Egg Freckles
By Thomas Brand

Fri Dec/28 Apple's First Digital Camera

Apple's First Digital Camera

During the holidays many of us gave and received the gift of photography. Digital cameras, family portraits, and photo greeting cards, are all part the holiday tradition. The accessibility of digital cameras has helped to strengthen the importance of photography during family gatherings, but the prevalence of digital cameras has also helped make photography a year round event. Before there were digital cameras there was probably an aunt, uncle, mother, or father who took all of the families photos. Now that digital cameras are inexpensive, easy to use, and included in most popular electronic devices people are taking more pictures no matter the time of year.

With devices like the iPhone and iPod Touch it is easy to see why Apple is such a popular consumer electronics company, but it is often overlooked that Apple is a giant in photography. Every mobile device Apple makes contains a camera. From the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, to the entire MacBook lineup, Apple's most popular products include a lens for capturing the world. At this time the iPhone is the most popular camera on Flickr, and it may be the most popular camera in the world. But Apple wasn't always a huge success in photography. Starting back in 1994 Apple released the first line of digital cameras aimed at consumers, and failed miserably at gaining brand recognition or marketshare. Just like the Newton MessagePads, released at the same time, Apple's QuickTake line of digital cameras were a series of products developed before their time.

QuickTake 100

The QuickTake 100 was Apple's first foray into photography, and the first digital cameras consumers could take home and connect to their personal computer. Released in January 1994 the QuickTake 100 was designed by Kodak in the United States and built by Chinon Industries in Japan. Its unique shape resembles the pair of futuristic binoculars Luke Skywalker used to gaze across the sands of Tatooine in the first Star Wars movie. Weighing one pound, the QuickTake 100 originally sold for $749.

Marketed as easy to use, the QuickTake 100 had a built-in flash, but no focus or zoom controls. Shutter speed was limited from 1/30th to 1/175th of a second, and the camera's available apertures fell into the f2.8 to f16 range. All settings except for the flash, timer, and resolution were chosen automatically. It was powered by three rechargeable AA batteries that could last for 120 shots, and included a Macintosh style serial cable for connectivity. The viewfinder was optical, and the built-in LCD screen was for status information only. Captured images had to be viewed on a Mac using the included QuickTake software.

The QuickTime 100 was capable of storing up to eight photos at 640x480 resolution, 32 photos at 320x240 resolution, or a mixture of both sizes on its 1MB Flash EPROM. The QuickTime 100 had no upgradable memory. All photos were stored with 24 bits of color in a proprietary QuickTake PICT format that can not be easily read in Mac OS X. Every photo taken with the QuickTIme 100 had to later be converted into a JPEG, TIFF, or BMP before they could be shared. The QuickTake 100 produced photos with quality similar to today's most primitive camera phones.

QuickTake 150

In 1995 Apple released the QuickTake 150, an improved version of the QuickTake 100 that featured a macro photography add-on lens, PC compatibility, and support for TIFF, BMP, PCX, and JPEG using the included PhotoFlash software. PhotoFlash was an early ancestor to today's iPhoto. It allowed for the easy organization, enhancement, and publishing of photos from a single application. With PhotoFlash images could be captured on a QuickTake camera and sent directly to a computer using the built-in serial connection. By controlling the camera from the attached computer many businesses used QuickTake cameras to take employee photos for IDs or security badges. The QuickTake 150 sold for $700 replacing the QuickTime 100.

QuickTake 200

The QuickTake 200) was a dramatic departure from the binocular form factor of previous QuickTake cameras. Built by Fujifilm for Apple Computer, the QuickTake 200 offered a substantial improvement in image quality by addressing the shortcomings of earlier QuickTake cameras.

Instead of a 1MB Flash EPROM, the QuickTake 200 shipped with a 2MB removable SmartMedia card. Apple sold an optional 4 MB card, and even larger capacity cards were available from third-party vendors. Removable media cards allowed QuickTake 200 users to take more photos before returning to their computer to offload images. Instead of saving photos in a proprietary PICT format the QuickTake 200 recorded all of its photographs as PC compatible JPEGs. The QuickTake 200 was restricted to the same 640 x 480 maximum resolution as earlier QuickTakes, but the lossy JPEG compression meant more photos could be saved in the same amount of space.

Unlike previous QuickTakes the 200 could focus on one of three specific ranges without the need of add-on lenses.

  • Close-Up: 3.5 to 5 inches
  • Portrait: 17 to 35 inches
  • Far: ~ 35 inches to infinity

This made pictures sharper even if there was no discernible increase in sensor quality over earlier QuickTake models.

The 1.8 inch LCD viewing panel greatly improved the usability of the camera. Instead of returning to a desktop computer to view your images the QuickTake 200 could show you what shots you had already taken, and a live preview of images yet to be captured. For the first time in the QuickTake's history, shots could be deleted individually from the camera without the need of a computer, and exposure and composition could be judged before the photo was taken. The 1.8 inch LCD viewing panel replaced the integrated optical viewfinder found on earlier QuickTakes, but a snap-on viewfinder was also included. This optional viewfinder was especially useful for shooting a series of photos because of the slow 30fps refresh rate of the 1.8 inch LCD viewing panel made tracking moving subjects difficult.

Another QuickTake first was the 200's user selectable aperture modes.

The QuickTake 200 has two aperture settings (light settings). The user can switch between f2.2 and f8.0. f2.2 is used in low light settings and f8.0 is used in bright light. If the camera thinks you are underexposing or overexposing the image, it will warn you by suggesting you switch to the opposite aperture setting.

By the time the QuickTake 200 shipped in 1997 Apple had already abandoned the photo software business. The QuickTake 200 shipped with Adobe PhotoDeluxe 1.0 to enhance images, Adobe PageMill 2.0 to create web pages, and PictureWorks NetCard 1.0 to send Internet postcards.

The QuickTake 200 was considered a good overall camera in 1997, but Apple was not a familier brand in the photography market.

Traditional photography equipment makers like Canon, Kodak, and Nikon began to flood the market with brands that consumers more readily associated with photography. Furthermore, even though the QuickTake cameras were all Windows compatible given the right drivers and cables, in the mid 1990s Apple was extremely paternalistic and increasingly viewed as a niche player so the QuickTake cameras never really gained a reputation as being anything more than a Macintosh peripheral.

Apple sold the QuickTake 200 for about a year before Steve Jobs discontinued the QuickTake line of cameras in an effort to streamline operations and focus all the Apple's resources on reviving the Macintosh.

In many ways the QuickTake camera is like the Newton MessagePad. A product released before its time, that would invent an industry, but ultimately die at the hands of Steve Jobs before being reborn as an essential technology in Apple's modern day success.