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EXIF tracking services help find missing cameras

By dpreview staff on Dec 29, 2011 at 23:55 GMT

Two services that search web images for the serial number of the cameras that shot them are helping to re-unite owners with their lost and stolen cameras. Both work by looking for the serial numbers embedded in images uploaded to services such as Flickr. CameraTrace, which costs $10 per camera, now includes a monitoring service that updates you if new images are posted. You also receive an identification tag for your camera, to help recover it if lost, rather than stolen. Stolen Camera Finder, meanwhile, requires only that you drag-and-drop a file from your camera for it to read the EXIF and start searching for public photos with their metadata intact.

Although hardly flawless (neither can search Facebook because it strips EXIF data and some cameras, including all Sonys, don't include their serial numbers), both sites have led to photographers being reunited with their cameras. (via Sydney Morning Herald and PetaPixel)

While not terribly numerous, the green 'found camera' flags suggest it's worth using the services to look for your lost or stolen camera.

Comments

Total comments: 77
Ronnie2012
By Ronnie2012 (Jul 18, 2012)

Hi All ...if anyone can help me trace my camera i would be most obliged it is a Light Blue Canon SD 960 serial number 218228001952..i misplaced it in vegas in luxor or stratosphere as the last picture taken was at luxor and then took a cab to stratosphere where i was staying with a friend....It has pics of my family members not in my life anymore...please even if you get my memory card to me..i will be obliged....contact me at surajrays2012@gmail.com....
Ronnie...

0 upvotes
a m rattle
By a m rattle (May 15, 2012)

the sorry sac who pinched my 60d and 5 houre baby 7d im going to have the photo shoot of a lifetime in the near future as soon as i can afford a nother. Happy shooting to all.To

0 upvotes
KikoEhab
By KikoEhab (Mar 10, 2012)

hey, I'm new here... i came for one reason, i just a found a camera on some public W.C in my country well, the camera probably belongs to tourists fro china or japan... I'm trying to find it's owners. Somehow I reached this website.

0 upvotes
IRC
By IRC (Jan 6, 2012)

I must be missing something here. How exactly does this help you find a camera? You only find a picture posted online, so you only know where the camera was not where the camera actually is. Is it really going to help me to know my camera took a picture in, say, Los Angeles back in June?

1 upvote
mee
By mee (Jan 6, 2012)

Haha!. They should start to manufacture premium DSLR and lenses with fingerprint or iris recognition to get them to turn on and working. A DSLR will not turn on without the rightful owner. A lens aperture will not function / stop down either without the rightful owner too.

Just like the high-end laptops with fingerprint recognition system built-in.

Comment edited 45 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
OneGuy
By OneGuy (Jan 3, 2012)

Maybe

When buying a camera/lens, YOU decide if you want to register it with the manufacturer. You, or anybody, should also be able to see who registered the camera in the past and do so using but the SN. (Yes, you'd need to keep the paperwork.) Any additional registration would email the last/past owners about the new addition. You could also amend your registration with comments such as "Stolen in Rio on ..." or "sold." Well, you would need to remember the password to append your registry data.

Would it work?

This whole issue is not about certainties because you cannot attain them. A person may not care using a stolen camera, but if you add the knowledge that any picture you post or email may be inspected, a person with a stolen camera may get the jibbies. So, after so many years this problem just might peter out.

I cancelled my FB account a while back because I felt FB is a not square organization. I know so today.

This is never old news. New technologies work both ways

0 upvotes
Chuck Lantz
By Chuck Lantz (Jan 3, 2012)

Every time I read a post where someone says the news is old, I have to laugh, since what may be old to you is very possibly new to others who missed it the first time around (like me).

2 upvotes
bigjoshua
By bigjoshua (Jan 2, 2012)

Old news - VERY OLD
first I read about it here: http://www.makeuseof.com/dir/gadgettrak-serial-search-tracking-lost-cameras/ in April of 2011

0 upvotes
reps2
By reps2 (Jan 2, 2012)

Yes, Sony don't (you say) give the Camera Serial in the Exif, and, I fear Canon didn't provide that service in my G11, nor, indeed, in the G12 I bought to replace it. Pity, and, not, I fancy, really very expensive to have done. Even the Canon DSLR require external software to insert the Artist and Copyright, unlike Nikon.

