Monday, January 23, 2012

Blinded by the Light

At the Los Angeles Auto Show a few years ago, I digitally photographed the backs of some show cars. Upon reviewing the photos, I noticed that one car's California license plate seemed to be overexposed. It was still legible, but the already highly reflective plate somehow seemed even brighter than usual. At the time, I attributed the phenomenon to a poor choice of metering modes. In retrospect, it was likely my first brush with Photo Blocker.

This clear spray is used to coat a license plate which, says the manufacturer, now reflects so much additional light back to a red light camera, the photo is overexposed. No photo, no ticket. 

Photo Blocker-coated plate.
On the Web site are several video testimonials, one of them by Denver-based, self-styled consumer reporter Tom Martino. This is the same guy mentioned by Jay Leno in a monologue last fall. "He took a $2 million salary and turned it into a $78 million debt," Leno deadpanned. "And now he's declaring bankruptcy."

Using a Denver Police Department photo radar unit manned by cops, Martino tested two license plate covers plus Photo Blocker.  Although neither plate cover was identified, I recognized one as the Original Protector. Its prismatic material is claimed to distort part of the plate, making it unreadable. The other was the Reflector Cover, a clear plastic cover sprinkled with reflective specs that, we are told, overexpose the photo, rendering the image unusable. All three products are sold by PhantomPlate, Inc., which supplied them to Martino.

According to Martino's test, the Original Protector cover failed to deceive the camera, but, he said, the Reflector Cover did overexpose the photo. And Photo Blocker was even more effective. His recommendation, " the spray."

Not long afterward, the video clip appeared on the Web site and every can of Photo Blocker now is emblazoned with the "test results" generated by Martino.

On its face, a very compelling testimonial, at least for the incurious. But when we tested the same products, our results were markedly different. Who's right? Check out the story and decide for yourself.