Exclusive: Lenstag Recovers Its First Item, Stolen Lens Returned to Happy Owner


Stolen gear registration and recovery service Lenstag reached a major milestone last week when they successfully recovered and returned a stolen lens to its rightful owner!

For those who have been following the Lenstag story from the beginning, you know what a big deal this is. It’s essentially proof of concept that registering your gear with the system and building up a database isn’t just a fool’s errand: it can actually help you recover gear you’ve had stolen from you.

Big fat case in point is Mr. Siyad Ma, who you see above being reunited with his precious Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.


The story goes something like this: On February 22nd, Siyad had his camera bag stolen out of his car while visiting USC in LA. Three days later, the thief sells the stolen lens to an aspiring young photographer by the name of Philip Martin, who spent nearly $1,000 on it.

A month later, Martin decided to run the lens through the Lenstag database and, lo and behold, finds out that this lens had been stolen! That’s when things get really ethical, because rather than holding on to the piece of glass, he selflessly gets in touch with Lenstag founder Trevor Sehrer and offers to give it back to the original owner FREE OF CHARGE.

Here’s a picture of Sehrer picking up the lens at the selfsame coffee shop where Martin unwitting bought the stolen lens from the Craigslist thief:


The lens finally made its way back to Siyad yesterday afternoon, making everybody’s day a bit better and reinvigorating our faith in humanity. That being said, Martin is almost a grand in cash lighter for his altruism, so if anybody knows of any second shooter or assistant gigs in LA, head over to his website and check him out… as Sehrer put it, he’s “possibly the most ethical person in the world right now.”

And if you’ve never used Lenstag or you don’t even know what it is, now might be the best time to learn more and sign up. It’s totally free, and who knows, you might end up benefitting from this if you ever have your gear stolen — it happened once, it can happen again… and hopefully again and again and a few hundred times more after that.

  • Sid Ceaser

    Excellent story. Siyad should reward Phillip in some fashion. As a thank you for being so honest.

  • wickerprints

    For those of you who buy lenses from other people, it might be a good idea to check the Lenstag database on a mobile device before you exchange money.

  • Thomas Lin

    Does anyone actually know him? Can we create a crowd-sourced site to raise him some $? Totally deserves it!

  • Eric Saffron

    I have all my gear registered in lenstag even though at the time I simply used it as a novelty for keeping an inventory of my gear. This is great news and puts more validity in the service!

  • Tyson Williams

    Great story, I am going to register my grear and download the app as well.

  • EPOC

    I am a bit confused… so LensTag neither insures nor finds and prosecutes. Instead it is a registry for purchase of goods? Or maybe is scanned by pawn shops??? I had a ton of gear stolen from my house and the police could care less (I used to be in the USA)… I am not sure how this helps if they do not care.

  • Josh Wahawa Ruchty

    I second that!

  • steve

    I kind of doubt it will help you get your gear back if its stolen, this fluke of a story notwithstanding, but hey, if you check out the serial on your mobile before buying something off a sketchy craigslister and it comes back as stolen you might be able to haggle a better price!

  • Mike

    Ah, so the police DID care somewhat!

  • Bob O’Shaughnessy

    It speaks volumes that the first one of these didn’t come out of the used photo equipment industry…

  • agour

    Plot twist: Martin was the thief and returned it after feeling guilty

  • Gly

    Agreed. This process doesn’t work without people like Phillip.

  • Stephen

    Martin is pretty good, too. Check out his website. I think his Rex Hill Winery series came out great.

  • jmco

    Check the serial # on Lenstag BEFORE you pay for used gear. Also, always meet in busy public place. Preferably with a security camera too.
    I register new and used gear the minute I own it. If I sell, I transfer to new owner.

  • Cynical Bloke

    Since I’m cynical I’ll be the first one – ethical or cheap advertising?

  • Carlin Scott

    I really can’t believe someone who actually earned that money would have returned the lens. Are his parents bankrolling his photography business?

  • Scott M.

    It is a sad thing you can’t believe someone would return a stolen item. Speaks volumes about your character. Once you know it is stolen, your conscience, if you have one, takes over and does the right thing. Mr. Martin sets a fine example.

  • Carlin Scott

    Did I say that I “can’t believe someone would return a stolen item”? No, I did not.

