By Miyoung Kim
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics Co aims to more than quadruple sales of small, interchangeable lens cameras this year, as it seeks to move up-market to compete with stronger Japanese rivals amid stagnating growth in the compact camera segment.
A growing number of camera makers are introducing "mirrorless" interchangeable lens cameras, boosting competition in a market already crowded with competitors like Olympus Corp, Sony Corp and Nikon Corp, although they have so far had a mixed track record of success.
"We plan to introduce a couple of new lineups in the first half and aggressively boost sales of mirrorless cameras, with expanded portfolios to include cheaper models," Han Myoung-sup, head of Samsung's digital camera operation, told Reuters in an interview.
Han said Samsung hopes to sell 500,000 mirrorless cameras this year, up sharply from last year's 120,000.
Japan's Canon Inc and Nikon dominate the market for the hefty single-lens reflex cameras used by professional photographers and enthusiasts, and mirrorless cameras pack many of the benefits of those high-end models into smaller bodies.
Mirrorless camera makers are now targeting consumers who are seeking to move upmarket from compact cameras, but unwilling to carry around a hefty interchangeable lens model.
They are also hoping to sell lucrative accessories such as lenses, as growth in the compact camera market stagnates, partly due to growing sales of camera-equipped smartphones and tablets.
Camera and digital imaging is one of smallest businesses of Samsung, and the South Korean firm aims to grow the operation to the ranks of its more successful television, smartphone and memory chips units and generate synergies with its recently added business of medical equipment.
"It's a tough market as Japanese makers have been traditionally very strong and continue to dominate the market. But as a consumer electronics company, Samsung does have an advantage. We can capitalize on our deep electronics technology pool and offer easy connectivity with a variety of our consumer devices," Han said.
Samsung unveiled Wi-Fi enabled cameras at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, which would make it easier for consumers to send pictures from cameras to smartphones, computers and TVs.
Han said Samsung is not interested in acquiring Japanese camera makers, including troubled camera and endoscope maker Olympus, in a bid to jump-start its growth.
"There'll be not much to gain from doing M&As, as we already have strong brand value."
Mirrorless cameras have large sensors, giving good picture quality, but no optical viewfinders, enabling manufacturers to keep the camera body smaller and lighter by leaving the mirror out of the structure.
The nascent market is the fastest growing camera segment, but top-end digital camera makers such as Canon, the world's top maker of interchangeable lens camera maker, have been slow to enter the market, fearing the segment may eat into their stronghold -- SLRs.
The new format is popular in Japan, where consumers tend to value easily portable products, but has so far sold less well in North America and Europe.
Mirrorless cameras accounted for 31 percent of all interchangeable lens models sold in Japan in 2010 but only 10 percent in the United States, according to research firm IDC.
Samsung owns only 2 percent of the global interchangeable lens camera market, which is dominated by Canon, Nikon and Sony.
(Reporting by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)