0 upvotes
bigjoshua
By bigjoshua (Jan 2, 2012)

Regular tools which read EXIF data did not show S/N
Try ExifTool on the unprocessed file from your camera

0 upvotes
Dvlee
By Dvlee (Jan 2, 2012)

If they can use the EXIF DATA to track pictures taken with a stolen camera, how about a service that tracks the unauthorized use of copyrighted photographs?

0 upvotes
rdspear
By rdspear (Jan 2, 2012)

Hey Mirko123 - did you even read the article? "Stolen Camera Finder, meanwhile, requires only that you drag-and-drop a file from your camera for it to read the EXIF and start searching"

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Mirko123
By Mirko123 (Jan 2, 2012)

Nice little scam by DPreview!

You can get this service FREE from stolen camera finder
http://www.stolencamerafinder.com/

0 upvotes
bobbarber
By bobbarber (Jan 1, 2012)

Hello, F.B.I.

2 upvotes
sfpeter
By sfpeter (Dec 31, 2011)

A few random thoughts:

Doesn't do much good for those of us who shoot raw.

Enabling a remote shutdown of the camera may be a bad idea; if the thief suddenly has it stop working they really would only be caught if they took it to a dealer and the dealer scanned and reported the serial number. Otherwise most thieves with a "free" camera would likely just junk it.

A built in GPS in the camera body (which can be used for photo location anyways) that can be triggered remotely seems the best option. Register when you buy it, call the manufacturer to report it stolen, camera is located. Much better than using pictures that were taken weeks or months ago, and trying to tie those to a person who may no longer have the camera.

0 upvotes
kcds
By kcds (Jan 2, 2012)

>Register when you buy it, call the manufacturer to report it
>stolen, camera is located.

How does the camera get located? GPS doesn't work like some kind of magic homing beacon - all it means is that camera can figure out where it is.

0 upvotes
HansN46
By HansN46 (Dec 31, 2011)

It seems humbug to me. I put the s/n of my cam into the "free trace" box and it didn't find any photo. While I have a lot of photos online. So why deliver my personal data to a service that doesn't work?
There has to be something else.... No privacy policy whatsoever. For the present I stay away of it.

1 upvote
jh2bh
By jh2bh (Dec 31, 2011)

On Stolen Camera Finder they want you to sign up and login to Google to perform a search. I may be wrong about this but I think that means that they could keep your info and associate it with your camera's serial number forever. You would never be able to post another image anywhere n the internet without it being linked to your real personal identity information. I could not find any thing like a "terms and conditions" or a "privacy policy" that would tell how they intend to use the information they collect. They could be selling the location of expensive cameras to thieves for all we know.

Just another internet scammer to steer clear of.

2 upvotes
matt burns
By matt burns (Dec 31, 2011)

Hi, there should be a link to privacy policy stuff at the bottom. I don't know if I'll be able to convince you but I'm not a scammer and will never do anything evil with your details! Promise!

0 upvotes
matt burns
By matt burns (Dec 31, 2011)

Also, you don't need to login at all, I always allow free and anonymous searching. It's all open source too so you can see what I'm doing if you're interested.

0 upvotes
snake_b
By snake_b (Dec 31, 2011)

Post the promise prominently on the site, like before anything else, and we'll see. Make sure you'll include all open ends, like future dealings and so on and ability to delete data stored on severs.

1 upvote
Charles King
By Charles King (Dec 31, 2011)

If you're worried about privacy (which is wise) then you should strip the exif data anyway before posting an image. If you're not doing this and posting a lot of pics in various places then it would be possible to piece together your identity without knowing your Google account name (which, frankly, isn't that helpful).

If anyone wants to track expensive cameras on the internet they just need to scan through the various Leica groups.

