The iCamera: A look back at Apple's first digital camera

Apple released one of the first consumer digital cameras a decade and a half ago: the Apple QuickTake 100.

Apple QuickTake 100

Recently Apple has been shaking up the digital imaging space. There are persistent rumors that the upcoming line of iPods, probably coming in September, will have a camera and/or camcorder features. Indeed the iPhone is quickly becoming the "camera" of choice for photos on Flickr, and some are speculating that video-shooting iPhones (and possibly iPods) could hurt the Flip Mino and it's kind. Of course what many forget is that Apple isn't a newcomer to the camera market. In fact, the company released one of the first consumer digital cameras a decade and a half ago: the Apple QuickTake 100.

Codenamed project Venus, the Apple QuickTake 100 was launched at the Tokyo Mac World in February 1994, and available that May for $749. It was made jointly with Eastman Kodak and built by Chinon Industries. Kodak's self-branded version had already been on the market for over a year. Fully automatic and sold as an easy-to-use digital camera for consumers, one of the first available.

It had a binocular-style design, weighing 1 pound, with a 0.3 MP, 640x480 maximum resolution. Enough resolution to fill the screen on the 13-inch VGA monitors of the day. Power was from three AA batteries. The camera was only Mac-compatible, and connected to any Mac via a serial port. It was very easy to connect, a big deal at the time when most cameras used a SCSI connection (remember SCSI?). All you had to do was just plug it into a modem or printer port (no USB yet). The QuickTake 100 had 1MB of flash memory, no removable memory, it held 8 images at full resolution, or 32 images at 320x240.

All photos were 24-bit color, capitalizing on the Mac's ability to handle 24-bit color depth. There was no preview screen; images had to be downloaded to be viewed. Without a preview screen there was no way to delete individual images, only a Trash button that deleted everything. There was a monochrome LCD display for status information only.

An optical viewfinder was used for composing photos. No autofocus; the lens was fixed focus, with a range from 4 feet to infinity. The 8mm lens is equivalent to a 50mm lens on 35mm format. The lens was fixed-focus, so there was no zooming ability. Exposure was automatic. There was a built-in flash, a tripod socket on the bottom, and the camera was capable of shutter speeds from 1/30 to 1/175 of a second. A self-timer was also available.

Images were captured in either PICT or native QuickTake formats. The QuickTake 100 came with simple software, Apple QuickTake v1.0. Images could be cropped, rotated, and saved as either TIFF, PICT, or JPEG compressed. The camera couldn't be used with OSX, only System7 through OS9, due to the fact that they used a unique compression codec that is not part of modern versions of QuickTime. Also modern Macs lack an RS-232 serial port.

The Apple QuickTake 100 was followed up by the QuickTake 150 in 1995, which added Windows connectivity. Then the QuickTake 200 in 1996; that added autofocus, aperture controls, and removable memory. The QuickTake 200 was built by Fujifilm. The QuickTake line of cameras was discontinued in 1997 not long after Steve Jobs returned to Apple. He discontinued several of their non-core-market products at the same time, the QuickTake digital cameras, the Newton PDAs, and the LaserWriter printers. Shortly after the QuickTake's release, more photographic-oriented companies, such as Kodak, Fujifilm, Canon and Nikon, began to release digital cameras.

From a review in Digital Imaging Plus from March 1994, "The Apple QuickTake 100 is a simple but well-designed sexy product which is easy and fun to use. If it catches on, it will be the forerunner of a line of products which could change the way families take pictures." One can only wonder what might have happened had it stayed around.

About the author

    Matthew Fitzgerald, a CNET associate editor, has been involved with digital camera technology and the photo industry for more than 15 years. His background includes work as a professional photographer, a technical representative, and a repair technician.

     

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