* Nikon Q2 oper loss 20.3 bln yen, beats consensus
* Cuts chip stepper outlook by 3 units, ups digicam outlook
* Elpida doubles annual bit growth forecast to 40 pct growth
* Elpida may invest in more steppers next yr
* Nikon shares down 0.2 pct, Elpida down 0.6 pct (Recasts lead; adds details, executive comment)
TOKYO, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Japanese precision equipment and camera maker Nikon Corp 7731.T cut its chip stepper outlook, while chipmaker Elpida Memory Inc 6665.T said it was still waiting to see if it was safe to invest more amid mixed signs of a tech recovery.
Nikon, the world’s No.2 maker of chip steppers, cut its chip stepper sales target for the year to March by 3 units to 33 units of the multi-million dollar machines, used to scan circuitry onto silicon wafers to make semiconductors.
That is in contrast to sector leader Netherlands-based ASML ASML.AS, which last month raised its third quarter order bookings amid strong earnings by the world's No.1 chip maker Intel INTC.O and the world's biggest memory maker Samsung Electronics 005930.KS.
Still, quarterly results at Nikon, which also competes with Canon Inc 7751.T, beat consensus, thanks to strong sales of its compact digital cameras, coupled with cost cuts.
It nudged up its digital single-lens reflex camera sales target by 100,000 units to 3.55 million units, and lifted its compact digital camera sales forecast by 1 million units to 11.5 million units.
Its operating loss came to 20.3 billion yen for July-September, down from a profit of 25.4 billion yen last year and beating an average estimate for a loss of 25.4 billion yen yen by six analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
For the full financial year to next March, Nikon, which also makes digital SLR cameras and compact cameras, kept its recently revised forecast for an operating loss of 18 billion yen ($199 million), in line with the average forecast of five analysts for a 19.5 billion yen loss.
It fell to a net loss of 13.7 billion yen, down from a 15.7 billion yen profit in the previous year, on a 22.6 percent sales decline.
Chipmakers are recovering from a prolonged downturn, but while Samsung and the world's biggest contract chip maker Taiwan's TSMC 2330.TW have said they would boost capex in chips, others have been more hesitant.
Japan’s sole maker of PC memory Elpida, which last year pitted ASML against Nikon to get a lower price on steppers, reported a quarterly operating profit of 800 million yen on Thursday, turning a profit for the first time in 8 quarters.
Chip prices are stronger, and Elpida, which chose ASML, said it expects to boost output in terms of memory capacity by an annual 40 percent or more in the year to March, raising its previous estimate for a roughly 20 percent bit growth.
Elpida, which is preparing to add new lithography equipment at its cutting-edge plant in Hiroshima, western Japan, in January-March, is now considering buying new steppers in the next business year at both its Hiroshima and Taiwan plants so that 50 percent of its output would be of advanced 40-nanometre chips.
Using finer circuitry helps pack more power onto each sliver of silicon, yields more chips per wafer and lowers per-chip costs. That, in turn, will lower chip prices and could topple the chip market’s nascent recovery.
“We will watch many factors -- DRAM prices, how quickly we can lower the defect rate, what the competition is doing -- before deciding to invest in new equipment,” said Elpida’s Chief Financial Officer Yasuo Shirai. “The thing about DRAM is that you never know what could happen next.”
Shares of Nikon closed down 0.2 percent ahead of the announcement, while Elpida finished down 0.6 percent. Tokyo's electrical machinery sub-index .IELEC.T fell 1.4 percent. ($1=90.60 Yen) (Reporting by Mayumi Negishi; Editing by Michael Watson and Joseph Radford)