Camera designs tend not to wander far from the conservative, regardless of the manufacturer. Point-and-shoots are usually boxy, and DSLRs look like, well, DSLRs. (There are some exceptions, like rugged cameras that have unique form factors designed to withstand natural elements and drops.) But, once in a while, camera makers will take a trip down to Crazy Town and come up with bizarre ideas, like Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Zoom, Ricoh’s GXR, Canon’s PowerShot N, or Sony’s purported “lens camera” (if it’s even real at all). Looking back at the history of digital cameras, however, we discovered that camera makers weren’t always opposed to thinking outside the box (not counting Casio’s Hello Kitty cameras), especially during the early days of the digicam, when camera makers were still trying to figure out what to do with this new digital technology. Here’s a look at seven unique shooters from the past – some of them groundbreaking, some more radical than others, and some big fails – that defied convention.
Sony Digital Mavica MVC-FD5
The Mavica, or Magnetic Video Camera, is a series stemming from the 1980s. It was one of the first non-film electronic cameras, and it recorded images onto a Video Floppy. In 1997, the Mavica went digital with the MVC-FD5. Besides having a fixed 47mm f/2.0 lens and a CCD sensor capable of producing 640 x 480 resolution, its most interesting feature was that it recorded onto 3.5-inch floppy disks – the same ones used by computers of the time, allowing you to easily transfer images to your PC. The Digital Mavica lasted into the early 2000s, with later models recording onto 8cm compact discs. But as the industry shifted to flash memory, the Mavica came to an end.
eBay odds: You can find various models with bids starting at $1, although functionality is questionable.
Canon PowerShot 30/30T
Despite the PowerShot name, which Canon uses for its huge lineup of point-and-shoots, the PowerShot 30 from 1996 was more webcam than standalone camera. The device was a PC Card with a camera on one end that tilts 270 degrees, and can be used for video conferencing. While the 30’s camera remained affixed to the side of the PC Card, the 30T had a wired connection that allowed users to move it around to a better angle. Both models have a 640 x 480 resolution, fixed 5.7mm f/2.8 lens, and ISO sensitivity of 100. Besides Canon’s online “camera museum,” it’s difficult to find any information about the PowerShot 30, leading us to wonder if it ever existed in the wild.
eBay odds: None that we could find, so it’s rare!
Nikon Coolpix SQ
In 2003, Nikon brought us the Coolpix SQ, a 3-megapixel camera where half of its body swivels to reveal the lens. From its press release, “The Coolpix SQ is a digital camera for trendsetters and opinion leaders for whom style is a primary concern, and who are seeking bold, new ways to make a statement about their personal style.” But the Coolpix SQ wasn’t Nikon’s only swiveling-lens camera. Prior to the SQ, Nikon had the Coolpix 900, followed by other models like the Coolpix 2500 (which has more conventional-looking body), Coolpix S10 VR, and Coolpix 4500. Nikon, however, wasn’t alone in this concept, as the 5-megapixel Pentax Optio X from 2003 (pictured at top) had a swiveling body, too. Alas, judging from the lack of swiveling lenses in Nikon’s current Coolpix lineup, we are guessing trendsetters and opinion leaders didn’t buy into the design.
eBay odds: We found a few 2500s – all less than $50 – and one SQ with a “buy it now” price of $350. No listing for the Pentax Optio X as of this writing.
Kodak EasyShare V570
Based on looks, the 5-megapixel V570 (2006) wasn’t that different from compact point-and-shoots of today. But behind the metal lens cap you’ll find its unique feature: two lenses. One could capture 23mm wide-angle shots while the other had a 3x zoom, with each having its own sensor. It could also capture panorama photos and stitch them in-camera. Although Kodak couldn’t make it in the digital world, the premium V570 showed a glimpse of potential.
eBay odds: Highly limited and expensive.
Pentax seems to love the idea of detachable cameras. In 1996, the company unveiled the Ei-C90, a 0.43-megapixel (768 x 560) digicam with a viewfinder unit that detaches from the camera portion (you can still shoot with it using the viewfinder). As a display is now integral to a digital camera, it’s easy to see why this concept never made it. While the Ei-C90 may be long gone, the idea is still alive: Pentax’s new owner, Ricoh, sells the GXR, which features a viewfinder/body component that lets you swap out entire camera units.
eBay odds: An instruction manual for the Ei-C90 was available for $20, but that’s it.
Apple QuickTake 100
While Apple is now more known for its i-devices and Mac computers, in the 1990s, it was one of the early pioneers in digital photography with the QuickTake 100 (1994). The point-and-shoot camera, which was actually made by Kodak, had a 640 x 480 resolution and had 1MB of onboard storage (which could store about eight photos at full res). Unlike today’s digital cameras, you held the QuickTake 100 like a pair of binoculars. As with most Apple products of the time, it was expensive at $750. Only two more models – the 150 and 200 – followed before the series was discontinued; when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company’s product portfolio was so glutted, he cleaned house – the QuickTake did not make the cut.
eBay odds: There was no listing for a QuickTake 100 other than a couple pricey documents of the product; however, a few QuickTake 150 and 200 cameras were available.
Olympus Camedia C-1400L/C-1000L
If you fuse a camcorder with an SLR, you’d probably end up with something that looks like the Olympus Camedia C-1400L/C-1000L from 1997. This fixed-lens C-1400L DSLR used a 1.4-megapixel, 2/3-inch “super-high-resolution progressive” CCD sensor (850k pixels, 1/2-inch in the C-1000L) and 3x optical zoom. While the Camedia was ahead of its time, it embodied some features that we still see in cameras today, like a color LCD (1.8 inches) and removable flash memory (SmartMedia). Not the prettiest name, though: A misplaced “L” could ruin everything.
eBay odds: The two models mentioned here weren’t listed, although we found a few Camedia D-600Ls.
(Pentax Optio X image via East Coast Photo)
Did we miss anything? If so, let us know in the comments.