Look closer: Macro photos of beautiful vintage Macs

This week's Think Retro is an early valentine to all the tiny details that comprise the gear we love.

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Christopher Phin

Macro Macs

One of the joys of macro photography is that for most of our lives most of us just don’t look at the world in that much detail. Whether you’re shooting or just looking at close-up shots, there’s something a bit magical about taking the time to examine things around us in minute detail. What they reveal is the “analogness” of those apparently crisp, perfect objects, their imperfections, and the artifacts of their manufacture.

So join me. Come near. Nearer! Let’s quite literally take a close look at some of the vintage Apple hardware in my collection, starting with, above, a tight crop on the Apple logo embedded in an eMate 300. Look at how you can see the colors overlap slightly on the logo creating double-thick ridges where they meet, and look at how much the rough, textured plastic resembles a choppy ocean surface—“a sea of plastic” indeed!

Oh, and if you love these shots, we’ve made some available as a pack of widescreen desktop pictures!

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Christopher Phin

Apple Desktop Bus Mouse

Here’s another Apple logo, this time debossed into the shell of an Apple Desktop Bus Mouse. Look carefully and you’ll see that while the body of the logo looks perfectly smooth at normal distances, there actually is a texture there—just not one that’s been deliberately added, as with the surrounding plastic.

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Christopher Phin

Macintosh Classic II

Likewise with this ADB logo on the back of a Macintosh Classic II, and here there’s an extra surprise: marks, presumably from the tooling used in manufacture, scored across the ostensibly flat bottom of the logo.

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Christopher Phin

Unapologetically plastic

And actually, let’s just take a moment to savor that rough, pock-marked, off-white plastic that wrapped so many of Apple’s early hardware. Tactile and organic under your fingers, a macro shot reveals the irregular chaos of its surface.

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Christopher Phin

PowerBook G3

Even though the color and opacity of the plastic would change over the years, that rough texture persisted for a long time. Here we see it on the PowerBook G3, in this case just above the screen. I love how you can see the imperfections in the finish of the PowerPC logo, with bits of the black showing through, and I love that you can even start to see the red, green, and blue pixels that make up the screen at the bottom right.

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Christopher Phin

Newton OS

Here’s a detail from the setup screen of Newton OS, and as well as the geeky pleasure of seeing the grid of pixels (and I mean, look closely and you can see the pixels that are off as well as those than are on), it gives me a fresh appreciation for the artists who originally created these screens. At this scale, the creative genius in just turning on that pixel but not that pixel becomes apparent, and it’s a skill that I completely adore. Plus, this particular detail reminds me anew about the straight line you can draw between modern interface design and ancient crafts such as needlework and tapestry, and that resonance always delights me.

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Christopher Phin

The open Apple key

When you’re sitting a normal distance from a PowerBook, the white outline of the open Apple symbol on this key would look like it was just painted directly onto or embedded directly into it. Squint a bit closer and you might make out an outline around it, but it’s not till you get down to this level that you see it’s actually either been applied to the key and then covered with a protective film or was actually part of that film before being applied to the key.

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Christopher Phin

Name that hardware!

A prize* if you can identify this detail before you read any further. Yes, you wonderful nerd, it’s the reflective spot in the corner of a Zip disk’s underside that confirmed to the drive that it should attempt to mount it. The refracting light is rather pretty, don’t you think?

* The prize is a disturbing cocktail of a slightly inflated ego mixed with a nagging concern that you should get out more.

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Christopher Phin

Where the rubber meets the regs

Here we’re looking at the regulatory information on the bottom of an original Apple TV. The fact that it’s debossed into the rubber is deeply pleasing, and the font obsessive in me is amused at the thought that while most typographers would create specialized cuts of a face for display, body and possibly small point sizes, I can’t imagine many have also added “cut optimized for debossing into soft gray rubber.”

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Christopher Phin

Chip off the old board

I don’t think I’ll ever not be intrigued by close-ups of circuit boards. I suspect that if I knew what each component was for I would find them instead terribly dull, but as things stand the apparently random scatter of apparently random resistors, capacitors, chips and pathways are all the more absorbing to me because they and their layout are anything but random.

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Christopher Phin

A very grimy Apple Adjustable Keyboard

There’s even fascination at the macro scale with stuff that’s filthy. I inherited this Apple Adjustable Keyboard recently, and it’s set aside to be cleaned when I get a moment. But while it looks grubby and unloved if I glance over at it, looking closer reveals what we all know, that the grubbiness is made up of millions of individual particles. And while, sure, on one (grimy, unsanitary) hand that’s disgusting, on the other it’s somehow satisfying to see that object’s life accreted like that.

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Christopher Phin


Similarly, I’ve written before about how the dings and scratches on the back of an iPod, far from being something to mourn, are a joyous celebration of your life together. As well as these abrasions, once you get in close enough…

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Christopher Phin


…you can actually see the marks made by the engraving tool that inscribed the information onto the metal.

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