In theory the consumer digital SLR market is split between five manufacturers, but in practice it's always been a two horse race. Canon and Nikon control nearly 80 percent of the market between them, with Canon firmly in the lead taking somewhere in the region of 43 percent of unit sales and Nikon trailing slightly on about 35 percent. Until fairly recently the remaining 20 percent was split more or less evenly between Olympus and Pentax, but Panasonic's successful G-series of mirrorless system cameras now accounts for about three percent of sales, while Sony has leapfrogged its way into third place with a growing share of around 11 percent of the market.
This is the result of a well planned and very successful strategy of launching the right models at the right time, frequently trumping the market leaders on vital selling points such as sensor resolution, live monitor view, in-camera image stabilisation and more importantly price. Sony has also seen the advantage of fielding a wide and varied range of models at different price points. The Alpha range now consists of eight cameras ranging from the £300 A230 to the £1800 full-frame A900.
Take this new Alpha A500 for example. It's one of a trio of new mid-range Sony Alpha models, sitting in between the more powerful and more expensive A550 and the cheaper but simpler A450. It is competing directly with the Canon EOS 500D (£590 inc. lens) and the Nikon D5000 (£550 inc. lens), but manages to be cheaper than both while offering a tempting range of features and impressive performance figures. It is aimed at the experienced DSLR user who is upgrading from an entry-level model and is looking for more features and versatility.