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Canon leads in digital camera sales

Booming interest in high-end SLR models pushes the company past perennial leader Sony, according to IDC.

Canon took a slim lead last year in digital camera sales, according to research company IDC, thanks to booming demand for high-end models.

IDC tallied Canon with worldwide shipments of 12.63 million cameras, 17.1 percent of the market. Sony came in second with 12.32 million, or 16.7 percent, and Kodak was third, with 8.71 million, or 11.8 percent. Overall shipments were 74 million units.

Those figures include both point-and-shoot cameras and more complex single-lens reflex, or SLR, models, the first time IDC has included SLR cameras in its annual sales tally, IDC analyst Chris Chute said.

Once-expensive specialty items largely used by professional photographers, digital SLRs turned into a consumer item last year with the introduction of sub-$1,000 models such as Canon's Digital Rebel.

Canon's aggressive pricing and marketing for SLRs gave the company the overall lead and helped make SLRs the hot new market in digital imaging, Chute said.

"It was just a matter of price point and promoting the heck out of them," he said. "We'll probably see $500 SLRs by the end of the year."

Growth in SLR models mainly came at the expense of high-end "prosumer" cameras with big zoom lenses and high resolution, a category Chute expects to all but evaporate. "I'd be surprised if we see any of those introduced this year," he said.

That could be bad news for Sony, which has yet to produce a digital SLR, partly because it doesn't have a legacy in film photography with an accompanying roster of interchangeable lenses.

"I think it's going to be in Sony's interest to see how they can address this segment," Chute said.

Sony still led in sales of point-and-shoot cameras, with shipments of 12.32 million units, for 17.2 percent of the market. Canon and Kodak again were second and third, respectively, with 11.19 million units and 15.7 market share and 8.63 units and 12.1 percent market share.

Overall shipments of point-and-shoot cameras were 71.5 million units, compared with 47.93 million in 2003, for growth of 49.2 percent.

Chute expects growth to be moderate in coming years, partly because fewer camera owners will find a need to replace their current models.

"Last year, we saw a big uptake in the replacement cycle," he said. "The people with 2-megapixel cameras decided it was time to trade up to 5 or 6 megapixels. Now they've got all the camera they need. The value proposition for megapixels is pretty much over."