Released nearly three decades ago in 1994, the QuickTake 100 was Apple’s first digital camera and among the very first digital cameras available to general consumers. But as much of an impact as it had back then, it hasn’t aged well.
Photographer Gordon Laing of Camera Labs has reviewed the iconic QuickTake as part of his “Retro Review” series.
Before looking at the QuickTake 100, it’s worthwhile to consider Apple in the early to mid-1990s. It’s easy to think about Apple as a massive, highly successful company, given the ubiquity of the iPhone, iPad, and Apple silicon-powered Mac computers today. However, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Apple nearly 30 years ago.
In the summer of 1993, Apple laid off nearly 15% of its worldwide staff. It also launched the Newton personal assistant, a product that ultimately flopped. That same summer Apple also lost its copyright infringement case against Microsoft, a crushing blow that was four costly years in the making. Although Apple was hitting impressive sales marks with its computers, the company was in the early stages of a challenging period that culminated in a historically lousy quarter in 1997 that wiped out nearly the entire company’s profits of the 1990s.
The reason for that stroll down memory lane is to emphasize that Apple wasn’t swimming in the cash reserves it has today and the Cupertino-based tech giant wasn’t quite as free to embark on risky business ventures as it is now. Nonetheless, Apple launched the QuickTake series in 1994 with the QuickTake 100, entering a new product segment for the company.
Among the first of its kind, the digital camera was built in collaboration with Kodak, which had been developing CCD-based digital cameras since the 1970s, albeit primarily for professional and industrial usage. The QuickTake 100 and 150, both made by Kodak, helped kickstart what would eventually become a revolution in the photography market. Time magazine named the QuickTake 100 among the most influential gadgets from 1923 to 2010.
The QuickTake 100 was made special by its emphasis on ease of use. The camera launched in June of 1994 for $749, about $1,500 in today’s dollars. Apple’s industrial design chops were entirely on display with the QuickTake 100. Even though it looks dated by today’s standards, it was sleek and stylish in 1994. The camera launched in two models, one for Macintosh and the other for Windows, and shipped with bundled software and serial cables specific to the host operating system.
At the heart of the QuickTake 100 is a Kodak CCD image sensor with a whopping 640 by 480 resolution; it’s a 307-kilopixel sensor, which sounds better than 0.37 megapixels. However, in 1994, a camera that cost $750 and produced full-color images wasn’t just unusual, it was wholly unique. Digital photography had never been so accessible.
Storage is an issue. The camera features internal memory, which is convenient, but there is no way to expand it. The camera holds 32 “standard” (320 by 240-pixel) images or a mere eight of its 307-kilopixel shots. When the camera is full, photographers have only two options, neither of which are especially appealing. The camera can be plugged into a computer to download the images or the entire memory must be wiped. Selectively deleting images is impossible.
The QuickTake 100 has a fixed focal length lens, equivalent to around 50mm. The lens can only focus as close as around four feet (1.2 meters), ruling out arm’s length selfies, although admittedly, those were less popular three decades ago than they are now. The camera handled automatic exposure, including shutter speed, ranging from 1/30 to 1/175 second, and aperture, spanning from f/2.8 to f/16. The camera’s fixed ISO is equivalent to around ISO 85 film speed.
As Laing observes, the most challenging aspect of using the Apple QuickTake 100 today isn’t its lackluster image quality, paltry memory, or relatively useless rear display (photographers can only use the screen to view information, not images). The issue with the QuickTake 100 in 2023 is finding a way to access photos, their iffy quality aside. The camera only works alongside its original software, requiring anyone using it to find a computer that can run the software. Laing couldn’t get it to work using emulation and was instead forced to track down old hardware.
By the way, the QuickTake 100 doesn’t record JPEG files, either. The QuickTake’s images are shot in a proprietary QTK format, which modern software won’t recognize even if you somehow manage to move the files through a chain of increasingly modern computers. You must instead convert the files to JPEG using the original software.
As groundbreaking as the Apple QuickTake 100 was in 1994 and as impressive of an accomplishment it represented to consumers nearly 30 years ago, it’s a pain to work with in 2023. Laing’s “Retro Review” series has featured many old cameras, most of which have oddities and quirks, but as he says, “using the QuickTake 100 in the modern day proved to be the most frustrating experience I’ve had on this channel, packed with caveats and catch-22s.”
The camera itself is okay, but its limited capabilities and severe impracticality render it a vintage camera worth skipping. Sometimes products are better left in people’s memories. With the benefit of nostalgia, the QuickTake 100’s blemishes are less noticeable. The camera belongs in the past, where it’s easier to focus on what made it special then rather than what makes it awful now.
Laing’s full written review on Camera Labs includes more sample images. Additional camera and technology videos are available on Laing’s YouTube channel, DinoBytes.
Image credits: Gordon Laing