Comment edited 43 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
boyd2
By boyd2 (Dec 30, 2011)

When this really works, never mind my stolen camera, it could finally be a way to find my STOLEN PHOTOS!!!
I'm already waiting years for a search engine that will find my copyright info in the EXIF, but a camera serial number will do too :)

Comment edited 42 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
AV Janus
By AV Janus (Dec 30, 2011)

Well damn those kind of services and tracking tools...
One of the best joys in life is acquiring stuff that's fallen of the truck.

1 upvote
Bob from Plymouth
By Bob from Plymouth (Dec 30, 2011)

I like the "Find My iPhone" App available with iCloud which can not only locate my phone, showing me where it is on a GPS map but can also deactivate it if I choose.

Something similar on a high end camera would be good.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Renard DellaFave
By Renard DellaFave (Dec 30, 2011)

That'd be great I agree since it'd also mean the camera had a transmitter instead of just a GPS reciever. So maybe it could then also post to websites without EyeFi + iPhone or a WiFi spot.

0 upvotes
Francis Carver
By Francis Carver (Dec 30, 2011)

For those unlucky enough to own an actual Apple product, this would be a must-have "service," surely.

0 upvotes
dusko
By dusko (Dec 30, 2011)

I've tested both sites. 'Stolen Camera Finder' gave me my serial number from JPG I dropped in, but did not find any photos (and I have some on Picasa and Flickr). The 'Camera Trace' gave me 'error 404 - URL not found' when I dropped the serial number to test trace. So much for the hype. Has anybody tested it with any results?

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
like a bumblebee
By like a bumblebee (Dec 30, 2011)

Tested both, no luck. >10k photos on flickr and commons.

0 upvotes
xilvar
By xilvar (Dec 30, 2011)

Found my camera in vietnam... I wonder if I'll have any luck recovering it...

1 upvote
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (Dec 30, 2011)

EXIF is old stuff

Look to the future via telecoms signal

All expensive cameras (>$1000) should have an IMEI for camera and enabled by the owners to work via mobile activation.

Stolen cameras become useless (only for parts) when deactivated via mobile signal.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 5 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Francis Carver
By Francis Carver (Dec 30, 2011)

What do you represent, George Orwell's 1984?

0 upvotes
xilvar
By xilvar (Dec 30, 2011)

Well, considering that I located my camera somewhere in Vietnam... I imagine it would require quad-band and multi-lateral international agreements for it to work via telecom...

1 upvote
fz750
By fz750 (Dec 31, 2011)

well, given that GSM phones have for years been traceable by exactly this method but, despite there being an international database for "stolen" phones, it has been totally ignored by the industry and has had next to zero effect on theft of mobile devices so I don't hold much hope of any half-baked idea of either using EXIF or IMEI as there's actually no will from the industry to address the problem... Call me cynical but every time there's a theft there's a new phone sold and a host of charges earned by operators so why would a camera be any different..?

2 upvotes
Peter Galbavy
By Peter Galbavy (Dec 30, 2011)

I once got a call from a stranger who had just bought a Canon D60 (yes, 2002 it was) and asked why my name and mobile number was in his EXIF under Copyright.

Turns out that my first D60, which I returned after 2 days with hot pixels in the rear LCD, got shipped back to Canon and then refurbed and just pushed out to another (different) retailer. The gent in question went to have strong words with Canon and the retailer.

Sigh.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 28 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
frfa
By frfa (Dec 30, 2011)

Please, how is it possible to write the own's name for all EXIF file generated by a Nikon D3100? Not after a photo was taken.

0 upvotes
graybalanced
By graybalanced (Dec 31, 2011)

frfa, embedding your name is a standard feature in many cameras now. My Canon 7D allows me to enter my name into the camera's Copyright field so that it's embedded in every photo at the time it is taken. I imagine Nikon does this just as well.

