Uglified theft-resistant camera

Make Blog has a little piece on Jimmie's "uglified" camera: "He said that it was done in preparation for a trip overseas, where he wanted to make sure he kept his camera. After taping it up and otherwise camouflaging it, he developed a shooting technique where he folded our the screen, set the shots up, then held it up to his eye while shooting to make it look like a film camera. Film cameras, he figured would be of little or no interest to those with sticky fingers."

Jimmie's uglified camera

(Image: Jimmie's ugly camera, from connors934 on Flickr)

My Ugly Camera



  1. If he’d bought a Leica it would have looked like a film camera anyway, although the theft problem would have been increased.

  2. Jimmie, if you are developing special anti-theft poses with which to wield your camera when abroad, then officially, you are worrying too much.

    Also, folding out that screen to ‘set up your shot’ is going to be a bit of a dead giveaway, no matter how good the rest of the pantomime is.

    The crapification looks cool, though.

  3. Wow. . . I thought I was being way paranoid for carrying my wallet in my front pocket. Man, I hope I never go ‘overseas’. . . Wherever that scary place may be.

    It sounds like the ‘terrorists’ won this one.

  4. OK, so, stupid oversea-ers surely haven’t the technological savvy to understand the concept of masking tape? Moreover, it is simply impossible that they’d find such a coolly disguised digicam even more attractive?

    He forgot to plant a Canadian flag on it BTW. LOL.

    I wonder what kind of photos such a guy can bring back from his trips… marvelously ridicule ones?

  5. I was just thinking- this camera appears to have a viewfinder- you know that thing people used to use all the time and (gasp!) pretty much all professionals and serious photographers still use “view” their photo while taking it? He could of course just use that, which would require the pose he needs.

    Oh and most cameras get stolen because they’re left on the table at the restaurant, and other such stupid things. Ugly isn’t relevant.

  6. I think this is actually a pretty interesting form of social engineering. I suppose all camouflage is, but the uglification + behavioural cues make this a complex camo’ manouver. So long as he does the winding-the-film-on thumb-action, too :)

    Whatever about Jimmie’s state of mind; as a strategy I like it.

  7. As the existence of this post suggests, that would get more attention than a normal camera, not less.

  8. After someone steals this camera, Jimmie can show his falsified ID to police and get arrested to boot!

  9. Ahhhh the venerable Canon A95 with swivel LCD. One of the greatest features ever in a P&S digital, period.

  10. In order to avoid rape while traveling overseas, you can uglify yourself by dressing like the natives and using makeup to blend in.

  11. Seriously lame! I’ve traveled a lot of places with my Canon 20D SLR and NEVER had a problem. Don’t put it down, don’t hold it in one hand, always have the strap around your neck or wrapped around wrist.

    When I put it in my backpack, I would put the camera strap through the top loop of the backpack and loop the camera back through the strap. That way of someone cut the bottom of my bag in a crowd, my camera would stay there.

    Its the same precautions I take in any kind of crowd anywhere.

    Sure if someone really wanted my camera they could mug me. But I’m just protecting myself from the grab and dash people. To go through that effort for a relatively inexpensive Canon Powershot? Super super lame.

  12. Yeah, dude seems paranoid. I have to wonder where he’s going that scares him so much.

  13. Oh and another thing. Those “old film” cameras can be quite valuable (look at resale on a Leica M3 through Leica M7). By making his camera look like that he may even get more attention.

    They won’t confuse it with a Leica, but the thief might think “That’s and old film camera… it might be worth a lot.” Meanwhile if it looked like a powershot they’d be thinking… “Crap, I have a stash of those at home already and can’t sell them.”

  14. If you have that camera in a public place the real danger will not be theft, but rather the high pressure stream of water the bomb disposal unit will use to render it harmless.

    Seriously, what’s the first thing you think of when you see a device held together with tape? He better not take that to the airport. And what about using it in a public place? Charlie rent-a-cop already wants to arrest you for taking pictures with a camera that isn’t done up like an IED. I can’t see this working well in certain locales.

    Of course, maybe I’m just getting this vibe from all of the potentiometers in the plastic bins behind the camera. Because, yeah they’re just variable resistors, but if you were a person trained to do airport security, your expert eyes would see in this photo bins full of shrapnel and danger knobs.

