- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I was wearing slacks, a dress shirt, tie and jacket as I ambled up to the new Leica Store at 977 F St. NW the other day - a few doors down from a L’Occitane en Provence outlet - and I’m glad I was.

After all, the “average sale” for a new Leica M camera-and-lens outfit, said Roland Wolff, director of corporate sales for Leica Camera Inc., the store’s owner, is about $10,000. Want a really nice 50 mm lens for that new camera, bunky? Mr. Wolff let me hold one, while saying it’s the fastest lens of its kind on the planet; the retail price is only $12,000.

You’re not going to find this gear at Costco or Best Buy.

Which, in part, is the zeitgeist - to borrow a word - of the Leica experience. These are professional tools for serious photographers. A smartphone’s camera is for a quick snapshot you can post to Facebook or Twitter, Mr. Wolff said. A Leica M series camera is designed to take images for posterity.

To be sure, the M Series is at the high end of things. It is, I’m sure, a wonderful camera, and people who truly appreciate the finest details - the cameras and lenses are assembled by hand, down to the hand-painting of the dials and adjustments on the lenses - and the uniqueness of a “range finder” camera. The M series has a separate viewfinder and does not provide the kind of “through the lens” focusing of a digital single-lens reflex, or DSLR, camera. Without the DSLR’s mirror, the M is smaller, thinner, lighter and more agile, the makers say.

Leica also offers “compact” digital cameras that are more affordable, such as the V-Lux-2, reviewed here about 18 months ago. The list price is less than $850, and you can find one for as little as $590 on the used-camera market.

But whatever Leica you’d like, you’ll find it, along with the necessary accessories, at this new store, whose hushed tones suggest a high-end jeweler and whose clean lines clearly borrow from the wildly successful Apple Stores found hither and yon. The F Street outlet was selected because of the proximity of professionals (the National Press Club is nearby), and tourists (everything is nearby), and people who can afford the products (just look around you).

Fair enough, and it should be mentioned that the new Leica Store - company-owned - will be followed by others operated in partnership with leading local dealers in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Mr. Wolff said. The store here will feature classes and exhibitions. A current display of “Moments of the Human Existence” by photojournalist Peter Turnley is captivating.

Although some will go for the Leica range, and deservedly so, other trends in photography are worth noting.

One is the coming showdown between DSLRs and the new mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera (MILC), also known as electronic viewfinder with interchangeable lens (EVIL). Leica doesn’t offer a MILC model, but the annual Photokina show in Cologne, Germany, in September might bring some interesting product announcements, Mr. Wolff said. (Leica CEO Alfred Schopf told Britain’s Amateur Photographer magazine that a compact-system camera, perhaps an “EVIL” model, is on the docket for launch at the 2012 Photokina event.)

For now, Nikon, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony and Olympus have stakes in the MILC marketplace; others may well follow. The new compact-style cameras offer many advantages, and price is one of them.

At an even lower end is something on display more and more at public events such as tech-industry conferences: use of Apple Inc.’s iPad as a camera. Sure, it’s unwieldy and only the “new iPad” model offers a 5 megapixel camera - earlier models deliver 0.7 megapixels.

New York-based public relations wiz Brooke Hammerling noticed the trend at a tech conference and tweeted about it. I saw it many times during a religious liberty summit in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It was decidedly not an event for tech geeks, so I’m guessing this is a wider practice.

How will the industry respond? Good question. How should you respond? I’d start with a copy of Darrell Young’s “Beyond Point-and-Shoot: Learning to Use a Digital SLR or Interchangeable-Lens Camera,” just published by Rocky Nook at $29.95. The discussion of DSLR versus MILC is worth the price of admission alone. Because of the guidance Mr. Young offers on photography overall, I likely will find a spot in my camera bag for this book. For the aspiring photographer, it’s a title I highly recommend.

c E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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