of mirrorless interchageable-lens models is the most important market for us,” said Yukihiko Sugita, a product development manager at Olympus Imaging Corp.

Panasonic and Olympus jointly came up with the concept of mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras back in 2008.

Sugita said the mirrorless type allows makers to build more flexible products because design gets complicated when the mirror box is put in. These models therefore have the potential to evolve further, and the market is expected to grow, he said.

Industry observers said the timing is right.

Most of those buying new mirrorless models are upgrading from compact cameras, said Takuro Hiraoka of GfK Marketing Services Japan Ltd., another Tokyo based market researcher.

“While compact digital cameras have hardly been able to provide new functions since around 2007, the new category debuted,” and attracted those who want quality photos without the professional fuss, he said.