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January 14, 2011

Lifetouch Micro-Z Camera

Filed under: What's New — Matt Anderson @ 11:01 am

Lifetouch Micro-Z CameraEach day, schools across the country use Minnesota products, be they Big G cereals or Scotch tape. One company, however, comes to class just once a year. Since 1936, Eden Prairie-based Lifetouch Inc. has been photographing students on school picture day. From its start in the Depression-era schoolhouses of rural Minnesota, the company now takes more than 30 million portraits each year, from pre-schoolers to high-schoolers.

The company’s growth fostered a number of noteworthy advancements in photography, and few were as important as the Micro-Z camera. Introduced in 1980, the Micro-Z increased efficiency and streamlined photo processing. The innovative camera featured a double-reflex zoom lens, automatic light calibration, a motorized pedestal, and a failure alarm system to alert the photographer if something was wrong. Most significantly, the Micro-Z’s computerized data recorder registered date, package type, and subject information directly onto the film negative via a barcode, making it much easier to match the photo with the student’s paperwork.

The durable Micro-Z remained in service for some 25 years and photographed untold millions of students. (This curator has fond memories of posing for Micro-Zs throughout the 1980s.) We are grateful to Lifetouch Inc. for donating this example, together with a TruView camera (used in department store portrait studios), technical manuals, and reminiscences from the people who developed and used this remarkable camera.

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator

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