Jimmie’s uglified camera

Craft & Design Photography & Video
Jimmie’s uglified camera

[Photo from Connors934 on Flickr]

The other night I noticed Jimmie’s camera amidst the rubble of a circuit bending melee. It stood out for how intentionally ugly it was. 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.

It reminded me of Rick Polito’s article in MAKE, Volume 11 U-G-L-Y Your Bike. Mostly, I just try to keep my camera low key and dislike carrying a dedicated camera bag, what do you do?

Jimmie has posted some additional information on his blog:

Back in 2005 I went to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to do some volunteer
work. Within the first week my camera was stolen. Being that I was
volunteering in some of the communities there, I spoke with some
people about it. They said that all digital cameras are worth money,
but none of the film cameras are unless it’s an SLR.

One of the other volunteers had this model of camera, and I thought
that with the LCD closed, it almost looked like a film camera. So I
bought one in the US, had it shipped over, and then I covered it in
tape and sharpie marker.

62 thoughts on “Jimmie’s uglified camera

  1. Anonymous says:

    a trip overseas? So there are no thefts in the U.S.? Have you seen Taken too much?

    1. Thinking says:


      Try actually thinking for a second. Most people, especially guys, don’t carry their cameras around everywhere in the US, not if they live there. His camera is more vulnerable overseas because it will always be out on his person.

      I think this idea is really clever, although, honestly, I wouldn’t do it. I like my camera pretty :). I just keep a close eye on my belongings and use common sense.

    2. AndyL says:

      I don’t think it’s about theft rates being higher in other countries, It’s about thieves targeting tourists.

      When I’m in my home town I blend right in, and I’m probably not carrying my camera anyway.

  2. Anonymous says:

    What a waste of time and effort. I suppose since the camera wasn’t stolen while he was overseas, this must mean that his BRILLIANT CAMERA HACK worked, right? I wear a tinfoil hat to prevent people from zapping me with mind rays. I haven’t been zapped yet, which means my BRILLIANT TINFOIL HAT must be working!

  3. sab says:

    i just shoot film, i get the side effect of better looking pictures while i’m at it

    1. AndyL says:

      Look! It’s a post from 1995!

      (Other possibility presented in the interests of fairness : Sab has a very expensive high quality and/or large format camera and can’t afford to upgrade to the ludicrously expensive digital counterpart.)

      1. The Oracle says:

        Look, a post from an ignorant fool who thinks he knows what he’s talking about and displays his ignorance like peacock feathers.

        Personally, I use a digital camera kit in the $4-5000 range (Nikon D700, SB-800, a couple of good lenses). And I’ve used the D3x which is worth more than double what mine is. I shoot about 50,000 pictures a year (99.9% digital) and I do earn money with my photography. So I do know something about digital photography.

        A proper film camera loaded with a good film (try Fuji Velvia), will blow any digital camera on the market out of the water. The dynamic range of digital sensors is still pretty awful, even cheap Kodakcolor film wins there. And the vibrance and color fidelity of Velvia makes any digital look flat and off-key.

        Now when you compare your cheap little toy with a sensor smaller than my little finger nail and a dinky plastic magnifying glass lens to anything and think you know about image quality, you sound like a fool.

        1. Andy L says:

          I’ll concede the point to a pro such as yourself. I particularly retract my parenthetical.

          However, consider that we’re talking about a <$100 camera here. Wouldn’t the optics be much more of a limiting factor than the chip or film?

          I’m not sure that the sort of high end camera with expensive lenses that you’re talking about would be immune to theft just because it’s film.

          Also, (And I’m not nitpicking, I’m actually asking.) when you refer to superior color range, are you referring only to film developed and printed interactively by humans? Or to slides? I ask, because, if I had a roll of film to develop, I’m not even sure where I’d take it if I wanted to see “vibrance and color” that “makes any digital look flat and off-key”.


  4. Firebert says:

    I decorated my digital camera with a few pieces of duct tape, mostly for my own amusement. Shortly thereafter, our house was burglarized, and despite the camera being out in the open, it was left alone. It’s a concept that really does seem to work.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Xenophobic camera mod. Just what the world needs more of.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I just can’t get over how many pots this guy has!