0 upvotes
Marco Boerner
By Marco Boerner (Dec 31, 2011)

Canon is pretty bad with their refurbished cameras. I worked in a retail store in Toronto for quiet some time and had to deal with Canon a lot. They never seal their boxes, so you won't know it it's refurbished or not. Also, whenever we sent a defective camera back to them they would fix it and then send it back to our store as a product to be sold as new. So they do not make a difference between new and refurbished, it's the same for them. It's pretty much up to the retailer to keep track of refurbished items and sell them as refurbished, what means Canon does not take responsibility for faulty products, the retailer does, and therefore looses money whenever Canon pulls this sht. I'm a Canon user myself, and knowing this I only get my products from larger stores where it is usually easier to return/exchange a product in case I figure out the shutter has been used more then a couple dozen times. Unfortunately smaller stores who can't afford the loss might sell you those cameras as new

0 upvotes
Vincent de Groot
By Vincent de Groot (Dec 30, 2011)

Not a bad idea, I however can imagine a better solution for the problem..

1. The camera shows on the display the name and e-mail address of the owner (this could be in a about menu or shown when the battery has been removed).
2. The camera needs a PIN code/password to be activated after battery change.
3. The camera stores encrypted image files.
4. On the memory cards a text/pdf file is stored with the owner information.

The owner can activate and setup these options via the software that comes with the camera, changes only can be made with a password.

Concerning feature 3 there is an additional benefit in this, it protects the data on memory cards in case they get lost. If a lost card is found feature 4 offers a way how the card can be returned to the owner, the same applies for feature 1 when the camera is lost.

I do hope camera manufacturers will read this ;-)

Vincent

6 upvotes
freddykrueger
By freddykrueger (Dec 30, 2011)

I wouldn't encode the images, that would just slow the cameras down. I think it'd be enough if there was just your name on the screen somewhere, like Owner: Your Name, password protected and change of the name or removal of the password (in case you want to sell it for example) would require the password.

0 upvotes
Vincent de Groot
By Vincent de Groot (Dec 30, 2011)

The encoding not has to be done during the shooting itself, it can be done in a background process when the camera's CPU has free computing power.

0 upvotes
freddykrueger
By freddykrueger (Dec 30, 2011)

Yes, and because of that the battery dies 3 times faster. No, thanks.

0 upvotes
daMatrix
By daMatrix (Dec 30, 2011)

I would not buy a camera that slows down the photoprocess; set a pin code after battery change / encrypting files.

Already available options to find your camera back if lost; Place a jpeg with personal info on the memory card. Etch email address in camera body.

To keep thieves away; splash some durable paint over the body. No thieve will touch a too obvious marked camera with 0 value on second hand market.

1 upvote
Vincent de Groot
By Vincent de Groot (Dec 30, 2011)

Of course the owner shall be able to select the options he/she wants to activate.

The etching Idea is a good alternative if you not intend to sell the camera, it needs however space on the housing, that’s not always the case…Of course the owner shall be able to select the options he/she wants to activate.

The etching Idea is a good alternative if you not intend to sell the camera, it needs however space on the housing, that’s not always the case…

0 upvotes
Renard DellaFave
By Renard DellaFave (Dec 30, 2011)

Oh please, pgp level encryption takes a trivial amount of CPU and power. I don't have a need or desire for it but it's technically very easy.

0 upvotes
Francis Carver
By Francis Carver (Dec 30, 2011)

@ Vincent: Yes, one could do all that, I suppose. Or instead, one could simply get a life.

Comment edited 7 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
MediaDigitalVideo
By MediaDigitalVideo (Dec 30, 2011)

What about stolen Lenses !.

0 upvotes
Vincent de Groot
By Vincent de Groot (Dec 30, 2011)

I just wrote an entry here with some in-camera features to prevent stolen cameras to be sold and lost cameras to be found.

Last weeks I have been thinking about how I would get my 5D back, I was robbed in Rio 

Let’s complete my thoughts…

5. Lenses have a serial number, the camera clearly can recognize the lens since camera and lens are communicating. The lens (or camera) might be matched to a certain camera in a way that the lens only work with that camera (or a set of camera’s)..

