* High-end camera, lens sales to surpass forecasts
* Possible to sharply raise camera unit sales in mid term
* Shares close down 3 pct vs Nikkei's 2.1 percent loss
(Adds details, comments, share price)
TOKYO, Feb 19 Japan's Nikon Corp (7731.T) will likely beat its digital camera sales forecast for the financial year to March on strong demand in China and other parts of Asia, the head of its camera division said on Friday.
Digital cameras are now the main profit driver for Nikon as demand for steppers, its other main product, which produce semiconductors, has yet to fully recover from the global economic slowdown.
Nikon, which competes with Canon Inc (7751.T) in high-end cameras, said earlier this month it aimed to sell 3.55 million digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras in the year to March and 11.5 million point-and-shoot compact cameras.
SLR cameras, a high-end model that uses interchangeable lenses, are the most lucrative and the fastest-growing segment of the digital camera market.
"Our SLRs and interchangeable lenses will probably be beating our own targets," Nikon Executive Vice President Makoto Kimura told Reuters in an interview on Friday. "Demand in Asia -- especially in China -- has been growing strongly."
Besides camera bodies, camera lenses are another product that generate fat profit margins for Nikon and Canon.
Nikon aims to sell 5.15 million interchangeable lenses in the current business year, according to its official forecast. That would be up from 4.87 million units last year.
Kimura said it is possible to raise revenues in the camera division to 700-800 billion yen ($7.6-8.7 billion) in three to five years by further boosting sales of its digital cameras and expanding camera-related services. He did not elaborate.
Nikon expects sales at its camera unit to come to 560 billion yen in the current year to March.
Shares in Nikon closed down 3 percent at 1,967 yen, underperforming the Nikkei average .N225, which fell 2.1 percent. The interview was published a few minutes before the market closed.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Reiji Murai; Editing by Michael Watson)
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