Sony Announces New 12-Megapixel Digital SLR

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Sony Corp. is adding a mid-range model to its Alpha digital still camera range later this year in anticipation of a competitive year-end shopping season.

The Alpha 700 is a mid-range model with a higher feature set that Sony's Alpha 100, which launched in July last year as Sony's first single lens reflex camera. It was unveiled on Thursday at a Tokyo news conference.

Single-lens reflex cameras use a mirror placed between the lens and the film or image sensor to project the image to the camera's viewfinder. The mirror moves out of the way when the picture is taken. They typically support interchangeable lenses and are faster and more capable than smaller point-and-shoot cameras.

The camera is based around a 12-megapixel CMOS image sensor that Sony has dubbed "Exmor." The sensor is newly developed and will work in combination with Sony's "Bionz" image processing engine inside the camera, said Sony.

In addition to the high-resolution images, the camera is also capable of shooting at up to 5 frames per second in full resolution. The only limit on the number of shots that can be taken at this speed is the space left on the camera's CompactFlash or MemoryStick card.

An unusual feature on the A700 is an HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) connector. More typically found on high-definition video devices, the HDMI connector allows the camera to be directly connected to a high-definition television for viewing of images. New model Bravia televisions can automatically detect the A700 when it's connected and switch the TV to a mode tuned for the display of still images. That means a better picture than normal, according to Sony.

At the rear of the camera the 230,000 pixel monitor screen of the A100 has been replaced with a display that has four times the resolution. The 920,000 pixel screen also has higher contrast. Images displayed on demonstration A700 cameras at the news conference were bright and clear.

The camera will form part of Sony's line-up going into the year-end sales period. DSLR cameras have become more and more popular of the last couple of years as prices have come down and more manufacturers entered the market. A few years ago the market was virtually divided between Nikon Corp. and Canon Inc. but the entry of companies like Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic) has pushed up competition.

The market for more feature-rich DSLR cameras is also growing. Whereas entry-level models, like Sony's A100, accounted for about three quarters of the Japanese DSLR market in the first half of this year that is expected to shrink to about two thirds of the market this year-end period, according to estimates from Sony. The A700 is targeted at this growing mid- and high-range sector.

The DSLR-A700 will cost around %180,000 (US$1,555) in Japan and be available from Nov. 16. It will be available in October in the U.S. market and cost about US$1,400. A version bundled with a 18-70mm lens will also ship in October for US$1,500 and a version with a 16-105mm lens will be available a month later for US$1,900. European launch details have not been announced.

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