Photography community comes together to battle the epidemic of stolen equipment

Nov 22, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Photography community comes together to battle the epidemic of stolen equipment

Nov 22, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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There’s an interesting discussion that’s popped up on Facebook recently, started by award winning photographer Rutger Geerling, over what we may be able to do to help better protect our equipment out in the wild. We’re not talking about the bags we leave laying around filled with gear we’re not currently using, but items actually on our person that are all too easy to steal.

Without intervention and design alterations from the manufacturers themselves, it seems there’s very little we can do, but there are some great suggestions offered in the comments on the Facebook post, though.

In the image above, there’s only 7 seconds between the frames where the chap with the camera has his lens and then walking off without realising it’s missing. Here you can watch the full video. Notice how there’s at least two people working together. One to distract, the other to grab. Even though he notices quite quickly, the lens has already been passed off to somebody else.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YWaloz-Duw

While digital photography has been a huge boost for those who enjoy photographer as either a hobby or a profession, it hasn’t escape the notice of thieves. You can see in the video above, that removing a lens from a camera is something they can now do easily without even looking.

It’s also become such a common problem, that it’s even being depicted in movies. Such as Focus, starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie.

YouTube video

But what can we actually do about it? At the moment, it seems not a lot. Or at least, there’s no one-size-fits all solution, but a few different suggestions have been made.

D-Rings and a tethering cable

The first is for using long lenses with built in tripod collars. Placing something like tripod screw D-rings or Black Rapid’s FastenR into the sockets on both the tripod collar and the camera itself, then attaching the two via some form of wire. Then, if they attached the lens, they wouldn’t get very far without you being able to notice.

While this may not be completely foolproof, it would make the job of stealing a lens that much more difficult. Assuming they even saw that the lens was physically connected to the camera body, it’s not going to be a quick push of a button and a twist of a lens. They’d need to either unclip or cut the cable or remove whatever you’d screwed into the tripod socket, too.

This does, however, make it a little more difficult to operate with a tripod or monopod easily.

3D Printed Mask

Another suggestion in the post was a 3D printed mask, which sits over the front of your camera around the lens mount. A more refined, slimmed down version was later posted. This is a pretty cool idea, and I think it would definitely fend off a few opportunists, but I do wonder how durable it would be, and also how quickly thieves would learn to adapt.

I do think a custom 3D printed solution may probably hold the best answer overall, at least for now. If somebody manages to release something as a solid concept, hopefully there’ll be a manufacturer out there willing to run with the idea.

A hacked up Nikon trigger cable

Sorry everybody else, this one’s only for the Nikon shooters. And, well, it’s not even for all Nikon shooters, just those who have a 10 pin port on the body. This is something I noticed myself, actually, while out one day, but found it more of an annoyance than anything else. Now, having seen this suggestion, it’s a fantastic idea.

Basically the 10 pin port on Nikon bodies that possess one is where you plug in devices such as remote triggers and intervalometers. The official Nikon cables helpfully go off to the side, in order to not get in the way. The cheap Chinese cables, however, often love getting in the way. The 10 pin port is also a screw-lock connector. Meaning that once it’s screwed down, it’s impossible to just pull straight out.

For this method, the solution is simple. Buy the cheapest device you can with a Nikon 10 pin plug on it, cut the cable, heat shrink the end to make it pretty, then screw it into your 10 pin socket. With the lens release button covered, nothing’s going to be coming off until you want it to. As tight and awkward as the 10 pin plugs can be to screw in and out for the photographer, they’re not quickly or easily going to be removable by thieves, either.

The big problem

There’s one fundamental problem with all of the options offered, though. It’s not a problem for me, but it seems to be a problem for a lot of people. I think it’s an issue that will be around regardless of what we or manufacturers attempt to do to prevent our lenses from easily slipping off at the hands of thieves, though..

Many of the suggestions on the thread were being shot down simply because it would make changing lenses more difficult for the photographer.

Well, what? Hello? Isn’t that the whole point? To make it difficult for people to take the lenses off?

You can’t really have it both ways. If it’s easy for the photographer to take off, it’ll be easy for a thief to take off, too. The more difficult it is for a thief to remove the lens from your camera, the more difficult it will be to do so yourself. That’s just the way it works.

No matter how much photographers DON’T want their lenses stolen, many don’t want to take 10 seconds to switch out their lens instead of 2 seconds. But this probably explains why no DSLR or mirrorless manufacturers have any kind of security locking mechanism built in.

There’s a few other suggestions on the Facebook post, so and it’s got some good discussion going on. So, it’s worth checking out if you’re worried about gear security while out and about. It’s probably also worth looking into systems like GearEye.

I don’t know what the solution is for everybody, but I do think it’s something that manufacturers will ultimately have to incorporate into the systems themselves. I definitely know I’ll be picking up a few of those cheap 10 pin Nikon cables, though.

Is lens theft a big problem where you are? Has it happened to you? What other ways can you come up with to combat this problem? Let us know, and share your ideas in the comments. And be sure to swing by the post on Facebook, too.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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10 responses to “Photography community comes together to battle the epidemic of stolen equipment”

  1. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    I think a simple solution would be software based. Imagine that you pair your lens with your camera using a password just like you do with Bluetooth. No password? No IS, autofocus, aperture, etc. Of course you’ll only need to enter the password once for any given camera/lens combo.

    They’ll find a work around, but it’ll create another barrier and reduce the number of people who are able to pawn items off.

    1. ext237 Avatar
      ext237

      Pair it to a specific body or person and disable it for anyone else. That’s a great idea right here.

      1. Kaouthia Avatar
        Kaouthia

        Except for the fact that, at least with Nikon, many of their current lenses will still work on their 50 year old mechanical film bodies.

        It also doesn’t account for working professionals who will have more than one body. I’ve got 13 Nikon bodies, five of those are film. Pairing would have to take older bodies into account, and you’d need to be able to update it very quickly on the fly as you swap out to a backup, or swap lenses for shooting multicam video.

        Then there’s those guys who shoot non-Nikon bodies for video with Nikon lenses.

        So, while such an idea is great in theory, in practise, you’d need to be able to disable it.

  2. Acauã Borges Avatar
    Acauã Borges

    GPS to find out where the camera body are is pretty obvious to me, but I do think stealing is good for the brands, more sells you know…

    1. Gvido Mūrnieks Avatar
      Gvido Mūrnieks

      GPS is not realy vailible option, unless you want to buy a sim card for each of your lenses and cameras.

  3. MiamiC70 Avatar
    MiamiC70

    The solution seems simple. Manufacturers should build in a switch to bodies that engages or disengages the lens release button. Thus can be done electronically or manually with a secondary mechanism. Problem solved.

  4. 孟恬 Avatar
    孟恬

    I bet they know what’s valuable, so I should be safe xD

  5. Nède Avatar
    Nède

    Just keep your camera in your bag when you don’t use it…when I see tourists with big cameras and big white lenses around the city I wonder how long they’ll be safe…

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Yeah, my wife’ll love having me stop every 5 minutes for 5 minutes at a time to pull a camera out of a backpack, get a “quick shot”, then put it away again. ;)

      1. Nède Avatar
        Nède

        Yeah, I’m so waiting for the next best for ever made that I’ve got my killer prop around my neck all the time… ;)