Twenty Years Ago This Month, Kodak Began Its Ironic Fall

kodak_bankruptMost would refer to the Steve Jobs’ exile from Apple as the company’s dark times. Naturally, nobody really talks about the series of unremarkable failures Apple suffered during Jobs’ 11 year absence, but one of these utterly forgettable inventions just so happened to be the QuickTake 100 — the world’s first mass market color consumer digital camera.

It was 20 years ago last week when the QuickTake 100 first went on sale on June 20, 1994 heralding in the age of consumer grade digital photography for just $749.

Despite its failure, it’s odd that nobody really mentions the fact that Apple premiered such a technological breakthrough. Some may suggest that the oversight is a result of Jobs’ lack of involvement with the project, but in truth, Apple wasn’t even that involved with the camera’s design, either.

Believe it or not, the QuickTake 100 was the product of the very same company that created the digital camera: Kodak.

With a single megabyte of memory, it could only capture and store between eight 640 x 480 pixel or 16 320 x 240 pixel 24-bit color images. Powered by three AA batteries, it lacked an autofocus and a zoom, but it did at least have a built-in flash, as well as a digital display.

“The QuickTake was a breakthrough product that never really got its due, but it heralded a wave of innovation by competitors. We’ve seen tremendous advances in color digital camera technology, from slow, bulky cameras to credit-card size digital cameras that can outperform many 35mm cameras in clarity and quality,” says Fred Tilner, 42nd Street Photo Manager and Marketing Director of the New York camera store.

Not wanting to jeopardize its most lucrative asset — its film business — Kodak decided against attaching itself to the QuickTake 100.

And this is where the tale takes an ironic twist of fate. Kodak saw the potential of digital photography, but also saw that it could destroy the film business, too. Instead of seizing onto the technological innovation, controlling it, and changing with the times, the company allowed other major players to steal its thunder.

Because Kodak feared their creation — rather than embrace it — the company lost its place amongst the upper echelon in the photography industry and wound up filing for bankruptcy in 2012.