  7. s says:

    a hefty low viscous oil in some kind of trap might help add some more ++ to the mod. I’d recommend, like ‘gear’ oil, 40 weight or whatever, it reeks. Rig up some kind of scent pod and add to the lanyard. I don’t know. Just spitballing.

  8. Tim says:

    That’s pretty damn paranoid.

  9. Anonymous says:

    This looks like a great idea, I live in the UK and was planning a trip “abroad” to the US. With the high crime rates there I just don’t feel safe carrying around the camera i got free in a packet of wheati-os

    Seriously. The rest of the world has significantly lower crime rates than many US locations. Chill out man, unless you are going to columbia or the place where all those pirates are hiding. Then they still won’t steal your camera, everyones rocking iPhones

    1. ben-o-gistics says:

      I’m no jetsetter, but I’d imagine that changing the aesthetics of a 6.0 mp snapshot camera that runs on AA’s isn’t worth the effort. You’re probably better off keeping *yourself* from looking like a target to avoid thievery.

      If your camera is worth being mugged for in your home town, then I’d suggest crap-o-fying it a little bit. Probably a bit of black gaffers’ tape over the logos is even enough.

    2. Jargon says:

      It’s “Colombia,” you clueless imperialist.

  10. Graham Plumb says:

    I tried the same thing myself about 10 years ago on a three month trip through Central America, interviewing tourists and travelers about why they travel and what their expectations were. These cameras were much rarer then, so much more of a steal-able commodity.

    Taping up my first generation, highly portable Sony portable DV camera with black duct tape and then sanding it a little made the camera less obtrusive, helping to make interviewees less nervous in front of this previously hi-tech looking hardware. I also found I could shoot street scenes discreetly, so people acted themselves rather than freezing or looking into he lens. Of course, I still used this semi-invisible camera ethically, only filming people going about their daily business.

    For a final paranoid touch, I added an easily detachable wrist-strap and would chain it too my bed in a small tin when staying in a dorm or cheap hotel. The camera and films made it back home, although the camera itself finally gave up the ghost a few months after it’s warranty. How do they do that?

  11. AndyL says:

    I’m not sure I ever go anywhere with crime rates high enough that I’d worry about my (relatively cheap) camera, but I still kind of like the effect.

    What kind of tape is that? Is it just masking tape stained with something?

    I don’t know about your technique of using the viewfinder. In my experience all these low to mid range cameras have really crumby viewfinders.

  12. Carl says:

    Haha to you guys complaining this is xenophobic. I just got back from South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Guess what: YES, there are many places in the world where they will steal your camera! Fools. However, I doubt even this mod would stop someone if they really wanted it.

    And don’t bother checking anything electronic into checked luggage. I had an old unlocked cell phone in my luggage. It was kind of hidden in a small compartment invisible to the naked eye. It was plainly obvious they saw it on XRay and targeted this one area of the bag.

    We met up with friends in Mozambique who had actually just been mugged of their SLR before we arrived.

    BTW, Johannesburg is notorious for thefts from checked luggage so beware if you’re heading there…

  13. Mike says:

    “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”

    Why not just use the eye piece and actually set up the shot that way? Maybe I’m missing something, but this camera clearly has an eye piece.

  14. Jimmie Rodgers says:

    Since this is being passed around online, I wrote up a quick blog post about it. You can check that out here: http://blog.jimmieprodgers.com/2009/05/my-ugly-camera.html

    I’ll be glad to answer any questions.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I’ve gotta agree with everyone else. While it’s pretty well done (other than that lens, a dead giveaway), the camera isn’t exactly high-end or irreplaceable with 10MP cameras running under $100 now. Seems common sense and not being an easy target would be just as good.

  16. Bhima says:

    It does happen and it’s not xenophobic to prepare or defend against it. Typically I try to do similar things to my camera equipment and it’s worked well for me traveling across South East Asia, Africa, and The United States.

