Worldwide shipments of digital still cameras will hit 10.8 million units by the end of 2000 and are poised to rise higher still in 2001, according to an estimate from Japanese market research company Nikkei Market Access (NMA).

Sales have steadily increased all year from 1.8 million units in the first quarter to nearly 4 million units expected in the fourth quarter of the year.

The latest forecast represents a healthy 109.5 percent increase on global shipments in 1999, although is slightly lower than the 11 million unit forecast by NMA in August this year.

For 2001, NMA said it expects the global digital still camera market to expand by a further 71 percent to reach 18.5 million units.

The year is likely to be characterised by fast expansion in Europe and Asia, which have lagged behind North America and Japan in the last few years, according to NMA.

Shipments are expected to drop slightly in the first quarter, to slightly more than 3.5 million units, and then steadily rise to more than 5.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2001.

While three megapixel-class digital cameras are becoming more popular, the next year is likely to see two megapixel cameras become the most common type.

Such cameras provide an acceptable image for most users and strike a balance between the lower quality of one megapixel cameras and the higher memory demands of cameras capable of three megapixel and higher resolutions.

Among the major manufacturers, Olympus and Sony are likely to share the top position in 2000, each holding 21.5 percent market share.