A decline in sales of compact digital cameras has triggered a scramble among manufacturers in Japan to equip them with a range of new functions.

Sales were down five percent in 2009 in comparison with two years earlier, with the primary reason being that most Japanese households already own a compact digital camera. Overseas sales are following a similar path, while total sales have been hurt by intensified competition among camera makers.

The way to perk sales up again, manufacturers believe, is to convince consumers to replace their old models.

Canon Inc., one of the leaders in the sector, released this month the latest additions to its IXY range, boasting improved image quality and enhanced operability, according to company spokesman Richard Berger.

The IXY 10S has a large 3.5-inch touch-panel-operation LCD monitor and a 14.1 megapixel, five-times zoom capability. The IXY 400F - priced at Y33,000 (€265.58) - has a four-times zoom and the 200F version 12.1 megapixels and four-times zoom.

To underline the speed at which these models are being introduced to the market, the 10S is replacing the IXY 930 IS, which was only introduced in September of last year.

The 10S - at a mere 17.8 millimeters thick - also incorporates two new scene modes; the Miniature Effect mode gives an image the image of it being a diorama, while the fish-eye effect mode is designed to expand the central area of the image for interesting close-up shots.

Keen not to be left behind, Casio Computer Co. has just announced the release of the Exilim EX-Z2000 on February 26, which has the ability to merge two separately recorded video segments into a single sequence and comes with software that enables the user to upload images and video to the internet. The Casio Exilim EX-Z2000 costs Y37,000 (€297.77).

The company has also recently unveiled its Exilim G1, which incorporates the world-renowned shock resistance technology that has been the key element of the G-Shock range of watches since 1983. Casio is positioning the new shock-resistant, waterproof and dustproof digital camera in an "endurance" category, making it ideal for athletes and outdoors people.

As well as having 12.1 megapixels, the Ex-G1 is also equipped with modes that permit it to carry out interval shooting - which means it can automatically take still photos or movies at fixed intervals - and multi-image captures.

"Whether it is the lifestyle that you have chosen or your career path that requires you to carry a camera tough enough to endure life's elements, the ExilimG EX-G1 offers an endurance level that will withstand the demands of your daily routine," Toshi Iguchi, senior general manager of Casio's Digital Imaging Division, said in a statement.

Other companies are taking off in other technological directions - the new Fujifilm FinePix Z700EXR (priced at Y33,000, approximately €265.58) can recognize a pet's face and automatically focuses on the animal's face when it is in the shot - while Olympus has beefed up the zoom and the toughness on its appropriately named new Tough-8010, which retails for between Y45,000 (€362.15) and Y50,000 (€402.39).

This rugged new camera is waterproof to a depth of five meters, is shockproof against falls from 1.5 meters and can be operated at temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees C.