A couple of weeks ago, I received a fantastic donation: a working Apple QuickTake 100 camera in its original box and in like-new condition. Since I’m not the kind of Apple collector who just puts his conquests on display and routinely dusts them, the first thing I did after taking the camera out of the box was to look for the necessary QuickTake software, put some fresh batteries in, and start taking test photos in different lighting conditions.
This article is meant to be an overview and a series of impressions gathered after using the QuickTake for a few days. Still, I hope it’ll give you an idea of what is like handling a 20-year-old camera and the associated software.
Tech specs, a refresher
The QuickTake 100 is a camera that was designed in 1992, introduced in January 1994, and discontinued in May 1995. By today’s standards, every technical aspect of the QuickTake 100 is ridiculous, and you immediately realise how far we’ve come in twenty years of digital camera technology advancements.
The QuickTake takes 24-bit full-colour images at a maximum resolution of 640×480 pixels, which means less than 1 megapixel. As for the optics, the QuickTake is equipped with a fixed-focus lens, has a built-in flash, its AE system picks a combination of aperture from f2.8 to f16 and a shutter speed of 1/30 to 1/175 of a second. The camera doesn’t have a removable flash card for storing pictures, but an internal 1 MB Flash EPROM (you read that well, one megabyte), which can hold 8 high-resolution images (640×480), 32 standard-resolution images (320×240), or a combination of the two. Images are saved in what I’d call a QuickTake flavour of the PICT format, since you need the QuickTake™ Image extension to be able to see the pictures that come straight out of the camera.
The QuickTake connects to the Mac via serial cable. If your vintage Mac comes with separate Modem and Printer ports, you should connect it to the Printer port. If you connect it to the Modem port, you’ll still be able to access the camera, but you’ll have to turn AppleTalk off (the camera software will issue such warning.)
The system requirements are rather modest and include a wide range of Macs: any Macintosh with a Motorola 68020 or faster processor, with System 7.1 or later, will do. As the QuickTake software’s Read Me document informs, The QuickTake 1.0 software works best on a Macintosh with at least 8 MB of RAM or 4 MB of RAM with 8 MB of virtual memory.
The QuickTake 100 needs three AA cells to operate. (It supports rechargeable NiCd batteries, Alkaline, R6P, or SUM-3 NiCad or lithium batteries.) Battery life looks good so far: after a few days of use and roughly 40 shots, the battery indicator is still on ‘full.’ This is nothing conclusive, of course, since I’ve used the camera only occasionally, and shooting sessions have been brief affairs so far.
Handling the camera
I love the design of the QuickTake 100. The camera isn’t exceedingly bulky, and it invites you to handle it as it were a pair of compact binoculars — though of course you don’t need to hold the camera with both hands. You turn on the QuickTake by sliding the front lid that protects the lens, the viewfinder lens and the sensors:
The viewfinder is a rather small window without overlays or indicators. The only thing you get is a round green light below the window, which will be on when the camera’s ready to take a photo.
I also like the design of the door covering the serial port and the power adapter port:
The door doesn’t feel flimsy at all, and as you can guess by looking at the photo, to open it you have to push-and-slide, so that it’s unlikely you’ll open it by mistake when handling the camera. The battery compartment door is, again, sturdy and you’ll have to exercise a bit of force to open it.
I love the design and position of the shutter release as well. When you hold the camera, you feel it under your index and middle fingers. You don’t have to press it much to snap a photo, and it’s really quiet.
Despite having a hard plastic body (the same material of the PowerBooks of the era), the QuickTake feels sturdy and ‘full’ when you hold it. No cracking sounds or the feeling that something got loose inside, if you know what I mean. The camera, with the 3 AA cells necessary to power it, weighs exactly 500 grams; that surprised me a little, because it feels lighter during use. For comparison, my Newton MessagePad 2100 weighs 140 grams more, but feels much heavier when I hold it.
The controls on the back of the camera are, um, essential. Next to the viewfinder is a small square LCD display indicating number of pictures taken, number of pictures left, battery life, flash, self-timer and current resolution. Around it are three small buttons to alter resolution, flash settings (Auto, Always on, Always off) and self-timer, and a fourth recessed button to delete the stored images. The LCD display has a great contrast, and it’s quite readable despite not being backlit.
