Digital Photography Begins
In 1994, photography was a rather involved affair. You put film — in either a roll or cartridge — into your camera, took photos without knowing immediately how the image turned out, then took the film out of the camera and either developed it yourself in a darkroom or took it to a location to be developed for you. Apple helped to popularize digital cameras beginning in 1994, and today we’re taking a look at what is considered the first digital camera to have consumer acceptance: the Apple QuickTake 100.
The QuickTake 100 wasn’t the first consumer digital camera to hit the market; the Fuji DS-X was sold in Japan starting in late 1989, while the Dycam Model 1 (marketed as the Logitech Fotoman) was in US stores as early as November of 1990. But the QuickTake 100 — which was available in versions for both Mac and Windows — had the advantage of being sold by a well-known tech company.
Value & Facts
When the QuickTake 100 was released for sale on June 20, 1994, the initial list price was $749 — that’s roughly equivalent to $1,300 in 2020 dollars!
The specs of the camera were revolutionary for the time. It had a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 pixels with 24-bit color. At that resolution, only eight photos could be stored in the QuickTake’s 1MB of storage. At the lower resolution of 320 x 240 pixels, a whopping 32 photos could be held on the camera.
The QuickTake 100 had a fixed-focus lens that gave it an angle of view equivalent to a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera. There was no zoom and no focus, but those who wanted to take low-light photos were in luck — there was a built-in flash.
Exposure was set by the camera. Using a slow film speed equivalent of ISO 85, the shutter speeds ran from 1/30 to 1/175 of a second and aperture from f/2.8 to f/16. Here’s a sample photo at the “high-resolution” 640 x 480 mode.
Compared to today’s digital cameras (both standalone and built into smartphones and tablets), these specs are not that impressive. You couldn’t preview the images on the camera, and there wasn’t a way to delete just one photo — a special “trash” button on the back of the camera deleted all photos on the QuickTake 100.
Viewing & Storage
To view your photos, users connected the camera to either a Mac or Windows machine using a serial cable. The Apple QuickTake software imported the photos from the camera to the computer and allowed basic editing — rotation, resizing, and cropping. Files were stored in a proprietary QuickTake format and could be exported as PICT files.
The QuickTake 100 was surpassed by the QuickTake 150, which used better file compression technology to store up to 16 of the best-quality images. It was possible to send a QuickTake 100 back to Apple for a factory upgrade called the QuickTake 100 Plus; this made the camera identical in specifications to the QuickTake 150.
Apple released the QuickTake 200 in 1996 with a removable 2MB SmartMedia flashRAM card. This looked more like a “real” digital camera and even had a 1.8-inch diagonal color LCD screen on the back for previewing photos.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the QuickTake line was one of the first discontinued products. Other Apple products of the time, like the LaserWriter printer line, the Apple Newton MessagePad personal digital assistant, and a line of scanners, were also axed.
Personal Memories of the QuickTake 100
My first “eyes-on” experience with the QuickTake 100 was at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 1994. The camera had been shown at Tokyo MacWorld in February of that year, and all of the Mac magazines of the time featured it in glowing cover stories. Since it hadn’t been released to the public in May when the WWDC was held, I was thrilled to see one.
Apple and one of the magazines at the time (I think it was MacWorld) had set up a booth where they would take your photo with the QuickTake 100, then mock up a personalized magazine cover. Great idea, but in execution, it was horrible. Downloading the camera’s images to a Mac over a serial (GeoPort) cable was dreadfully slow, so moving 32 320 x 240 images to the Mac took a long, long time. Next, an Apple employee had to mock up the magazine cover and print it out on a QMS ColorScript Laser 1000… which was also quite slow. Needless to say, only a relative handful of the WWDC attendees actually got one of the mock magazine covers (I was lucky enough to have been one of the first in line).
I never purchased a QuickTake 100 when they were available, but I was given one by my nephew many years later. He was attending MIT as a grad student about ten years ago and was given access to a roomful of old equipment that was going to be thrown out. One of those items was a QuickTake 100, so I asked him to send it to me.
The camera still works, but there’s one issue — it’s impossible to get the photos off of it. I suppose what I should do is find a mid-1990s Mac running System 7 or System 8, find an Apple serial cable and the QuickTake software, and give it a go…
Current Macs don’t support the old Apple serial protocol, and I’m pretty sure that the Macintosh.js emulator wouldn’t be able to “talk” to a USB to serial connector.
There is still one Mac app that can read the PICT format files generated by the QuickTake 100. Lemkesoft’s GraphicConverter has been around for a long time, and it can convert just about any graphic format to another.
Although it’s currently nothing more than a museum piece, I still like the sleek design of the QuickTake 100. It was easy to hold two-handed, and the gray exterior was similar to that on the Apple PowerBooks of the era.
I’ll be taking a look at other vintage Apple products in the next few weeks, including the Newton MessagePad 2100.