The Mamiya Watcher A is a 35mm Film Surveillance Camera Built Into a Clock

The Mamiya Watcher A is a 35mm Film Surveillance Camera Built Into a Clock

2000 1125 James Tocchio

Earlier this month a thief broke into my home office and stole some of my most valued goods. There was no sign of forced entry. No damage. The stuff was simply gone. As I sat in stunned silence and replayed the previous days in my mind searching for any detail that might lead to a clue, I realized that the theft may not have been an isolated incident. Over the past three years, similar goods have habitually gone missing from my office on a regular basis – I’d just not noticed. I was the victim of a repeat burglar, and I vowed to end the cycle.

While these heinous crimes may not be of interest to the readers of this site, the method which I employed to identify the thief should be.

The camera that I used to catch the thief is a surveillance camera that I’ve owned for many years. But it’s not just any surveillance camera. The Mamiya Watcher A is a computer-automated point-and-shoot 35mm film camera weirdly disguised as an ugly clock.

With the help of the Mamiya Watcher A, I was able to identify the thief in a matter of days. The authorities have her in custody and we’re pressing charges.

Let’s start at the beginning, by cataloguing what was stolen. The thief was greedy. She took a whole box of Cheez-it salted cheese crackers, a couple of Ghirardelli chocolate squares, and a pack of Sour Patch Kids gummy snacks.

See, despite being generally healthy and exercising regularly, for better or worse I’m a guy who likes his snacks. And no matter where I stash them in my office they always seem to get stolen. Up until the Mamiya Watcher, I’d had no idea who was taking them, or when, or how. But now I have the answers.

What is the Mamiya Watcher A

The Mamiya Watcher A is a clock with built-in circuitry to activate a hidden camera within. Through use of a radio remote shutter trigger, we’re able to shoot photos from what externally appears to be nothing more than a decorative timepiece. Setting the dials inside the clock allows us to control how many exposures are made in succession, and the interval of time between these exposures. By setting these settings and using the remote shutter trigger it would be possible, for example, to press the remote control button just before a business associate enters the room and then have a 35mm film multi-frame record of the events that happened in the room over a set span of time.

The camera inside the clock is a Ricoh LX-33sW point and shoot, which was first released in 1993 (dating the Watcher more accurately than any other method I’ve found – the Watcher is a pretty rare object and not much information is available on it). This water resistant Ricoh point and shoot has a 34mm lens and a fixed focus point and a single exposure setting (1/50th of a second) when the flash is turned off, which it always is in the Mamiya Watcher A. The camera does not offer auto-focus or auto-exposure and film above 400 ISO must be used (the higher the better, in fact, since the covering which disguises the camera and lens is tinted quite dark).

The camera runs on two AA batteries and the clock and its circuitry runs on six C batteries. The remote also runs on a small battery. Yeah, there’s a lot of batteries.

And that’s really all there is to it. You simply load the camera, the clock starts running, and then when you’re ready to shoot your film you press the radio controlled shutter release and… I guess, act natural?

The longest possible interval between shots is 15 seconds, so using a 36 exposure roll of film it’s only possible that the Mamiya Watcher will capture a span of about nine minutes. I’m not sure how useful this would be.

The clock itself is, aesthetically, what’s the word… hideous. A giant gold clock face with terribly gaudy face hands, a confused jumble of colorful shapes on a black plastic body. It’s pretty ugly.

How I Caught the Thief

I knew that the thief was a repeat burglar, and that they’d taken my snacks on a nearly weekly basis for the prior three years, so the method by which I baited the trap was simple.

I poured succulent gummy bears into a bowl perfectly sized for stealing, and laid this glimmering bowl of gelatinous rainbow sugar in the most conspicuous spot that I could find in my office. I then placed the Mamiya Watcher A on a small table opposite the bowl of candy and loaded it with JCH Street Pan 400 film (this is, after all, a surveillance film).

After that, all I had to do was wait.

A day later the gummy bears were gone. The bowl, too, was gone. And as was the case in every previous robbery, there was no clue left behind as to where they went or who had taken them.

I rushed to the Mamiya Watcher and opened the back. The film had been exposed! I pulled the film from the back of the camera and rushed to develop the roll right there in my home office. A dozen minutes later I had my evidence, and my answers.

Alright, listen. I’m having a little fun with this, if you couldn’t tell. The conceit of this article is that someone’s been stealing my stuff and the Watcher helped me solve the crime. But what’s really happened is that I needed an appropriate scenario in which to use the Watcher so that I could write about it in this article, and since my two daughters constantly steal the many snacks which I keep hidden for myself in my office, I figured that this would be a good imaginary crime to solve. One Amazon-purchased burglar mask later and we had our themed photo shoot shot.

I sat there with the Watcher, pressing the shutter release on the radio remote while I directed my daughter frame by frame so that we could get some funny photos. The funniest flourish, I think, being the burglar mask that she pulls out of nowhere. I had fun, she had fun, we both ate some gummy bears and I think I’ve gotten a fun article out of it.

But could the Mamiya Watcher A truly solve an actual crime? I doubt it. You’d need to know when the crime is to happen and you’d need to fire the shutter yourself with the remote, which means you’d have to be in the room when the crime is occurring. Besides, the noise that the camera inside the Watcher makes is so raucous that it would pretty obviously give up the jig.

I suppose there could be other uses for the Watcher, but I’m not sure I want to entertain them. There’s just a lot about the Watcher that rubs me the wrong way. The manual even makes sure to mention that “This product should not be used to intrude upon people’s right to privacy.” I agree, myself, but I suspect that whoever bought this product in its own time didn’t share the qualms of whoever wrote the thing’s manual. This clock/camera is just kind of creepy.

Still, the Watcher A is a funny and interesting bit of film photography history, and I had fun using it to solve a fake crime.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio