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Sony Modifies See-Through Camera

August 13, 1998

BOSTON (AP) _ Oops. Turns out Sony’s Handycam video camera works even better than those X-ray vision glasses they used to advertise in the back of comic books.

The camera _ with the aid of a cheap filter _ can see through people’s clothing.

Don’t put in on your holiday gift list, though. Sony Corp. announced Wednesday it has stripped the special feature off new versions of the camera. Old versions that remained in stores were being snapped up by shoppers as word of their power spread.

``I’ve sold half a dozen this morning alone. One guy came in and bought two of them,″ said Steve White, general manager of Cameras Inc. in Arlington.

The electronics giant found out about its product’s voyeuristic potential from an article in Takarajima, a popular Japanese men’s magazine.

``We never imagined such a use would be possible,″ said Hiroaki Komatsu, a spokesman for Tokyo-based Sony. The cameras’ infrared technology was intended for taking pictures of nocturnal animals or birds, he said.

The magazine reported that a filter costing less than $7 enables Handycam users to see the underwear of lightly dressed people or look beneath swimsuits when the camera’s ``night shot″ mode is activated.

The article was accompanied by a dozen photos it said were taken with the camera using different colors of clothing, wet and dry, on women models. It was not like looking at a nude; it was more like viewing someone through a thin curtain.

``If they think they’re going to be voyeurs and see through clothing, it’s a complete waste of money,″ said Steve Uhrig, president of SWS Security, a Maryland company that manufactures surveillance systems for government agencies.

``Under precise lighting and shadow conditions, you would get the illusion you’re seeing something. All it’s going to show you is that there’s something dense behind there.″

Sony has sold 1 million Handycams with the infrared mode worldwide, including 180,000 in Japan, 400,000 in North America and 290,000 in Europe. Prices range from $600 to $1,500.

Cameras Inc. placed an ad for the infrared-equipped Handycams in Thursday’s Boston Globe, which also ran a story on plans to revise the camera with see-through power. The store began fielding inquiries about the cameras just after it opened at 8 a.m. By noon, it had received around 30 calls _ all except one from men.

``One female called and put one on hold. She said it was for her husband,″ White said.

Bob Moisan, general manager of Newtonville Camera and Video in Newton, said he tried every filter in the store, and he still had to ``stretch my imagination″ to see what was underneath. Still, he said, he hasn’t aimed the camera at anyone in a bathing suit.

``This weekend I’ll take it out to Lake Winnipesaukee and try it out,″ Moisan said. ``My wife will kill me, but that’s all right.″

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