Monday, 30 December 2013

Slowtake QuickTake!

A Digital Preservation Story.

About 7 years ago a Manchester friend, Sam Rees gave me an Apple QuickTake 150; one of the earliest color digital cameras from around 1995, but he didn't have the right drivers so I've never known if it works or if it's just junk. A few months ago I tracked down the drivers on the Macintosh Garden website so yay, in theory I could test it!

But obtaining the drivers is only a small part of the problem. The QuickTake only works with Macs before 1998, and even if you have one you have to find a compatible media to transfer the downloaded drivers in the right data format. All this is challenging. The download itself comes as a .sit (Stuffit) file, which Modern Macs don't support as standard. When you decompress them you find that inside, the actual software and drivers are disk image files, but not in a disk image format that is understood by the older Mac I have (a Mac running Mac OS 9 could work, but my LCII only runs up to Mac OS 7.5.3).

In the end I used a 2002 iMac to decompress the .sit, because at least that was possible. The plan was to connect a USB Zip 250 drive to the iMac, copy the images to a Zip 100 disk, then use a SCSI Zip 100 drive on the LCII to load in the drivers.

However, I couldn't convert the floppy disk images to Disk Copy 4.2 format for my LCII, so I took a chance that simply saving the files in each floppy disk image as a set of folders might work.

Even getting an old circa 1993 Macintosh to work is a challenge. I'm fortunate in that I have an old, but still working SCSI Hard Disk. But, I still needed a special Mac to VGA monitor adapter to see its output (which I connected to a small LCD TV) and still had to spend some time hunting down the right kind of SCSI cable (D-type to D-type rather than D-type to Centronics) to hook up the Zip 100 drive.

After all this & the 30minutes it took to install all the QuickTake software (yes, just putting all the files in folders worked!) I was finally able to test it (no manuals, had to guess) and with a bit of fiddling was able to load wonderful fixed-focus VGA images from the camera in mere seconds (each image approx 60Kb). Opening and decompressing them took about 90s each on my slow LCII though!

Here's a picture of my family and our cats taken with the QuickTake 150 December 28, 2013. I used the 10s timer mode to take the photo, with the camera balanced on a book on an armchair - so apologies for the framing :-)

As you can see, the clarity of the image is actually pretty good. The native image required roughly 64Kb, which given an original 24-bit image means the QuickTake camera must have compressed images by about 14x.

When viewed on the LCII, the images appeared rather speckled due to the PhotoFlash software implementing a fairly crude dithering algorithm (simulated here using GIMP).

Thus ends a 7 year quest to test an Apple QuickTake 150 digital camera, thanks Sam!