If I were to lose my camera or have it stolen from me I would be absolutely gutted as it really is my pride and joy. I take it with me pretty well everywhere I go and always take great care with it. It was expensive to buy, and along with the lenses are an investment that would take me years to save up for again. Admittedly though, for the first year of having my camera gear I didn’t ensure any of it which looking back is very unwise; which is why I feel a lot better having it insured now.
But what if I were to have my camera stolen? How would I go about trying to track it down?
Well, apart from immediately reporting it to the police, there is a fantastic site called Stolen Camera Finder created by programmer Matt Burns, that can enable people to be reunited with their cameras by using the EXIF data that is stored by most cameras and checking that data against his database on the site.
What is EXIF data you say? Exchangeable image file format (EXIF) is data that is stored into every image that your camera takes (eg. JPEG, RAW, TIFF) giving you and incredible amount of information about the image including where in the world the picture was taken, (for cameras that record GPS) the settings that went into making the shot right thru to the make and model of the camera and lens. It’s that last bit that is what is most important for when you want to track down your camera.
- Date and time information. Digital cameras will record the current date and time and save this in the metadata.
- Camera settings. This includes static information such as the camera model and make, and information that varies with each image such as orientation (rotation), aperture, shutter speed, focal length, metering mode, and ISO speed information.
- A thumbnail for previewing the picture on the camera’s LCD screen, in file managers, or in photo manipulation software.
- Copyright information.
So lets take a look at the steps involved that may help you get your camera back. All you will need is either your camera bodies serial number, or an image that was taken with the lost or stolen camera as this will contain the EXIF data required. Note that some photediting software can remove the EXIF data required after you have edited the image, so make sure that the information is either present or just use an untouched image. The image must be a JPG as the site doesn’t support RAW or TIFF files as yet.
Entering your EXIF data
Firstly head on over to the StolenCameraFinder home page.
Now simply drag’n'drop your image into the grey box. It will take a few seconds for the EXIF data to be read.
Once the site has read your image it will return the results. If you are using the site as a free member and it returns a result, then you will see a link to the page and URL where another image resides that was also taken with the same camera, along with how many other sightings have been reported. If you click on either of these links (or hover over if you use the HoverZoom add-on with Firefox or Chrome) it will take you to another image that was taken with that same camera. You will also note from the image below, that the camera has been reported as stolen. If no report has been made on that camera then no one has reported it stolen or lost on this site.
Note: Clicking on EXIF details will show all the information regarding that image. Note in my images that you can also see a report that the camera is stolen. This is due to the fact that I created a report for the purposes of this articles. Unless someone has either reported the camera stolen, lost of found then you may or not see one.
If you elected to sign up and pay either for the Pro or Business account, then you will get a lot more information and links.
If you click (or hover over if you use HoverZoom) on one of the image/page links that are returned, then you will also find other images that were taken by the camera. Some may well have been uploaded by yourself, however you may get lucky and see that there have been images taken with your camera after the date that it was stolen/lost. It is very important not to jump the gun though, as if you had lost your camera or had it stolen, the person who now has it may have bought it believing it to be second-hand and in good faith.
Entering your serial number manually
Below is the information I had on my cameras serial number when inputted manually
Submitting a stolen, lost or found report
Whether you sign up as a free member, Pro or Business member, you are still able to file a report. Here’s how.
Whether you chose to use the drag’n'drop method or the manual method to input your serial number, you will see the links to create a report after it has checked for the EXIF data. There is a choice of three reports:
Filling out the report only takes a few seconds and highly increases the chances of recovering your camera. Here you can let users know the location of where the camera was stolen from (just start to type the place/ area or country it was lost or stolen and the site will find it) as well as the date, your contact email address and notes. Pro and Business users can also offer a reward, get email alerts if your camera is located on line (someone uploading images from it on websites) as well as submit the report to the CheckMEND database. Over 4 million checks are performed against this database every month. Your lost or stolen camera report can also be submitted to the Immobilize database which is searched by police in the US and UK. Immobilize claim there are over 250 cases a week where property is returned or information collected that assists the Police in investigating criminal activity involving stolen goods.
Once you have completed the relevant details hit Done.
Now when you use the drag’n'drop method again (or manually input your serial number) with one of your images you will see that the camera is listed as Lost/Stolen or Found depending on the report that you made.
Using the Map
You can also select Map at the top of the site to see your camera and the location of where it was reported lost.stolen or found.
Uncheck any of the three boxes that aren’t relevant on the right, and zoom in (roll your mouse wheel or drag around the map and use the zoom feature on the left) to see your camera’s report listed. As you can see there are a lot of cameras listed on this site.
The site also provides an add-on for Chrome users that will automatically scan the EXIF data on images that you load in your browser whilst surfing the web and add those to the database. There is also a Java based Flickr scraper (that only searched for EXIF data on Flickr) that will also help you and others. I use both. Here is an example of how many serial numbers that the Flickr scraper found when I ran it for a while. All that information is fed into the database and will aid you and others in recovering their camera/ equipment. Neither of these plug-ins search anything that resides on your computer.
I was also notified pretty quickly by the site that images had already been found online where my camera had been used. Some of the images were hosted on Flickr and others were from this site where I had used them for tutorials (it was a tutorial on using Truecrypt) The more images it find the more reports you may receive.
Matt Burns has created a fantastic site to help people recover their cameras and has made the more technical aspects of tracking it down a breeze for which he should be proud. As you can see from the article above you can create a report in seconds that may enable you to locate your property in a quick amount of time, or just create a report and get lucky in the future. There are no guarantees of course, but there are plenty of success stories from people using this site. I found myself being more and more impressed with the abilities of this site as I used it more, so if the worse does happen to your camera, make sure that you visit this place first.
For further questions regarding using the site, there is also a very helpful FAQ