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Canon joins Sony, Nikon in battle for pro-grade camera market

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Canon president Masaya Maeda with the EOS R, the company's first full frame mirrorless camera. "Canon is moving to the next stage," he says.

Tokyo

CANON Inc is finally entering the full-frame mirrorless camera market, joining Sony Corp and Nikon Corp in a new battleground for professional-grade camera equipment.

The Japanese electronics giant will begin selling in late October the EOS R for 237,500 yen (S$2,935), a price tag targeted at professionals and enthusiasts. It aims to move 20,000 units a month.

Canon is the last major manufacturer to offer a mirrorless camera that's aimed at pros.

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Sony took the lead in the market with devices equipped with sensors that are better at grabbing more light, making it easier for photographers to shoot crisper images of fast-moving objects.

Analysts are betting that the three-way competition will drive more innovation and even slow the migration of consumers towards smartphones and away from digital cameras.

"Sony was the only option until now, but with Nikon and Canon now out, we'll see this space become very active," said Ichiro Michikoshi, an analyst at Tokyo-based BCN Inc. "There's a lot more buzz now, so maybe people who have forgotten about standalone cameras will take another look."

Removing the mirror system in the EOS R reduces the distance between the lens and the image sensor. The tighter design will boost stability, help eliminate blur, and opens possibilities for new lens designs, executives said.

Older Canon lenses will still be supported through mount adapters.

Canon and Nikon have dominated the pro market for decades, first with film and then with digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras.

However, it's becoming clearer that devices without the mirror-and-prism system offer significant benefits. Thanks to advanced image sensors, sophisticated software and a simpler design, mirrorless systems can capture light faster while staying in focus, making it easier to capture clearer images of rapidly moving objects.

"Canon is moving to the next stage," president Masaya Maeda told reporters at an event in Tokyo on Wednesday. "We are pushing the boundaries of imaging expression."

While mirrorless cameras have been around for more than a decade, Sony was the first to embed them with the larger full-frame image sensors - the chips that convert light particles into digital bits - putting them on par with DSLRs in terms of picture quality.

Canon and Nikon are following suit and rolling out their own designs featuring full-frame sensors.

Mirrorless cameras have been a rare bright spot for the US$11 billion industry, where digital camera shipments have plummeted 80 per cent in the past decade, as more people use smartphones to take pictures.

Mirrorless cameras now account for about a third of the sector's revenue, up from 9 per cent in 2012, according to industry body CIPA. BLOOMBERG