At the time of writing, I’ve only used the QuickTake 1.0 application, which is, again, a bare-bones yet functional piece of software. You can use it to preview the images stored in the camera (the interface nicely presents them as ‘digital slides’), open & edit a single photo if you so desire, download all images or just the selected ones to the Macintosh, and even control the QuickTake from the Mac:
In the Camera Controls window you’ll see an exact replica of the camera’s LCD display, and you can operate all the buttons from the Mac, including the shutter release. Pretty cool, considering it’s 20-year-old technology. (By looking at the screenshot above, you can also see that the QuickTake 100 apparently suffers from the Y2K bug, since it displays 1914 instead of 2014 in the timestamp above each photo.)
The QuickTake software offers a limited set of exporting options:
I wasn’t able to successfully export an image in any of these formats because just when the application was almost done writing the exported file, it crashed with an “Error 1” if I remember well. A great alternative (with many more editing options) has been Graphic Converter, which is an application I highly recommend whether you’re using the latest Intel Macs or vintage, pre-PowerPC Macs.
Converting and exporting images in another format than the original QuickTake PICT is essential if you want to see the photos on more modern Macs or Macs lacking the QuickTake™ Image extension in their Extensions folder. You won’t see anything otherwise.
When I downloaded the first photos I took with the QuickTake, I forgot to export them, I just copied them directly to my Titanium PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.4.11 (and the Classic Environment, luckily). When I opened them and saw a blank image, these are the steps I had to follow to be able to see the pictures:
- Put the QuickTake™ Image extension in the System Folder of the Mac OS 9 installation. (That extension can be found in the software download at the Macintosh Garden I mentioned in my previous article.)
- Make sure I had a QuickTime Pro registration (in the QuickTime 6 software package running in Classic).
- Restart the Classic Environment.
- Open the QuickTake PICT files with PictureViewer (or with any other graphic application running in the Classic Environment for that matter — I suggest PictureViewer because it’s included with Mac OS and it does the job).
- In PictureViewer, choose File > Export.
- Export the file(s) in JPEG format, for example.
- The photos will be converted to JPEG and will be visible.
Honestly, I can’t say the QuickTake 100 takes great photos. We’re talking about a 0.3 Megapixel camera with 1993-1994 technology, after all. Still, some shots taken in particularly favourable conditions turned out better than I expected, given the hardware. None of the following photos has been altered in any way except for a PICT-to-JPEG conversion.
This last photo surprised me because, as I’ve found out, the QuickTake isn’t usually very good at taking indoor photos without flash. In this shot, instead, the camera managed to capture the exact lighting of the place without altering the colours (the cafeteria was, admittedly, a bit less dark, but still) and to retain some details in the darker areas. Again, nothing extraordinary, but keep in mind the kind of hardware and technology we’re dealing with.
The camera takes better photos in broad daylight, or even indoors provided there’s ample illumination. I rarely use the flash when photographing, no matter which camera (or portable device) I’m using. Finding a good use for the QuickTake’s flash was difficult. When shooting indoors in a poorly-lit environment without flash, the result will be a uselessly dark picture. Using the flash in the same conditions will result in the typical scene where the subjects closest to the flash are too harshly illuminated, colours generally look altered, the background is dark, and the photos look crappy overall. There were a few instances, however, where using the flash outdoors in normal lighting as ‘fill flash’ actually improved the result a bit, by slightly lightening the shadows and providing more details in areas that would have turned out darker.
By the way, I was rather impressed by the QuickTake’s reaction time between shots when using the flash. I was accustomed to my Nikon Coolpixes which generally need 1-2 seconds.
Shooting with the QuickTake 100 is fun, all in all. And once the workflow with the Mac is set up, things start getting less painful. At the moment, I’m using the PowerBook 5300 to download and manage the photos. I convert them to JPEG files in Graphic Converter, then I send them over Ethernet to the Titanium PowerBook G4, and from there I upload to Dropbox the ones worth keeping. I could mount on the PowerBook 5300’s Desktop the Dropbox folder of the TiBook and upload the photos right away, to save one step of the process, but often I’d like to take a better look at the pictures on the bigger screen of the TiBook before sending them to the cloud.
Of course, given the photographic capabilities of today’s cameras and devices, using a QuickTake is just something a vintage Mac enthusiast does to show what was like taking photos with a consumer digital camera 20 years ago, and little else. Still, I’ve noticed how the photos taken with the QuickTake all tend to exhibit a kind of watercolour-like patina I find rather charming, and I think it could be used creatively, as if it were some sort of artistic filter. It’s a pity this camera isn’t more powerful, because it’s really well-designed and a joy to handle and carry around.