Fact Check

Sony Recalled Camcorders That Could See Through Clothing?

Social media users claimed the camcorders were immediately recalled after the unintended feature was discovered by users.

Published April 27, 2024

 (Reddit u/READlbetweenl)
Image courtesy of Reddit u/READlbetweenl
In 1998, Sony released a camcorder that could "see through people's clothes," then immediately recalled the 700,000 devices allegedly sold.
What's True

It's true that in 1998, Sony released a camcorder with infrared night vision capabilies. Under certain circumstances, it appeared to be able to "see through clothing" — in the sense that the camera could detect the silhouette of a person's body underneath their clothing. Sony halted shipment of the cameras to modify the feature.

What's False

However, there is no evidence that Sony recalled hundreds of thousands of the camcorders because of this or announced that they were doing so.

For a long time, there has been an online rumor that Sony launched a camcorder in 1998 that could see through clothing. One viral 2020 Reddit post claimed that "in 1998, Sony released a camcorder with night vision so powerful it could see through people's clothes. Sony immediately issued a recall." The post linked to a 2016 article published by Fossybytes titled, "When Sony Accidentally Launched Camcorders That Could 'See Through' People's Clothes."

Another Reddit post claimed, "Sony has modified its NightShot camera, but didn't recall camcorders that were already on shelves," while an X (formerly Twitter) post said, "In 1998, Sony's camcorders could see through clothes due to an infrared feature meant for night vision. This led to a massive recall, marking a significant event in tech history."

Social media users shared the same rumor on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok, with one November 2023 post reaching more than 1.3 million views. 

It's true that Sony released its "NightShot" camcorder, which, under certain circumstances (for instance, if the subjects wore very thin fabrics), and with a special filter, could detect and display the outlines of some people's bodies underneath their clothes. However, we found no evidence to confirm the claim that 700,000 of the camcorders were immediately recalled after the unintended feature was discovered by users. Instead, Sony announced it had halted shipment of remaining unsold devices until modifications could be made. 

We found several news articles from 1998 on the topic. For instance, in August 1998, The Washington Post published an article titled "UNDRESSED IN A FLASH? CAMERA MAY TAKE REVEALING PORTRAITS." It informed that Sony halted shipment of its Handycam video cameras until modifications were made:

This month, the Japanese electronics giant halted shipment of its Handycam video cameras until modifications are made, after a Japanese magazine revealed that the cameras' infrared "Nightshot" feature, intended to capture nighttime images such as sleeping babies and nocturnal animals, may have an unintended bonus under certain conditions during daylight hours: the ability to see through clothing. The modified models will not allow use of the function in daylight, but many original versions are still on the shelves at local stores.

"Under precise conditions, you'll think you'll see something but you won't," Steve Uhrig, president of SWS Security, a Maryland company that manufactures surveillance systems for government agencies, said in an interview with the Post, adding that "infrared rays can penetrate through lightly woven clothing and reflect back, but not in real detail. You'll see something big and dense on the other side of the clothing. It's the same illusion as X-ray specs." The article continued (emphasis ours):

Sony first discovered its product's potential when Takarajima, a popular Japanese men's magazine, reported in July that the camera, in conjunction with an inexpensive filter and specific circumstances -- such as a subject with tight, light clothing -- enables viewers to see underwear or peek under swimsuits when the Nightshot feature is activated.

Sony officials cautiously acknowledge that there may be some truth to that. "Engineers in Japan tried to replicate what was done in the news story," said Sony spokesperson Dulcie Neiman. "In some very special circumstances -- depending on the daylight, the type of clothing, the texture, the color, the thickness, how much clothing is worn, the distance of the person to the camera -- that reported capability could be replicated."

The New York Times published an article on the rumor in December 1998 in which it claimed that it "had only the tiniest grain of truth: in skilled hands, during the day, under just the right conditions, with just the right (gauzy) fabrics, it might be possible to produce an image of a body beneath. The camera could not, of course, see through clothes, and there was no recall":

Sony was only slightly embarrassed; what the company had in mind with the No Lux feature, its news release said, was ''to record nighttime activities, such as a new baby sleeping.'' Though 400,000 units had been sold, Sony modified the infrared transmitters on new cameras to remove even the remotest possibility of intrusive videotaping.

