Photo/IllutrationMasaya Maeda, center, president of Canon Inc., shows off the EOS R mirrorless camera on Sept. 5 in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. (Ryoko Takahashi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Japan’s leading digital camera makers are shifting their focus to luxurious mirrorless cameras, signaling a market switch from single-lens reflex cameras to lighter, easier-to-use models.

Canon Inc. will market its first high-end mirrorless model, the EOS R, in late October, while Nikon Corp. will start selling the pricey Z6 mirrorless camera in the latter half of November.

The two market-dominant companies have been competing with each other over the sale of single-lens reflex models for camera buffs. Now, Canon and Nikon will be vying for a slice of the upscale mirrorless camera market as well.

The Canon EOS R adopts the same full-size image sensor as high-end single-lens reflex cameras, as the image quality depends on the performance of the sensor.

The new model will have more features to cater to skilled photographers than conventional digital cameras with smaller sensors, such as a function to blur the background of photos.

The lenses on the mirrorless models can be changed like the ones on single-lens reflex cameras.

“The most important part is the lens as we are working to further improve the image quality,” said Canon President Masaya Maeda.

The inside diameter of the junction of the lens with the body of the EOS R was increased to 54 millimeters, so a wider range of dedicated lenses can be used, according to Canon officials.

As sales of lenses generate larger profits, both Canon and Nikon intend to drastically increase the number of lenses offered. Adapters will also make it possible for mirrorless models to use lenses that are used on existing single-lens reflex cameras.

The Z mirrorless series to be released by Nikon will feature full-size sensors and lenses whose junction part measures 55 mm in diameter. It plans to develop unique dedicated lenses for the series.

“The mirrorless camera market is more likely to grow in the future,” said Kazuo Ushida, president of Nikon, at a news conference in Tokyo on Aug. 23 to announce the release of the Z series.

Not equipped with mirrors to show subjects in the viewfinders, mirrorless models are characterized by smaller and lighter bodies than single-lens reflex cameras. While images of the subjects are shown in the viewfinders after they are digitally processed, some mirrorless products do not have a viewfinder.

The Canon EOS R will boast a resolution of 30.3 million pixels and a body that weighs 580 grams. It will carry a price tag of around 250,000 yen ($2,257), including tax.

Nikon’s Z6 model, which will have a resolution of 24.5 million pixels and weigh 585 grams, is expected to be priced at 270,000 yen or so after tax. Nikon will also market its high-end Z7 model on Sept. 28 for around 440,000 yen.

Although mirrorless cameras were unable to capture fast-moving objects well, technical improvements have enabled that type of camera to take good photos of those subjects.

Mirrorless models were thought to be designed particularly for beginning photographers, but the successive release of high quality mirrorless products could woo customers from the single-lens reflex camera market.

ENTRY INTO GROWING MARKET

The single-lens reflex camera market is dominated almost exclusively by Canon and Nikon.

Nikon previously used smaller image sensors for mirrorless models than single-lens reflex cameras so customers could differentiate between the two kinds of product. Although smaller sensors result in lower image quality, they allow for lighter, easier-to-use bodies.

But Nikon changed the strategy as many electronics makers have been entering the mirrorless camera business.

Sony Corp. in 2013 began selling luxurious full-size sensor products, while Fujifilm Corp. has released a super upscale model equipped with a larger sensor than full-size ones for 800,000 yen.

On the other hand, Panasonic Corp., which introduced the world’s first mirrorless camera in 2008, and Olympus Corp., which started offering mirrorless models in 2009, have adopted smaller sensors.

Emphasizing how easily their products can be used, Panasonic and Olympus have succeeded in winning over a number of customers in the market.

According to an estimate by a camera industry association, major manufacturers shipped single-lens reflex cameras worth 356.9 billion yen across the world in 2017, down 3.6 percent from the previous year, compared with the shipping of mirrorless models, which rose 48.2 percent to 221.4 billion yen.

As the use of smartphones spreads and small and simple digital cameras become much less popular, sales of mirrorless products are rising, accounting for nearly 30 percent of total digital camera sales.

(This article was compiled from reports by Keiichi Kitagawa, Ryoko Takahashi and Hisashi Naito.)