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BY BOB KRASNER | Did you hear the one about the $8,000 digital camera that only shoots in black and white? Funny, right? Leica, the revered camera manufacturer, doesn’t think so. Their M Monochrom is one of the more intriguing items in their new Soho location, which is filled with compelling merchandise for both pro and amateur shutterbugs.
The store recently opened at 460 West Broadway, between Houston and Prince Sts. It’s a collaboration between the 150-year-old manufacturer and Elliot Kurland, a Leica enthusiast and former proprietor of Kurland Photo. While the brand name instantly conjures up images of film cameras for photographers of a certain age, the company has jumped almost completely into the digital market. Although they still sell two models which use that archaic format, their focus on digital is both a leap into the modern age and a nod to the past, using classic designs to house a contemporary format.
The store’s minimalistic design space is filled not just with cameras, but books, magazines, accessories and a photo gallery. The place’s rear is designed to convert into a classroom as well. Customers are encouraged to test drive the wide variety of models available, and the extremely knowledgeable staff is more than willing to educate the consumer. Even the guy who came in and asked, “How is a Leica different from my iPhone?” got a straight answer.
One possible answer to that query is that Hermes and Paul Smith don’t make limited-edition iPhones, as they do in collaboration with Leica. Of course, you may not be in the market for a $25,000 collector’s item, like the Hermes edition, but it’s still worth checking out the possibilities. One of the more popular items is the V-LUX 4, a midsize, point-and-shoot that has a fixed f/2.8 lens that zooms from 24 mm to 600 mm, with a surprising degree of sharpness at the long end. It sells for a more reasonable price of $800 (which includes Adobe’s Lightroom software).
Smaller models designed for street shooting and medium format for studio work bookend the range of available equipment.
One overwhelmed customer at the shop called his friend to inform him, “This is where I want to come to die.” (The management, for the record, discourages this).
Unfortunately, according to Kurland, the supply does not always meet the demand and there is a waiting list for many of the more popular items. That is sometimes the case with the M Monochrom, that high-end, black-and-white shooting machine. One of its more illustrious proponents is art photographer Ralph Gibson, a longtime favorite of ours who made his reputation creating beautiful, surreal images on black-and-white film. When asked for his opinion about the new camera, Gibson said: “I have been using the Leica rangefinder system exclusively for over 50 years and I can write with fullest confidence about the new Leica M Monochrom. I have travelled extensively with the camera and my only complaint is that the user manual doesn’t explain how to set the camera down sometimes…”
After spending just a half an hour with the Monochrom, we know just what he means. And if anyone is wondering, my birthday is in October.