updated 6/6/2006 1:02:38 PM ET 2006-06-06T17:02:38

Sony Corp. unveiled its first digital camera with interchangeable lenses Tuesday, marking a late entry into the high-end of the photography market for the company that was first to offer a point-and-shoot model 25 years ago.

The Alpha DSLR-A100 camera is a culmination of Sony's yearlong collaboration with Japanese precision-equipment maker Konica Minolta Holdings Inc., which pulled out of the camera business in January and sold the assets to Sony.

Sony officials said its drive into the single-reflex lens camera market was symbolic of how the company was trying to revive its brand image. And they're banking on the continued popularity of digital photos, particularly as they're viewed on high-definition TVs, shared over personal computers and stored on DVDs, said Kiyoshi Shikano, a Sony marketing official.

"This marks Sony's first entry into a new segment in a long while," he said. "Alpha is a new challenge for Sony."

The company expects to produce 80,000 of the cameras each month. They're set to go on sale in July.

Sony has been struggling to make a turnaround for the past year under Welsh-born Howard Stringer, the first foreigner to head the entertainment and electronics company.

SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses and manual controls tend to be favored by professional photographers but are also growing in popularity among photo enthusiasts. Sony already makes various simpler point-and-shoot digital cameras, including the popular Cyber-shot models.

More than three-quarters of all cameras sold today are digital, and digital images are expected to account for 90 percent of all professionally taken photos by 2010, compared with 70 percent now, according to InfoTrends, a U.S.-based marketing group.

But Sony faces tough competition in the higher-end SLR segment from longtime Japanese camera makers, including Canon Inc. and Nikon Corp.

The competition is more intense in the market for smaller, non-SLR digital cameras, where other makers such as Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Casio Computer Co. and Olympus Optical Co. do battle.

The shift to digital technology has provoked dramatic changes in the camera industry, forcing Konica Minolta Holdings Inc., which traces its roots to 1873, to quit the camera business altogether.

Even Nikon said earlier this year it would stop making seven of its nine film cameras and concentrate on digital models.

The camera body of the DSLR-A100 will be available in July at a retail price of about $900. Lenses range in price from about $450 to $700. The 10.2-megapixel camera will work with 19 Sony lenses.

Although Sony posted a profit for the fiscal year ended March 31, instead of its initial forecast for red ink, its losses for the final quarter at $580 million were worse than those for the same quarter the previous fiscal year, a testament to the serious restructuring it has been tackling.

Sony shares, which earlier this year gained 50 percent to $54, closed at $46, down 1.5 percent, in Tokyo trading Tuesday.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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