Saturday Shout: Can Sony or Panasonic Break the DSLR Monopoly?

May 13, 2006 | Mark Goldstein | Saturday Shout | 10 Comments |

Saturday ShoutThis week saw some new information released by Sony about their Alpha DSLR camera and by Panasonic about their DMC-L1 DSLR. Both cameras will be released this year, with Sony aiming to become “the headline performer” and Panasonic just aiming to break into the DSLR market. 20 new lenses for the Alpha camera are promised by Sony in the first year, with full backwards compatibility for the Konica Minolta lens mount system, whilst are offering something completely different in the LC1 with a more range-finder like design. But how successful will either company be when Canon and Nikon effectively have this area of photography sewn up between them? Can Sony succeed where Konica Minolta failed, and can Panasonic build on the success of their popular compact digicams? Shout out now…



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#1 Dario

I think that these companies have a fair shot, though not an easy one.
What I don't like about more small-time DSLR manufacturers is that they like to make toys. Even if their image quality is great, when their bodies look plasticky or like bottom-of -the-line items, it does nothing for their rep.
That's why I'm impressed by Panasonic. They decided to make a camera that will not just "break into the DSLR market" but something useful that amateurs and "pros" would like.
I mean, for their 1st dSLR, it already has a magnesium alloy body. And it certainly doesn't look like a toy (like the Alpha or the pentax dSLRs).

To make more prosumer consumers feel comfortable, they must have equipment that seems like a pro would use it.. even if we can't afford it right away. :)

Just my opinion.

2:28 pm - Saturday, May 13, 2006

#2 guy villeneuve

maybe not break it but disturb it but SONY thinks too much of its name sometimes. today they do not make the best TV anymore.to break fences they should go to full size to reach canon...and pass nikon.PANASONIC will be very much its competition i think.it will bring ZEISS VS LEICA just like the old days.

3:31 pm - Saturday, May 13, 2006

#3 guy villeneuve

minolta had genious working with fantastic ideas etc.. but konica bought them but wanted too much have konica name on it the marriage was not a good one for sure. but the ant-shake has to be the smartest i have seen so farSONY hope will learn from that just as panasonic call their camera LUMIX ALPHA is a good name but too close to ALPA they will need ZEISS for sure

4:04 pm - Saturday, May 13, 2006

#4 kelly k

you can canon

4:27 pm - Saturday, May 13, 2006

#5 Jason

I think Sony's got the best shot and has an established platform to build from. They also know how to market pro gear as they've done it with video for a long time. They wouldn't even need to make their money in the pro market, just put something out that says there is quality throughout the entire line.

I think to hit the pro market, more than any wunderbody, I would like to see Sony partner with Zeiss to offer an alternative to Canon's L series lenses as well as consumer-grade lenses. But pair it with a pro-level build body, like the D200 or in their case, the Maxxum 9.

I think trying to compete with FPS or focus speed isn't completely necessary - not everyone shoots sports or photjournalism. But a body that has impeccable glass and a build for a trek into the wilderness could make Sony a real player.

7:14 pm - Saturday, May 13, 2006

#6 agesilaus

I also think Sony has a better chance. They have two natural markets. The first is the orphaned Konica-Minolta people. A pretty small pool or KM would still be in business. The other market is the naive upgrading Sony camera users. People moving up from a Sony P&S. This would be the group who doesn't do any product research and just sticks with the Sony name. Hard to say what the size of this group will be.

As for the existing DSLR market, Sony and even more Panasonic will have a very hard row to hoe. People are locked into their current systems by lenses and other accessory purchases. Plus I think product loyaty is strong. Word of mouth will push new users into Canon or Nikon. Both of these companies have a very long and strong history in optics and photography.

Sony/Panasonic will have to come out with at least 30D/D70s level cameras with features above and beyond those at a lower price point to even attract a glance from the established market. Expanded dynamic range, low noise and improved sensors. Something like that.

I suspect they will try to compete with the D50/350D market with glitz, lower quality and equal price. That will not be a success.

12:22 am - Sunday, May 14, 2006

#7 Dario

That's why I like Panasonic's L1. It's not just another entry level D50 or 350D. It's kinda on its own little realm with really attractive manual features. It'll probably be the poor man's Epson R1... of course much different but similar aesthetic.
Plus with 4/3, you'll be able to mount all the MF glass you want (with adapters). Leica lenses or the OM lenses. Of course, you'll get quiet a telephoto out of those normal lenses. :)

12:45 am - Sunday, May 14, 2006

#8 Jerry

Sony has a good chance of breaking ground, my only question is will they have better sensors then Nikon from now on? I ask this because Nikon's use Sony sensors and something tells me Sony will not be giving Nikon the newest sensors, that would be like cutting your own throat.

6:30 pm - Sunday, May 14, 2006

#9 zuikoku

Sony will catch bigger market share in D-SLR since overall system are quite comprehensive as KM' heritage.

Panasonic will be as a niche player

2:00 pm - Monday, May 15, 2006

#10 terry chay

I agree that Sony is better positioned because of their sensor manufacturing, advances in the video and professional digital cinematography, and K-M user base (in that order).

As for Nikon being affected, I do not think it is Sony’s strategy to withhold any chip designs in order to break into this market. There are a couple of points to note here.

1) Pentax also uses Sony dSLR chips
2) Almost every manufacturer, including Canon, uses Sony sensors in their consumer cameras. Does Sony withhold sensor chips for themselves there?
3) Sony’s 3CCD video chip in their HDR-FX1 is the same video chip (with a different video processor) in Canon's XL-H1. Sony could have easily “sat” on it and watch Canon delay their high-definition entry a year.
4) Sony already announced a 3CCD CMOS dSLR sensor that does 60fps + chipset (but no camera). Why would they do that if they plan on withholding it?

In fact, I feel the last point is the most indicative of the strategy. If this sensor is provided to everyone, including their competitors, the company most likely to take advantage of this is… Sony. Pentax and Nikon would not want to risk themselves on a radical departure of the dSLR design that a 60fps system would entail (live preview, non-optical viewfinder, mirrorless design, movies in a dSLR).

The weakspot for Sony is going to be the optics. As the Zeiss ZF lenses show, Sony does not have exclusivity with Zeiss so they will have trouble on the lens front. This is a pity because Sony could bring a lot of innovations buried from the cinemetography world that could go into the future lens designs, esp. in regards to the 60fps sensor.


As for Panasonic, I don't think Panasonic by itself has much force. But Panasonic co-developed the live preview you see in the L1 and in the Olympus E-330. Also, Panasonic brings Leica along with it which brings along with it a lot of legitamacy (though unfortunately in the same price points that Olympus’s Zuiko line is). I think the real question there is the 4/3 format legitimacy, not Panasonic or Olympus per se.

9:33 am - Tuesday, May 16, 2006