    Given this kid’s age he’s probably earning less than than 50k a year so this thief stole several weeks wages from him. Is it fair that the original owner gets his lens back and the unsuspecting buyer has had the value of the lens stolen from him? The conscience should be very conflicted by this situation.

  • Al Borrelli

    Great story and nice guy.
    However, no talk about anyone doing anything about the thief. I’m sure he at least has a phone number or way to contact the guy that wasn’t just through CL, and if it was ONLY through CL, he should have seen this coming. :/

  • Jason Wright

    I hate to sound cynical and jaded, but I was thinking exactly this…

  • Jason Wright

    He could have asked the seller if he had any other gear, arranged another meeting and had the cops on hand to arrest the guy red-handed with stolen goods.

    Something about this whole story just smells fishy to me.

  • Vin Weathermon

    I don’t ever want to talk to anyone again that buys used gear from me in a McDonald’s parking lot from my CL ad. Thieves would use prepaid cell phones….so no, this is completely plausible.

  • Syuaip

    please let me/us know the progress. i wish to chip in. thanks.

  • Guest

    I really want to believe this story…

  • VSB

    I really want to believe this story but something about it just doesn’t feel right. I hope I’m wrong.

  • bob

    If they could care less then perhaps the couldn’t care more?

  • Philip Martin

    Stephen, your comment is a pleasant break from the inevitable trolling / internet speculation… thank you for the compliment. :)

  • Tim Harrington

    Phil Martin is a friend of mine. Not just a Facebook friend. His action in this article is one of the many reasons why. A solid, upstanding guy.

  • Philip Martin

    Fortunately, you are wrong. Well, fortunately on a karmic scale.

  • Philip Martin

    Scott, thank you for the kind words and you are exactly right – it was a very easy decision for me to contact Lenstag. The financial loss is an acceptable risk in maintaining my integrity, and I have abundant faith that things will work out for the better. #karma

  • Philip Martin

    ^^^ this.
    In my case I didn’t even know about Lenstag until it was already too late. We need to educate our friends and photographic family.

    But then, what do you do in this situation? Do you tell the seller? What if he/she didn’t know? Do you buy it and give it back to its owner? Do you call the cops? (Hint – they probably don’t care)

    It’s an unenviable position to find oneself in.

  • Philip Martin


  • Wes Jones

    Obviously Mr. Martin’s conscience doesn’t have a price tag attached. His integrity remains intact and should be applauded.

  • Scott M.

    Thank you Phillip Martin for being a decent human being, even though it cost you $1000. It isn’t like finding a wallet and returning it, you actually lost money and still did the right thing. Your response above makes my day. Karma indeed.

  • Nathan

    Just curious… but is the other guy in the picture the Craigslist seller?

  • Catclaw25

    Are the police departments aware of this resource?

  • siyad

    Philip, I am glad there are so many good people on the internet that are willing to help. Folks like you and the donors are the real heroes.

  • Andrew

    Awesome! Just was forwarded here from a lenstag email. Great show for doing the right thing. nice photography, as well.

  • Richy

    You still need to take responsibility and insure your own gear. But having a database makes the resale of stolen gear less likely and increases the likelihood of the thief being caught. Phillip could have passed the details of the seller on. If it was something more controlled like eBay then they will have the police knocking on the door. Personally I think insurers should insist on registering equipment with lenstag to make sure it’s used. I know I check serial numbers before purchase now

  • Michael Blitch

    When buying anything of value, get the driver’s license info from the seller. If they all of a sudden become nervous, then you know it is stolen. I usually start by getting a few pics of a product with the person in the background, often saying I need to send it to the partner to approve. Then when sale is determined and I bring out the case, I also bring out a bill of sale and record the vehicle info and driver’s license information.

  • Dave

    another thing to consider is – did Mr. Siyad Ma have insurance and did they pay him for his loss. If they did the lens actually belongs to the insurance company.

  • Anonymoused

    I had my lenses and camera bag stolen in LA near that campus too, but it was a home invasion. Still waiting for somebody to search those serials and find out that they are stolen!

  • Tarugo King

    I sometimes buy and sell at Craiglist. No way in the world would I give my DL info to a buyer….ever. That’s just dumb!