Vincent

0 upvotes
Francis Carver
By Francis Carver (Dec 30, 2011)

Even better method would be find a cheap time travel service, go back in time, and change your travel destination from "Rio" to say "Copenhagen." Safer for both cameras and lenses, last I heard.

0 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (Dec 30, 2011)

While I am sorry for your loss, it seems the only people who have not gotten robbed in Rio are those who have never been there. I decided against a trip when I was told I would be fine so long as I never displayed anything of value.

0 upvotes
Damon Lynch
By Damon Lynch (Dec 31, 2011)

Crime victims can be unlucky in Rio, as they could anywhere. I visited a few days there once with a camera bag full of gear, including visiting a favela. It was a wonderful experience in all respects.

0 upvotes
Eleson
By Eleson (Dec 30, 2011)

Can this be used the other way around?

I.e , when I buy a used camera, can I make sure that it is not reported as stolen? Now, that I would like!

1 upvote
micahmedia
By micahmedia (Dec 30, 2011)

Now if we could get photo hosting sites and social media sites to stop stripping exif data, we'd have something. However, I suspect FB may be one of the largest photo hosts right now, and they don't leave ANY exif data (although their software reads copyright comments and inserts them into blank comments automatically). Flickr is selective about what it keeps intact.

And as others have said, this is olllld news.

0 upvotes
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (Dec 30, 2011)

A better service would be for the tracking device to disable the camera function.

Perhaps in future camera design, the innards of the camera would just self destruct like what happens in Mission Impossible...

2 upvotes
micahmedia
By micahmedia (Dec 30, 2011)

Sounds like a great idea, until you consider hacks and manufacturers who'd love it if your old gear broke and you had to buy the newest thing. Planned obsolescence+

0 upvotes
Francis Carver
By Francis Carver (Dec 30, 2011)

Just smash it against the rock with some force, this old-fashioned disablement method should still work, no?

0 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (Dec 30, 2011)

So when you find out who is using your camera, do you just shoot them an email and ask for them to return it?

1 upvote
bigjoshua
By bigjoshua (Dec 30, 2011)

Oh, where are we going??? This is old, very old news (at list April 27, 2011) like my grand father old.
here is link which I saved long time ago: http://www.photographyblog.com/news/stolen_camera_finder

2 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Dec 30, 2011)

Actually the alert service from Camera Trace is less than two days old and the example of Stolen Camera Finder linked to is of a similar vintage.

1 upvote
art1sta
By art1sta (Dec 30, 2011)

am I the only one that finds this creepy. Anyone that can just about trace every picture you have posted online. Even if you only post family/holiday pics like myself, thats a mighty strong database of your life and your family.

I wonder if they can trace unlisted/protected galleries from the likes of flickr, smugmug etc

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Renard DellaFave
By Renard DellaFave (Dec 30, 2011)

If they can read the picture file (as a robot) then they an read the exif. BTW, Flickr added a nice Geotag feature. You can set spots and distances for areas where it should strip the geotags.

0 upvotes
Joesiv
By Joesiv (Dec 30, 2011)

I also think it could be used for bad purposes. For $10, anyone could take any photo that has exif data in it, and track it's where it was uploaded from. Another reason to be cautious on the internet.

I just wonder where the location data is coming from, I'd assume it wasn't from GPS, since most cameras don't support it natively, and there was no mention of it. The only other way I can think of it working is through the IP of the poster. but to get the IP of the poster from sites like flickr isn't *that* easy is it? Wouldn't it require a special request, heck I'd hope it would, since it greatly effects privacy.

0 upvotes
Peiasdf
By Peiasdf (Dec 30, 2011)

What's the custom fee to recover a lost camera? I presume the person finding it can ask to be compensated if outright refused to hand the camera back. Also work on the high sea.

0 upvotes
Prasun
By Prasun (Dec 30, 2011)

@aris14: did u hear about this burglar who posted his on the crime scene pics just to boast about his prowess. so there are lots of idiots in the unorganized criminal world.

