How to Prevent Camera Theft

How to Prevent Camera Theft

I have traveled to various countries and regions for nearly two decades. I’ve spent the last two years on the road. Nothing has ever happened to me…until now. You guessed right—My camera was stolen. This article is inspired by a true story. Any resemblance to actual persons is coincidental.

My camera was stolen by an experienced thief in a café in Buenos Aires. Straight from my backpack while I was working on my laptop. Startled by his audacity, I started chasing him, but it was too late. While this was an extreme case, I could still have my camera if I had strictly followed the rules I’ve used for years. What rules had protected me until now? What could I have done differently in Buenos Aires, and what lessons are there to be learned?

© Ondrej Čechvala

This article primarily focuses on my travel experiences. However, don’t let your guard down even at home and in everyday situations. Central Europe is one of the safest corners of the world, but thieves are found everywhere. I know countless stories of stolen cameras, phones, and other items. Always be cautious.

© Ondrej Čechvala

Walk the streets with caution

My basic rule when moving through a busy street is that I keep the camera in my hand and keep the strap wrapped tightly around my wrist. I never carry the camera around my neck or shoulder. An experienced thief can easily cut the strap or snatch the device from your body in a moment. Therefore, I always hold the camera firmly in my hand. The only exception is in places where I feel truly safe.

Create fascinating HDR images

Of course, if there are no photographic opportunities, it’s always better to leave your camera in your backpack. Remember, you attract attention with your camera in hand. With DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, your message may be, “Look how wealthy I am!” 

© Ondrej Čechvala

Do not be afraid to trust your instincts

You know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Under normal circumstances, it’s not good to make judgments based on how people look. And if traveling has taught me anything, it‘s this. I remember my first visit to a bustling Turkish bazaar. That was the first time I experienced the chaos that is characteristic of these areas. I was genuinely scared then.

Now, years later, I enjoy the chaos at markets and bazaars like in Asia. I don‘t feel any more danger in these markets than at Christmas markets in smaller European towns. Chaos and cultural differences are not measures of safety.

It took me years to develop these instincts. So, if you feel unsure about a place or someone seems suspicious, don‘t worry about whether it’s reality or just your prejudice. At that moment, the most important thing is that you keep your equipment safe. Over time, your instincts will become more refined.

© Ondrej Čechvala
© Ondrej Čechvala

Choosing the right camera

A lot depends on the country and type of terrain you are heading to. If cities are merely a transit point for you and you are primarily looking to explore nature, travel with quality lenses and a DSLR or mirrorless camera, as long as you don’t mind the extra weight. Your equipment will likely be safe in the great outdoors.

However, if you are heading to cities, especially more exotic ones, I would choose something more compact. After my camera was stolen in Argentina (at that time, I was using Sony A7III + Sony 24-105 mm f4), I switched to a Fuji x100V with a fixed 35mm f2 lens. This type of camera is inconspicuous. But there are many great compact choices on the market today.

My personal favorite is the Ricoh GR IIIx. It’s incredible that manufacturers managed to fit an APS-C size CMOS sensor into the tiny Ricoh. Of course, this comes with several compromises. If you have certain standards and don‘t want to compromise, I recommend a mirrorless camera with a small fixed lens for the busy streets of Africa, Asia, or South America.

Small dimensions are another important factor when preventing camera theft.

© Ondrej Čechvala

Do not forget about camera insurance

If you are carrying equipment worth hundreds or thousands of dollars in your backpack and you take a lot of pictures, I would definitely consider insuring your camera. It can save you a lot of money in the end and give you peace of mind while shooting. However, choose your insurance wisely and carefully read the terms.

Keep your camera in an unattractive plastic bag

This advice may sound strange. After all, there are plenty of special backpacks on the market with various features that help better secure your equipment. But that could be their problem. Sophisticated backpacks might even attract more attention. When I go out into the streets, I use my ten-year-old battered Deuter backpack. In it, I have my Sony mirrorless camera wrapped in a worn, unattractive plastic bag. Right now, I have my compact Fuji wrapped in an old T-shirt.

© Ondrej Čechvala
© Ondrej Čechvala

Take advantage of modern technology

Many tech companies offer devices to track your camera, such as Apple AirTags. You can get precise coordinates of your camera and pass this information on to the police. Of course, it depends on the country you are in. In many third-world countries, you might be surprised by the extreme inefficiency of the police.

Epilogue: What did I do wrong in Buenos Aires?

Let’s return to the story of my camera being stolen in Buenos Aires. What lessons did I learn? My mistake was that I got carried away by the relative safety of the city. Compared to other South American cities, Buenos Aires is relatively safe. It is generally known that the locals, Porteños (residents of Buenos Aires), are proud of their city’s safety. However, the situation is rapidly changing because the Argentine economy is deteriorating, but that is a different story.

The feeling of safety was also evoked by the modern café itself, where many other people were working. As a result, I did not have my backpack between my legs or against the wall but next to me, partially open. The thief must have been watching me beforehand because he knew exactly what he was doing and did not hesitate to reach for the ugly red plastic bag. Perhaps the biggest mistake was that I sat with my back to the café doors. I usually sit facing them and casually observe the people coming in.

As you can see, it is always good to consider a variety of factors to protect your camera from theft. It may be annoying at first, but can prevent theft especially if you travel frequently. Although I had my own rules in place, even that did not prevent a lapse of judgment.

© Ondrej Čechvala

Wishing you safe and successful travels, and above all, take care of yourselves.

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AuthorOndrej Cechvala

Photography is not only something I enjoy, but it also pays the bills. You’ll either run into me photographing a wedding or wandering the world, camera in hand. I travel everywhere, from the Arctic Circle to the Equator. To me, Home is anywhere where you can find people with a smile. I enjoy collecting stories of people and places which I later arrange into longer photographic series. Some of these can be found on my website.

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