A CNN Money article from August 1998 with the title "Sony's naked cam scam?" explained that the claim about the camcorder's ability to "be used for filming more of their subjects than meets the eye" seemed to be "based more on titillation than substance." It underscored that Sony said the camera's night vision was offered for the purpose of photographing wildlife at night and other nocturnal scenes. It also said Sony confirmed that "with a special lens, and very particular circumstances, its NightShot cameras appear to see through clothing":

In bright sunlight, with that "special" lens, the infrared camera didn't reveal anything the naked eye couldn't see.

"It was nothing," said Steve McFradden, a B&H sales associate. "It was intended to see in the dark, not see through clothes."

CNN also reported that "Sony has modified its NightShot camera, but has no plans to recall the roughly 400,000 units already shipped to the U.S":

Those 400,000 are the subject of increasing interest. "I have spoken to a whole bunch of people and they didn't buy the camera for that reason," McFadden said. "But they asked a lot of questions and were very curious about it."

We found a video published by The Associated Press titled "JAPAN: SONY VIDEO CAMERA TURNS OUT TO HAVE X-RAY VISION." Its description stated that "the camera - with the aid of an inexpensive filter - can see through people's clothing," adding that Sony says it has stripped the special feature off new versions of the camera. The article informed that Sony found out about its product's potential from an article in Takarajima, Japan's biggest selling men's magazine:

The magazine reported that a filter costing less than seven U-S dollars enables Handycam users to look beneath certain kinds of clothing during the daytime 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 colours of clothing, wet and dry, on women models.

Sony had no plans to recall camcorders, spokeswoman Dolcy Nyman said in an interview with Wired. "Any television station has the equipment that can duplicate this effect, as does anyone who has a professional camcorder," Randall Herron, a photography equipment salesman who specialized in surveillance and infrared video equipment, told Wired. "Any sheer blouse or clothing, if you hit it with enough light, you're gonna get a silhouette of what's underneath; and that's essentially all you get with these Sony camcorders." The article reported that Sony said it altered the NightShot feature so it couldn't be turned on when ambient light levels are high enough to make the feature unnecessary. "The new cameras will only show a blank white screen when NightShot is enabled in daylight," it reported.

Phil Petescia, who worked as marketing manager at Sony for Handycam in 1998, reached out to us via email and confirmed that Sony did not recall the cameras:

We did not recall the cameras. They could record through thin black clothing if the person was wearing white underwear (or had very light skin) under certain settings enhanced by an additional lens. I went to Macy's in Paramus and bought every black bathing suit they had and we tested it.

We halted shipments while a rework was done, preventing that setting. However, we stopped a TV commercial we had recorded (still floating around on the internet) of someone sneaking up in the dark of a cat and dog amorously embracing. We felt it was a bit too risky. Breck Eisner, Michael's son, directed that commercial.

In February 2024 we investigated a similar claim of whether full-body imaging machines used by the Transportation Security Administration show a person's private parts whenever they walk through a scanner.


AP. https://newsroom.ap.org/editorial-photos-videos/detail?itemid=ad99e1a3930185817a1275d284408e3b&mediatype=video&source=youtube. Accessed 17 Apr. 2024.

Dapcevich, Madison. "Do TSA Full-Body Scans Show ... Everything?" Snopes, 1 Feb. 2024, https://www.snopes.com//fact-check/tsa-full-body-scans-private-parts/.

News, A. B. C. "Cameras Let Voyeurs See Through Clothes." ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=126782&page=1. Accessed 17 Apr. 2024.

Nickell, Joe Ashbrook. "See You, See Me." Wired. www.wired.com, https://www.wired.com/1998/08/see-you-see-me/. Accessed 17 Apr. 2024.

Patton, Phil. "PUBLIC EYE; Seeing in the Dark." The New York Times, 3 Dec. 1998. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/03/garden/public-eye-seeing-in-the-dark.html.

Sony's NightShot Is Put to the Test - Aug. 14, 1998. https://money.cnn.com/1998/08/14/technology/camera_pkg/. Accessed 17 Apr. 2024.

Tiwari, Aditya. "When Sony Accidentally Launched Camcorders That Could 'See Through' People's Clothes." Fossbytes, 28 Jan. 2016, https://fossbytes.com/sony-accidentally-launched-camcorders-see-peoples-clothes/.

"UNDRESSED IN A FLASH? CAMERA MAY TAKE REVEALING PORTRAITS." Washington Post, 2 Mar. 2024. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1998/08/15/undressed-in-a-flash-camera-may-take-revealing-portraits/540d587e-c68a-42b4-af73-1b4df6954d35/.

Aleksandra Wrona is a reporting fellow for Snopes, based in the Warsaw area.