    Last year I had a camera bag stolen in Peru, this turned out to be a 15,000 Euro loss for me. Unfortunately my old bag would not hold all the equipment I wanted to bring so I bought a new bag at the last minute.

    I would also add that I find it useful add strips of adhesive friction aid. It makes any sort of equipment much easier to hold and much less likely to be dropped.

  17. Steve the IT Guy says:

    Ah, Carl beat me to the punch. I just want to add that where I’m living right now (urban China), if it’s shiny and not secured or hidden, it will be stolen.

    Foreigners are an easy target, standing out so much and of course every Chinese “knows” they’re all rich. The pickpockets are equal opportunity thieves though-they’ll just as readily steal from other Chinese.

    Although not new, the camouflage is a great idea nonetheless and an added plus is I have the same type of camera and will be copying his technique.

    1. Chris Connors says:

      Thanks for a great discussion everybody!
      When I saw the camera on the table, it was in the same spot as in the photo. I remarked on how unspeakably ugly it was and asked for the story. Jimmie said that he had done it while travelling in Brazil. We talked briefly about it, not in great detail. He has a more in-depth description on his site: http://blog.jimmieprodgers.com/2009/05/my-ugly-camera.html.

      Rather than single out a particular country for a problem that I believe is widespread, I omitted the name of the country he was traveling to. Based on the date of some of the photos he took with it, I think the camera is about four years old. That would place this camera as a very nice one for the day. By today’s standards, it’s a cheapie.

      Having a pocket camera is totally essential. These photos illustrate why you should always have a camera with you. Back in the car, I had my nice camera with video and high resolution. When I got out to bring some stuff to Jimmie and the folks at Noise Night, I didn’t bother to grab my bag. As we were talking, I was regretting not having the better camera, because I wanted to take some photos and do a quick interview about their projects. On my phone is a reasonably high res 3mp camera, so that serves as my pocket camera these days. I took these couple of photos and left it at that. Without the pocket camera, this would have been an interesting interaction late one night.

      Any time you have a difference in income between people, stuff can be a liability to having a genuine connection. Often, if you have shiny expensive stuff, people will focus on that, rather in the more important things that people can join together on. When your stuff is too nice, it becomes a liability, and distracts you from being present in the place you are in. It is better to have good quality stuff that blends in rather than shiny perfect stuff. A beautiful camera that takes nice quality pictures may end up in the hands of somebody else, along with the camera card holding your photos. I have lost a bag or two in my day, and have had to go without a phone in Africa because of a heisted cellphone. Other family members have lost cameras and more. These things happen when you are off your base, whether that is in the same state or across the world.

      Hopefully you find the idea useful. If you do something similar, share it with us.

  18. Anonymous says:

    as a traveling professional photographer, I don’t have the luxury of carrying a small camera taped up to look like a Piece O’ SSh-crap….but I promise you, no thief would get more than a few steps from me with my bag. its worth more than a car, and I watch it like it has my child in it.
    Being aware and alert does way more than destroying the finish of your piece…..just keep your eyes open and your thinking cap on….no matter what country you’re in.

  19. Kif says:

    It seems everyone has forgotten one aspect. It’s not just the theft of the camera, but the theft of the images. This would be a huge disruption if shooting for work, but also imagine perhaps taking the holiday of a lifetime, at great expense and having nothing to show for it when you return.

  20. NickH says:

    Having lost a nice film SLR along with every role of film from a 30 day trip to Tecolutla Mexico 7 years ago, I love this idea. I just returned from a week long trip to Bucerias Mexico and modified an old military messenger bag to hold my SLR, flash, 2 lenses and misc small stuff and didn’t have a problem. I also watched it like a hawk after my last experience which i’m sure helped as well.

  21. DuckPuppy says:

    Just leave the screen folded (which makes it look MORE like a film camera) and gain the benefit of the extra steadying that using the eyepiece gives you…

  22. artdm says:

    Thanx for good idea, really brilliant solution for anti-theft system for your digital camera. But it will be useful not only poor areas of Rio…

  23. John Trester says:

    Cool. I have done the same type of thing to my bicycles, even though they are costly custom bikes, they are left alone for the most part.

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