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While the constantly morphing digital compact camera market has been bringing us more megapixels at lower prices, it wanted but one development: for revered professional camera maker Leica to weigh in. Now, the Leica D-Lux delivers with a heavy-duty shooter in a palm-size format.

The D-Lux is a blend of the modern convenience element of a point-and-shoot, respect for high optical standards and, most of all, a sturdiness that suggests you'll be keeping this one around for more than a couple seasons. Hold it and you can feel you're dealing with a serious instrument. The case is real anodized aluminum, not the plastic imitation that passes for metal on most compact cameras. You get the same reassuring contact with metal when you touch the controls.

That the camera comes with a three-year warranty (three times the standard of the compact market) is an indication of Leica's intention that it last. Buyers also have the option of participating in the Leica Passport program, which insures against all damage in the first year regardless of who is at fault. The alternative option is to have a name engraved on the camera for free. We would choose the former and protect our $950 investment.

Of course, this being a Leica, the optics are serious stuff. The Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens has an f/stop range from 2.8 to 17.4mm. (The zoom corresponds to a 35- to 105mm lens for 35mm photography). Coupled with a digital zoom, the camera has a 9x zoom range. The 1/2.5-inch CCD sensor packs 3.34 million pixels and users can choose among three levels of resolution. The 64-megabyte SD card stores from 45 to 553 images depending on resolution and compression rate. Conveniently, the camera comes with an extra lithium battery, which can be a godsend when you run out of juice in the middle of your kid's Little League debut.

This Leica is a real looker, with a slim, sleek profile and a lens, viewfinder and flash that barely peek out. It comes with a leather case in a choice of five colors with a carrying strap as well as a second case for keeping the extra battery and a second SD card.

Visit www.leica-camera.com.

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