  15. Nanuq @ 14 – “He couldn’t just buy a cheap camera to begin with?”

    I tried this strategy on a trip to Beirut in 1993. I wasn’t worried about theft so much as the camera being confiscated by customs or Syrian security – I was on a business trip but had a heavy Nikkormat, a rugged camera used by some Vietnam-era photographers, and thought it might look as though I was lying about the purpose of my trip (and maybe, unlikely but embarrassing if so, be refused entry).

    So I took a cheap tourist-type camera and left the Nikkormat at home in England. While I was in Beirut my house was burgled and my Nikkormat was stolen. So it goes. And a pity, as now I would probably still have the camera, not to mention better pictures of Beirut in 1993.

  16. So, he uses the screen to frame the shot, then holds it up to his eye to actually take the picture?

    Even though by moving the camera, the shot will be changed? And even though it seems to have a bloody optical viewfinder?!

  17. What #19 just said. This is going to get your camera stolen by the security theater.

    I’m a big fan of uglification through tough use (actually I think well used electronics look beautiful not ugly) but this tape thing is gauche like pre-torn jeans.

  18. Call me crazy, but whenever I travel somewhere other than the country in which I live, I bring just one disposable camera. No re-shoots, no messing with dials to achieve photographic perfection, no certainty about whether the image which looks so great in the viewer will actually turn out nicely. Ever since I began doing this, my vacations have improved significantly. I log the experiences in my brain and don’t worry about the paper (or digital) trail.

  19. Agreed!
    The fact that this camera ACTUALLY HAS an optical viewfinder completely negates his shooting technique as he can compose shots completely without looking at the screen.

    unless of course the writer has completely no clue whatsoever…
    Bill Collins

  20. When traveling in unfamiliar cities, make sure to keep your map out at all times, so you don’t get lost. Wear a orange reflector suspenders, so you don’t get hit by a vehicle following unfamiliar traffic patterns. And stick to back alleys as much as possible, because crowds are dangerous.

  21. @23 moriarty haha nice :)

    I’m usually in more danger of dropping and breaking my camera than of someone trying to steal it from me.

    Also, I thought traveling “overseas” was about experiencing all the awesome, beautiful things in the world and not about protecting your precious material things?

  22. I say three cheers for Jimmie’s caution about traveling in foreign lands. I do a similar thing to my truck when I go “into town” — right above the gas filler lid I tape a sticker that reads “Diesel Fuel Only”; sends the thieves a-flying!

  23. When I was in Belem (Brazil) and wanted to go to the fish market, everyone had a freakout “don’t take the camera! It’s dangerous!” I didn’t take the camera, nobody bothered me, and I missed the opportunity to take some amazing photos of huge dead Amazonian fish.

    Ever since I just go to markets, rodeos, fairs or wherever, take the darn camera, and ignore the panic of the (local) friends who think I’m going to die. Worst case my camera gets stolen. So I don’t take the Leica, just a cheap but decent Panasonic that’s small enough to stuff into a jacket pocket.

    The tape idea is kind of interesting. But maybe too interesting to be a “security” measure.

  24. He’d really be much better off just letting someone steal that POS. I used an A95 for years before upgrading to an S5 and then a Rebel, and there’s really no comparison. If I saw the A95 in a thriftshop for $10 I’d pass.

    My favorite part is that the crapification is removable. Be careful, someone might notice the disguise and think you actually have a good camera under there….

    But I have to admit I’m intrigued by the background of the picture….

  25. My first guess is that the original camera doesn’t have a viewfinder on it, and that he attached something on the front that looks retro-viewfinder-ish.

    My second guess is that this was done in a spirit of inventive fun, rather than genuine dread of “overseas”. Those commenters that are telling Jimmie to lighten up perhaps could use a little lightening up themselves.

    I pursued a similar strategy with my bike. Where I live, bikes get stolen quite frequently. I also have no illusions that the right equipment will turn me into Lance Armstrong. I therefore just picked up the ugliest, PoS looking bike I could find at a local thrift store, it gets me around town just fine, and I never have to worry about it getting stolen.

