Something bad happened a week or so ago. My brand new toy, a Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS8 point and shoot became all but unusable. A black spot had taken up residence in the inner parts of the camera and dominated every shot. Normally I am not one to worry about little imperfections as these can be easily rectified in Adobe Lightroom. I shoot an average of around five keepers a day and it takes me about three seconds to remove an imperfection. In other words if I have one sensor blemish I lose about 15 seconds a day and say, three only costs me 45 seconds. I can live with that. The monster in question though was no ordinary spec – on full resolution, 14 megapixels, it was an oval measuring around 190 x 120 pixels.
This left me with two bad choices either send it back to Panasonic or attempt a fix myself. I did some research into how Panasonic handled customer repairs and the results were not encouraging. They appeared to have a reputation for being slow and engaging in disputes about fault. Note that this conclusion is not scientific and I am fully aware that happy satisfied consumers are far less likely to post about their experiences than unhappy ones. Never the less confidence was not inspired. Anyway, after about four days of indecision I bit the bullet and went about voiding the camera’s guarantee and proceeded to potentially throwing a couple of hundred dollars down the toilet.
Don’t Sue Me
At this point it has to emphasized that any attempted repair on a camera, especially a point and shoot, will almost certainly void the warranty. Do not be in any doubt about this. In other words the risk is entirely yours – not mine and not the manufacturers but yours. Only attempt this if you can live with writing off the camera in question.
Now that we have that out of the way I have to say that this repair was a little easier than I expected but it was fiddly. The screws are very small! The required tools are simple, a small cross head screwdriver and a manual air blower. Do not use a can of compressed air for this task! I used a Giotto rocket which costs around $10 and is the same device that I use for blowing dust off my DSLR sensor filter. The screwdriver recommended is a size 00 crosshead but I found that a 0000 crosshead fit the screws. Best bet, if you do not possess the tool is to take the camera into the hardware store and find the screwdriver that fits. Mine cost around $3 from Menards. The other requirement is a relatively dust free and well lit area to work in.
It has to be said that I would not have attempted this project without some sort of a visual guide. I would never start pulling an electronic device of this sophistication apart without some sort of road map. Luckily this page came to the rescue. The author describes, with great clarity, a repair on the exact same camera with great clarity and, perhaps most importantly, images. The author is not performing a sensor clean but rather a lens repair but the stripping down process is identical.
This Youtube video shows a sensor being cleaned with great clarity. The model of camera in this case is different but the sensor assembly is identical.
I would read the article and watch the video before attempting this project and have them easily available while you are working. There is nothing that you are likely to come up against that isn’t covered.
Mentally insert the word carefully in great big letters before each of these directions!
Remove the three screws at the base of the camera that surround the tripod mount thread.
Remove the two screws visible on each side of the camera (four screws in total).
Remove the side plates
Remove the back cover very carefully so as not to damage the ribbon that attaches it to the main body
Remove three screws from outside of the chrome metal shield plate (not the inner ones).
Remove shield plate.
Remove three screws securing (back of) sensor plate (the ones that were visible through the metal shield plate).
Lift plate very carefully and fire several bursts of air.
Reverse the above to reassemble the camera.
These are based on the video and article referenced above:
I didn’t pull the sensor assembly as far back as in the video but I was only after removing one very large grain which I actually saw fly away.
The ribbon connecting the camera body to the camera back is much shorter than the one in the video.
I did manage to complete this task without having to disconnect a single ribbon cable One screw on the shield plate is tricky to get back in but it can be done. I hate disconnecting ribbon cables!
I didn’t have to force anything, one screw was slightly tight but overly so and none of the covers or plates required any force to be used.
Apparently dust is a known issue with this particular range of cameras. The dust is sucked in via the lens assembly when the camera is first switched on.
Bearing the above in mind I would advise against disconnecting the various ribbons if at all possible as this is a procedure that you will probably, be doing more than once. Based on previous experience with laptop computers, disconnecting and reconnecting a ribbon cable frequently will weaken the connector.