I Found My Own Stolen Lens for Sale Online and There’s Nothing I Can Do

One night two years ago, someone stole $10,000 of my camera equipment. Just recently, I found one of my more iconic lenses — a pink Handevision 40mm f/0.85 Mark II — for sale online. The police are slow to respond, and eBay won’t help until law enforcement is involved.

My name is Nathan Cowlishaw, but my business and brand as a professional tour guide are Nathan Arizona, LLC and Talking Tree Photo. I’m a professional Southwestern Interpretive Tour Guide of 17 years, a landscape photographer, and an avid traveler of the American Desert Southwest. I run a small Instagram account where I post recent images of some of these travels.

On December 31st, 2019 — New Year’s Eve — I was just wrapping up a commercial tour I had conducted to Antelope Canyon, in Page, Arizona — which is one of the most popular photography destinations in Arizona on the Navajo Nation — when I went into the office to clock out for the evening and head home. As a creature of habit, I never leave my expensive gear in my vehicle and it was routine to take it into work.

That night though, for some strange reason I can’t explain and still regret, I left my camera gear in my Jeep Cherokee 4×4 on the front seat of the passenger side just long enough to clock out. In that short time frame, someone came along, smashed the window of my SUV, and stole $10,000 in camera equipment.

One lens that I lost that night was very close and dear to me. It was what I consider to be a deeply underrated Ibelux lens made by Kipon that sports a deep reddish-pink exterior: the Handevision 40mm f/0.85 Mark II.

I affectionally dubbed it the “Pink Lady.”

The very special lens was mine for only a few months before it was robbed. The reason I say it’s deeply underrated is that it is! It was one of my favorite fast lenses and is not meant to used during a bright sunny day because it will produce horrible results under those conditions. It is a specialty lens for only low-light photography and it is truly a unique experience. I have captured Southwestern Landscapes with several fast lenses with the f-stop ranges of f/0.95 through f/1.4 apertures and this lens was especially great because it gets even faster: f/0.85. Not only that, it had good sharpness wide open, in my opinion. The construction on it was perfectly immaculate but the color, pinkish-red, is not the shade I would have chosen but I was happy to have a copy of the Ibelux.

Below are some examples I captured of the Sonoran Desert around the Phoenix Metro Area, along with other places around the American Southwest with the Pink Lady:

I consider myself a non-conforming photographer, and I like to break the rules of photography and challenge notions of two-dimensional design. When photography dictates that I shoot landscapes photographs stopped way down for a wide depth of field, I like to do the exact opposite, like I did in this image captured with a vintage Porst 55mm f/1.2 in Pentax-K Mount:

This burglary took place just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and for weeks, even months, I scoured the internet searching for my stolen gear with no luck.

I had to find some sort of closure to move beyond feeling like a victim. I had to keep my chin up and do a complete reset. I decided to chalk the experience up as a major loss and decided to start completely over from scratch and began the journey of saving up to buy new gear. Even my community of supporters came together and chipped in, with the help of my brother, Toy Photographer, Joseph Cowlishaw (@JoeCow on Instagram), I was able to find a fresh start.

Here I am at the other end of this tunnel, at the end of the coronavirus pandemic, and just this week I decided to check eBay one last time. I searched for some of the vintage lenses that were stolen in my kit like the Yashica Yashinon 50mm f/1.4 in M42 Screw Mount. A lens came up in the result that looked like the one that was stolen in the burglary. The auction even had the same Fotodiox M42-Fujifilm X adaptor that I had purchased to use with the lens. This particular auction was being offered in a neighboring metro area of Las Vegas, Nevada. I contacted the seller asking for a serial number for the lens to see if I could match it up to the one that was stolen.

Immediately after that, I decided to look at the eBay seller’s online store. I went and checked out his other items and guess what popped up? The Pink Lady!

There have been very limited numbers of these pink/red versions of the Ibelux made by Kipon and to make matters even more obvious, I had painted the built-in lens hood of the “Pink Lady” so I could make it custom and very obviously my own.

Several years ago, PetaPixel ran a story on my custom pain jobs on camera lenses. I did a similar custom job to the Pink Lady and coated the lens hood with a black rock-chip resistant, instead of rubberized undercoating, and this specific expensive paint that was usually reserved for the metal rock bumpers on rock-climbing SUVs.

After seeing the photos, I knew right away, that this lens was mine because not only is the lens rare and unusual, how many of those who own one would paint such an expensive and limited edition Ibelux? That, and the serial numbers are identical between what is shown on the eBay page and the photos I have of it.

Left: My reference photo. Right: eBay listing.

At the time of this writing, I have yet to hear back from Tempe, Arizona Police, or eBay, for that matter. Tempe PD Dispatch informed me that it will take one to two days to get a follow-up from a police officer. eBay also stated that they will not take action on this auction or against the seller until they are contacted by a law enforcement agency through their specialized channel and system in the form of a subpoena. This is still the case after submitting my copy of the police report regarding this Felony Automotive Burglary. The seller is fully aware that they are selling a stolen camera lens because I got a response from them and informed them of the situation before this article was published.

I’m not giving up hope that I will get my Pink Lady and my other lenses back. It’s not every day a victim of theft can locate their stolen gear in the vast place known as cyberspace but it does give me a sense of closure. It’s bittersweet though, and feels like the wounds re-opening as well. It’s a weird feeling to try and move beyond. At the end of the day, I’m grateful for any challenging opportunity to grow and overcome adversity.

There’s also a hard lesson to be learned for you from my experience: under no circumstance should you ever leave expensive gear in a locked vehicle where it can be readily seen, no matter how safe you may assume it to be. Do not ever take that risk. Also, while you have an opportunity to do so, catalog all of your gear with a list of serial numbers just in case. Never have an attitude of “This will never happen to me” because it can, trust me on that!

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

About the author: Nathan Cowlishaw — who goes by Nathan Arizona — is a 39-year old professional networker, interpreter, and photographic artist living in Southern Arizona. He conducts tours around the American Southwest as a non-conforming tour guide and storyteller who is interested in fringe topics like the paranormal and UFOs, all of which, are a part of Southwestern pop culture and folklore. As a photographer, he likes to hunt for abandoned places with a lot of history.