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Digital cameras zoom in on accessories

Sony unveils a portable printer for digital photos, joining the expanding market of accessories for digital cameras.

On the stage of digital imaging products, the digital camera solo act is becoming an accessories ensemble.

On Tuesday, consumer electronics giant Sony unveiled the portable DPP-MP1 digital photo printer. The introduction of the printer, which weighs less than a pound, is indicative of the new markets cropping up around digital cameras. And such peripherals are expected to help push such digital cameras toward more mainstream consumers.

"As consumers can do more with the cameras, they will be further tempted to take the next step toward digital imaging and buy a camera," said Greg Young, a general manager of digital imaging at Sony.

Market researcher IDC estimates that 15 percent of U.S. households with PCs own digital cameras. But in order for the digital cameras to become ubiquitous, manufacturers will need to make them more tempting. IDC analyst Chris Chute said this is beginning to happen as the digital camera is evolving from a novelty device to the next purchase for many film-camera owners.

"The industry is taking the transition of digital cameras seriously, which you can see from the types of accessories that are popping up to facilitate the use of digital images," Chute said. Examples of such accessories include digital frames, which are picture frames that display digital images, and upcoming DVD players.

Last month, for example, Eastman Kodak announced partnerships that will lead to DVD players that can display digital photos. One of the first ones, the Apex Digital 5131 DVD player, came out just this month.

Sony's upcoming DPP-MP1 photo printer, which is set for release in November, features a Memory Stick flash memory slot and costs $350, including the rechargeable battery. The printer will allow consumers to print color photos immediately after taking a shot.

Other manufacturers of portable printers for digital cameras include Canon, SiPix, Polaroid and Olympus.

Young noted that Sony has been seeking ways to integrate digital images into its other product lines, such as developing software that will allow PlayStation 2 owners to incorporate their faces into certain video games.

"With our breadth of product offerings, we can offer many ways of advancing digital photography," Young said. "We want to improve household penetration (of digital cameras) and get it as close as film cameras--which have close to 100 percent household penetration--as possible."

He noted that Sony already has 15 different models of digital cameras, including three new ones introduced Tuesday.

Young estimates that the digital camera market is growing at 30 to 40 percent per year. For the year, Young said that market growth is on target for 50 percent year-over-year growth.

IDC's figures are much more conservative. On Monday, the company released a report estimating that the U.S. market is on target for 10 percent growth this year compared with 2000.

According to second-quarter data from IDC, Sony is the market-share leader in digital cameras.