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Sony plans two higher-end SLRs

To strengthen position in the SLR camera market, company says it will introduce one model for advanced amateurs and one for professionals.

LAS VEGAS--Sony announced plans Thursday for two higher-end digital SLR cameras, one for advanced amateurs and one for professionals.

The Japanese electronics giant just entered the SLR market last July with the Alpha 100, but the company needs a broader product range, said Toru Katsumoto, senior general manager of the company's SLR-focused AMC division.

"We need to further solidify our market position," Katsumoto said at a news conference at the Photo Marketing Association trade show. "Therefore we are now working on a second wave of our products in order to expand the world of Alpha."

The company offered few details on the new SLRs beyond saying the high-end amateur product will arrive this year and that both will be compatible with the 21 lenses so far released for Alpha cameras. Both will have a new image sensor, and the top-end flagship model will have a new Bionz image processing chip. "We are positioning this product to be the highest-end camera that meets the demands even of professional photographers," Katsumoto said.

In addition, Sony said it will bring more than five new lenses to market this year, including a 24-70mm F/2.8, a 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 and an 18-250mm F/3.5-6.3. The company is showing eight prototypes at its booth.

Digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras are bulkier and more expensive than the compact cameras, but their larger sensors and higher-end optics endow them with better performance and image quality. Digital SLRs are widely used by professional photographers, but lower-cost models are now spreading to enthusiasts as well.

Camera makers have been scrambling for influence in the market. Traditional film camera companies such as Canon, Nikon, Olympus and are the best established, but electronics companies including Sony, Panasonic and Samsung are trying to edge in. Sony got a leg up through its acquisition of Konica-Minolta's camera technology.

Steve Haber, senior vice president of Sony Electronics' Digital Imaging and Audio division, expects the current market dynamic won't last, though.

"Right now, the industry is expanding and more players are coming in. There will be a time in the future where there will be a shakeout," he said in an interview. "The one thing we know for sure is Sony will be there at the end."