SLRs lead digital camera sales surge

Canon remains the top SLR seller, but Sony quickly jumps into third in a market that grew 39 percent in 2006.

Digital camera shipments increased 15 percent from 2005 to 2006, but the high-end SLR category grew at a much faster 39 percent clip, according to new statistics from IDC.

SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras offer snappy response, higher image quality and a range of lenses, but they also cost more and are much bulkier than compact models. They offer better profit margins than compact models, but consumer electronics companies are injecting new competition into the market.

Sony wasn't in the market in 2005, but its 326,000 SLR shipments in 2006 were enough to vault the consumer electronics company over established camera makers Olympus and Pentax into third place overall, according to IDC data released Monday. Samsung and Panasonic also debuted to the tune of 43,000 and 36,000 SLRs, respectively, giving the newcomers 405,000, or 8 percent, of the 5.3 million total SLRs shipped.

However, Canon remains king of the SLR heap by a wide margin. Its 31 percent growth--a 578,000 camera increase to 2.46 million in 2006--added more new cameras than all three newcomers combined.

No. 2 Nikon cut into Canon's SLR lead, with 36 percent growth to 1.74 million shipments in 2006.

The overall SLR market grew 39 percent from 3.8 million shipments to 5.27 million in 2006, IDC said.

The overall camera market grew 15 percent from 92.3 million shipments in 2005 to 105.7 million in 2006, IDC said. The compact market grew 14 percent from 88.5 million to 100.4 million.

For compact cameras, Canon remained No. 1 with 22 percent growth to 17.3 million units shipped in 2006.

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