Watching the strategies of the top players in the digital SLR market is like watching a game of chess with three sides, and the recent spate of product launches has shown some very interesting moves. Canon, the global market leader, has a comprehensive range covering the market with the entry-level 10-megapixel EOS 400D, the newly-announced 12.2MP EOS 450D and the semi-pro 10.1MP EOS 40D, as well as three full-frame professional cameras, the aging 12.8MP EOS 5D and the two EOS-1D MkIII variants, the 21MP EOS-1Ds and the high speed 10.1MP EOS-1D. Canon's main rival is of course Nikon, which has three consumer-level DSLRs including the 6MP D40, the new 10.1MP D60 and the D80, also 10.1MP. For the semi-pro it offers the 12.3MP D300 , while professionals get the full-frame 12.1MP D3.
Sony is a relative newcomer to the DSLR market, but has already moved into third place in the global market, mainly on the strength of its first consumer-level DSLR, the impressive Alpha A100, launched in June 2006. The A100 offered a superior specification to the then-current Canon EOS 350D and Nikon D40, but at a lower price and with the advantage of built-in moving-sensor image stabilisation. Sony followed this up in September last year with the semi-pro Alpha A700, competing in the same market as the EOS 40D and Nikon D300. However Sony has recently announced three more DSLRs in quick succession. Most recently we have heard about the Alpha A300 and A350, which will appeal the the more ambitious amateur with a range of features including an articulated live-view monitor and, for the A350, a 14.2-megapixel sensor. News of these interesting new models has somewhat overshadowed the launch of Sony's first new camera this year, the entry-level Alpha A200.
The A200 replaces the A100 as the base model in Sony's DSLR range, and its launch signifies the start of a major effort on Sony's part to grab a bigger slice of the lucrative DSLR market. While it sports the same 10.2-megapixel CCD sensor as the A100, in most other respects the A200 is a completely new camera. It features and improved Super SteadyShot moving-sensor image stabilisation system, improved Bionz image processor, faster focusing, faster shooting speed and a new more ergonomic body.
In terms of its overall specification it is a close match for both the Canon EOS 400D and the new Nikon D60 (which has the same Sony-made sensor). The crucial issue is going to be selling price, and the competition at this end of the market is fierce. The A200 is currently selling for £369 body only, or £449 with an 18-70mm kit lens. The Nikon D60 has just gone on sale for £449 body-only, or £499 with an 18-55mm kit lens, while the EOS 400D, which has been out for over a year now, is available for £349 body only, or £399 with an 18-55mm kit lens. It's interesting to note that the impressive 10MP Olympus E-510 is now available for around £420 with a 14-42mm kit lens, and that camera has both image stabilisation and live view.