PHOTOKINA - Famed analog camera makers seek digital niche

Leica and Hasselblad used the Photokina imaging show in Cologne, Germany, to launch several digital cameras.

If you can't beat them, join them. That's the motto of two of the world's most renowned makers of analog cameras, Germany's Leica Camera and Denmark's Hasselblad, which have used the Photokina imaging show in Germany, to launch several high-end digital cameras in an attempt to counter the market dominance of Asian manufacturers.

"Last year, we had serious economic problems to contend with," said Josef Spichtig, Leica's chairman of the management board at a news conference. "The key question was whether the company would be able to carry the values and quality characteristics it had developed in the analog world into the digital world. The answer is yes as our new products show."

Spichtig's colleague, Ralph Nebe, director of marketing and sales, said that the six new digital cameras launched at Photokina show the company is pursuing "a course of its own in the changed camera market."

At the top of the range is the Leica M8 digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR) with the Leica viewfinder system. A low-noise CCD (Charge Coupled Device) image sensor ensures a resolution of 10.3 megapixels. Leica has developed two new lenses for the camera, which can also be used with virtually all lenses in the company's M range produced since 1954.

The M8 will start shipping at the end of November. No pricing information was available.

Among Leica's other new digital cameras is the V-Lux 1, an SLR model featuring a swivelling 2 inch TFT (thin-film transistor) display, and the 10 megapixel compact D-Lux . Both cameras will start shipping next month.

In a move to carve out its niche in the new world of digital photography, Hasselblad launched what the company claims to be the world's first 48 millimeter full-frame DSLR camera.

The H3D is available in two models, the H3D-22, which offers a resolution of 22 megapixels, or the H3D-39, offering 39 megapixels on "the largest image sensor currently available in digital photography" -- more than twice the size of a high-end 35 mm camera sensor, the company said.

The camera is built around a new digital camera engine. Information about lens and exact capture conditions are fed into the engine for ultra fine tuning of the auto-focus mechanism, taking into account the design of the lens and optical specification of the sensor. Another feature is Digital APO Correction (DAC).

Pricing and availability information was not immediately available.

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John Blau

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