If your vision of pawnshops is that of dark and dingy little holes-in-the-wall, you could be surprised by contemporary versions.

As reporter Carol Krucoff discovered, when she took her 10-year-old Nikon camera around the other day: "They do not, for the most part, look at all like something from Rod Steiger's movie, 'The Pawnbroker,' as I had imagined. They are well-lit, busy and jammed with fascinating secondhand merchandise.

"Other than bullet-proof shields around the appraiser's counter in about half the stores, they don't fit the grim image.

"Most proprietors were pleasant. One was even especially kind: When I rejected his offer, he looked at me with concern -- as if the money could be for baby's shoes -- and said, 'How much do you need? ' When I asked for double his original offer, he sympathically shook his head 'no,' but did up the amount $10."

Here are the loans offered on Krucoff's camera by eight area pawnshops:

Crown, 1726 14th St. NW, $50.

Sam's, 1508 14th St., wouldn't take it.

Livingston, 1423 H St. NW, $75.

Reliable, 919 F St. NW, $30.

Weinsteins, 313 H St. NW, $25.

S & w Pawnbroker's Co., 2157 Pa. Ave. NW, $50.

National, 3100 Lee Hwy., Arlington, $60.

Bobb's Trading Co., 3308 Rhode Island Ave., Mt. Rainier, $50.