  26. I did this with my latest bicycle, living in Vancouver BC which seems to be bike theft capital of the universe (almost everyone I know has had a new bike stolen by u-lock shattering professionals). I bought a several-year-old stainless steel frame rocky mountain, replaced all of the moving parts, and am riding a sweet ride that looks like shit! Call me a fool, but at least I’ve still got my goddamn transportation.

  27. Jimmie’s kind of “ugly” passive aggressive nationalism needs to die a quick death.

    Let’s all pray that when Jimmie goes “overseas” he is as successful “masking” his own ugly nationalism.

    And lets all pray nobody’s going to curb Jimmie’s teeth, piss in his mouth, and leave him bleeding out of every orifice with his too-ugly-to-steal camera in his hand.

    And Boing Boing … please stop posting “Maker” paranoia.


  28. i wonder where he’s going?

    because in the parts of the world where i’d be more worried about theft, a digital camera would be pretty much worthless while a functional 35mm film one would be extremely beneficial to people.

  29. A lot of people are scoffing at using the screen
    instead of the viewfinder to set up the shot.
    I do that myself on close up shots because
    it’s much easier than looking through the viewfinder
    and compensating for parallax in my head.

    I think just keeping the camera with you will thwart
    those overseas camera thieves. If they mug you and
    they don’t like the look of your camera they’ll
    just take your money.

  30. @23: man, that’s more ironic than Alanis Morrisette!

    I really think this camera looks gorgeous now. It’s bound to get more looks than your average cheap-o powershot.

  31. Some people seem to think that he is worried about his camera. He could be more worried about loosing the photos on it, since most thieves don’t return your CF card. Stolen cameras are easily replaced if you have insurance. Stolen photos aren’t.

    And yeah, I do think the composing the shot with the back before pretending to use the viewfinder is a bit of a giveaway. So is looking at the back of your “film” camera after each shot. It looks like a POS, that alone should help.

  32. This is a Canon PowerShot A95, not exactly an expensive piece of equipment. This guy is a douche. Now his cheap camera looks like a piece of garbage and it’s probably all sticky and gross from the tape.

  33. I always wanted to write “I HAVE GENITAL HERPES” in white paint on my bike seat, as a theft deterrent.

  34. I knew a guy with a similar strategy for tools. Workmen would come over to his house, go in and out of the garage, tools would mingle, and he’d end up a few hammers and spanners short at the end of the day. So he painted all the handles of his tools (simple and powered) bright pink. Never lost a tool after that.

    (although I suppose it wasn’t so much a matter of uglification as tracibility)

  35. I’ve considered doing something similar with my laptop, but I was thinking of just a couple of strips of masking tape to make it look like a running repair. That much tape on the camera is overdoing it, I think, and risks drawing attention, as others have said.

    This wasn’t for overseas travel, just for everyday use. But relative to many readers of BB, I am already overseas, of course.

  36. Has this magnificently silly individual thought of taking out foreign trip insurance? Maybe even on a new for old basis.

    If his camera is stolen he could replace it with another one, which due to the inexorable forward march of technology, might be a bit less rubbish.

  37. If I were going through a customs officer of a former soviet nation, going through an odd border between other former soviet nations, I would be far more scared of being seen carrying this thing into the country than a shiny camera.

  38. I was once scared of going ‘overseas’ to america. I believed that I’d end up getting shot. But then I moved there… erm, I mean here, and now ‘overseas’ is back in England. I must say that now ‘overseas’ isn’t as scary as being at home.

    Cool looking camera though – they should make them like that. I think I’ll ‘gaffer tape’ my trusty Kodak Instamatic tomorrow, then people might think I’ve got something really cool and nickable…

  39. .
    You could just what do I did and buy a really crappy camera in the first place. Or a really good gun. Or a gun that’s a camera. Or a camera that’s a gun.

    I used my crappy, non-weaponized camera to take this picture of a neighborhood torture chamber, in the near future. Or, in somebody ele’s neighborhood right now.

  40. Well let me put my 2 cents in:

    I use a Cannon A710is as my walkaround camera. I like the way that Jimmie has “uglified” his camera for the same reason I like steam-punk computer mods and such. I don’t want to do it to protect my camera from theft or to get through airport security, or any of that.

