What can you do if your camera’s been stolen?
Not much, to be honest. Apple’s iPhones and iPads might have built-in locate-me technology, but the same cannot be said of most cameras, even the expensive DSLR ones.
A website called Stolen Camera Finder might be able to help, though.
It makes use of the data that your camera saves inside every photo it takes.
Technically speaking it’s known as EXIF data, and it’s all the stuff your computer needs to know about how the image was taken. It’s an essential component of digital photography.
The EXIF data includes basic stuff like the date and time (so your computer can display images in chronological order), and more complicated stuff like technical specifics about the camera’s settings when you pressed the shutter release button.
And sometimes (but not always), EXIF data includes a unique serial number that precisely matches that image to that camera.
To use Stolen Camera Finder, you drag in an image you’ve taken with the camera. It looks at the EXIF data, extracts that unique camera identity, then looks for other photos on the internet that have the same number.
If you’re lucky, it finds matches, and might give you the lead you need to get your camera back – either in person, or by passing the information you’ve found on to the police.
The site is very clever but it can’t work miracles. Your camera needs to be on the supported cameras list, and the image you give it needs to be an unaltered original jpg file – which is a problem if you prefer to shoot in RAW format.
Also, EXIF data is a troublesome beast to handle. Different cameras handle it in different ways, and so do different photo editing applications, and different websites. Every time software touches a photo it may or may not amend, or sometimes completely remove, the EXIF data that came with it.
But with some luck and a favourable wind, Stolen Camera Finder might just be able to locate the needle of your missing camera from the haystack that is the entire internet. Which is quite a feat when you think about it.