1 upvote
aris14
By aris14 (Dec 30, 2011)

Let's be serious... Who, who has stolen a cam, will post a pic in the Web, at least without eliminating all EXIF data..?

1 upvote
McSpunckle
By McSpunckle (Dec 30, 2011)

You're assuming they know about exif data. I'd bet most people don't.

Moreover, the person using the camera could be legit. They may have bought what they though was just a used camera not knowing it was stolen.

2 upvotes
pavel411
By pavel411 (Dec 30, 2011)

you're correct - probably not that thief but a guy who bought it from him - I believe for many photographers is unacceptable to steal a camera but it's pretty common to buy a used one

3 upvotes
DioCanon
By DioCanon (Dec 30, 2011)

you would be surprised, it's like people that steal phones and then call family and friends with the SIM card just been stolen...

there are more idiots than you think!

"so mare dei seme la e sempre piena..." old people wise words!

0 upvotes
aris14
By aris14 (Dec 30, 2011)

Right! But one way or another you won't get your camera back!

0 upvotes
gratitud
By gratitud (Dec 30, 2011)

reclently racking my 2 nikon camera, one work fine D5000, but D90 cannot track any pics from my flickr account?

so how can we trust CameraTrace Service it's 100% true ???

1 upvote
graybalanced
By graybalanced (Dec 30, 2011)

If you want to use these services, you want to make sure that whatever software you are using does not strip the EXIF info on export or the serial number won't be in the JPEG. In addition to what the article said about some web sites not reading the EXIF on the way in. Both have to work for you if this service is going to work for you.

0 upvotes
Paul Farace
By Paul Farace (Dec 30, 2011)

A stolen camera ends up on some web-retail site or in a hock shop... purchased by some unknowing or thinking nudnik who then may and I repeat MAY post a picture... only to be confronted by the original owner.

It reminds me a friend of mine who had her very expensive camera stolen out of her car in Florida. The police gave her the usual "can't help you without a signed confession of the theif, etc." Well a few days later she sees her camera on a certain website (yea, it was that rare of a camera that it could be ID'd immediately)... she purchased it and arranged to pick it up from the "seller" who only lived a few miles away! She called the police again and they again gave her the run-around until she said she was going to meet them anyway and would be "armed." The detective got on the line immediately and they all went together to arrest the crook.

3 upvotes
Renard DellaFave
By Renard DellaFave (Dec 30, 2011)

One Hour Photo: "Snapshot was originally a hunting term". (shiver)

0 upvotes
Aristoc
By Aristoc (Dec 30, 2011)

I do a lot of nude photography. The last thing I would want is for my spouse to enter my cameras serial number and then look up all the nudes I have shot. Also, when I sell my cameras, I wouldn't want the new owner to do a "check" on my history either.
I think that there are serious violations of privacy laws going on with this.
On the plus side, police wold be able to track pedophiles this way or even people who take pictures of their crimes such as sex crimes. Good way to collect evidence.

Also, I remember people posting or sharing their serial numbers right here on dpreview and on craigslist and kjiji to potential buyers. Maybe it's a great loss to anonymity when someone enters that serial number and finds out what you and your family look like and where you live? Who knows?

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 9 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
xilvar
By xilvar (Dec 30, 2011)

Uh. if you're pushing image files out there publicly which you don't want linked to you. You should have made sure you weren't pushing out that data. You put it out there by your own action. No violation of privacy. Just darwinism.

1 upvote
indeedfox
By indeedfox (Jan 11, 2012)

There's a lot of varied opinion flying around here.

There will always be better ways of doing things and manufacturers should always listen to this kind of thread but at the end of the day, ANYTHING that helps a little has to be better than nothing.

10 bucks is nothing and the other link is for free. Use them and if they work then great. Don't try them and I can say 100% that you won't even have the benifits no matter how limited.

I do agree with the privacy issues a little.

Interesting stuff.

0 upvotes
fus
By fus (Dec 30, 2011)

Great news all around :)

0 upvotes
Total comments: 77