    I have my a710 tricked-out with a circular polarizing filter,a 4 gig SDHD card and a Delkin eFilm LCD viewfinder cover/hood. I use CHDK to allow the camera to save RAW (DNG) files, do timelapse, and use the USB port as a remote shutter cable. CHDK also gives me real-time histograms and over and under exposure “zebra” warnings.

    If your subject is more than 10 feet away, the optical viewfinder works really well, especially outdoors. I only use the LCD screen to check exposure or for close-up work.

    I just think it looks cool, and I will put it on my list of things to “make”.

    Of course I prefer my DSLR, but I don’t want to carry around 15 pounds of gear and a backpack everywhere I go..

  41. I started carrying cameras overseas in 1967, and continued to do so, living and working in developing countries for at least 50% of the time. Maybe I should have learned this “trick” back then and modified it? I have lost one case of empty beer bottles and a red baseball cap during that time, and a pocket knife that was taken from my checked suitcase. So far still have all the cameras that I started out with.

    Like another poster said, “lighten up a bit”. It isn’t THAT dangerous.

  42. The only time I’ve ever worried about someone stealing my DSLR was right in my home town, when I went to the local flea market and everyone seemed to think the camera had fallen off the back of a truck and that I wanted to sell it quick and cheap.

    Overseas? Meh. As far as I’m concerned there’s always a thief out there, but there’s no sense in panicking. If I leave my stuff lying around, it will get stolen. Occasio facit furem, they’re not gonna stop and think whether the object is worth snatching or not. And if I get mugged, they’ll take everything anyway.

    I do have a cheap(er) camera to carry around with me when I’d rather not have my expensive DSLR with me, but that’s not because I’m worried about thieves. It’s because I’m worried about getting so drunk I’ll lose it.

    One thing I’m wondering is if he can still get it repaired under warranty after putting all that tape on there.

  43. Reminds me of all the Leica photogs who insist on covering the red dot logo with tape.

    Just buy some insurance already, stop being paranoid, and get out and shoot.

    Most people who see a Leica are just amazed you are still shooting film (even if you happen to be holding an M8).

  44. He was doing volunteer work in bad parts of Rio de Janeiro, he was mugged and the locals told him that digital cameras were the prime target while film cameras were pretty much ignored.

    The second time he was mugged they ignored the uglified camera and took his $20 cell phone.

  45. I went overseas to America in February. My camera and I survived. I’m going back overseas to America in June. I suspect we’ll both survive again.

  46. Thanks Jimmy Rodgers @59 for giving us the context for this project. Keep up the good work! =D

  47. Of course, the really annoying thing to any amateur (in the old sense of the word) is not the loss of a camera, which can be replaced, but the loss of any pictures in the camera, which being unique will be harder to replace. Especially if you’re on a trip abroad and you may not have the opportunity to revisit a location.

  48. funny, way back in the 30-ies (that is the 20th century type of 30-ies) photographers like Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa were taping their cameras, but this was more to secure the camera itself for the purpose of keeping the camera intact, rather than protecting it agains thiefs.

    So the technique has been around for quit some time now.

  49. I did this when my beloved old bike got stolen. I bought a brand spanking shiny bike and painted it with some white emulsion I had left over. It was a hard decision, but I’m hoping no one wants to steal my new bike.

    By the way, I’m not in favour of the death penalty, except for stealing bikes.

  50. Thief 1: That camera. It stands out like a sore thumb in this sea of regular silver cameras.
    Thief 2: Looks like a leather bound camera from here.
    Thief 1: He must be loaded. Lets jump him in the alley.

  51. I think getting mugged depends more on your “tourist” look than in your camera, AND for a camera to call people’s attention it would have to be some canon 40D or something, still, in some places they’ll strip you of anything that’s got buttons or cables i guess…

  52. all of the people thinking this is a bad idea or that “overseas” isn’t a dangerous place… probably have never been “overseas”. My camera was stolen in italy and it happens in any country there are tourists. I think this is a brilliant idea.

    1. ‘Overseas’ does make me think of Buckland. Folks are queer there on the wrong side of the water.

  53. camera taping in the time of Cartier-Bresson et al originated in the need to mask shiny parts for candid photography.

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