Sony, Panasonic cameras combine small size with SLR features

It's been a year since Panasonic debuted the first digital camera that combined the compactness of a point-and-shoot with the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. The Lumix G1 kick-started a new segment in the camera market, which this week at the Camera and Photo Imaging Show in Japan saw a new model from Panasonic and the second showing of a prototype camera from Sony.

The small cameras are aimed at users who want better photos than a compact camera can provide but don't want a larger device. They allow for interchangeable lenses but are smaller because there is no reflexive mirror like that found in SLRs. Right behind the lens is an image sensor that provides both a live preview and captures the image.

"The concept is to give customers a lot of opportunity to use different types of lenses," said Masashi Imamura, president of Sony's personal imaging business. By allowing photographers to change lenses, it's possible to get different effects and more interesting pictures, he said.The cameras use a smaller lens mount than conventional SLRs to remain compact.

Micro Four Thirds, a development from the Four Thirds format, has been adopted by Panasonic and Olympus and that means lenses can be swapped between the two cameras. Sony has gone for a different format although it hasn't yet provided any details about it.

Panasonic's new Lumix G2 camera brings several improvements over the G1. The 12-megapixel G2 will go on sale in Japan on April 28 and among the new features is a 3-inch touch-screen through which the auto-focus can be controlled. By touching the subject on the screen, the camera will adjust its focus.It shoots 720P high-definition video in the AVCHD Lite format, a version of AVCHD for digital cameras. In Japan the camera body alone will cost around ¥80,000 (US$885), and a kit with the camera and a 14mm to 42mm zoom lens will cost an extra ¥10,000. Pricing and availability for other markets hasn't been announced.

Sony's first compact camera with interchangeable lens, an unnamed model in its Alpha series, was first unveiled at last month's PMA show in California and is on show in Japan for the first time this week at the Camera and Photo Imaging Show in Yokohama.

Sony hasn't released many details about the camera and the three prototypes on show in Yokohama are positioned away from the hands on event attendees, but that hasn't stopped it from claiming technical superiority. The image sensor in its camera will be bigger than those on Micro Four Thirds cameras so will result in better images, it said.

Sony said the camera should be available sometime this year.

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