Lifting the curse of the black spot from a Panasonic Lumix

The first two digital cameras I owned were different models of Canon IXUS. I loved them both, but when the zoom ring died on my 870 IS last year I upgraded to a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20 (ZS10). It took me a little while to get used to it (and if I’m honest I think Canons are still better in low light situations) but now I’m very happy with it, especially the brilliant 16x optical zoom. However, about two months ago I noticed two black spots would appear on the edge of my photos whenever I zoomed in:

Green roof with black spot

Cleaning the lens made no difference. When I researched the problem online I discovered the cause was a speck of dust that had found its way inside the camera and onto the sensor. (Apparently when the lens barrel extends after the camera is turned on a small amount of suction is generated, enough to pull tiny specks of debris inside.) I found a detailed video showing how to open up a Lumix in order to clean its sensor but I was in Estonia at the time I just couldn’t find a screwdriver small enough to undo the screws holding my camera together.

I could put up with the issue in the meantime because often the spot would be lost against the background of the image anyway, and when it stood out like a sore thumb I could retouch or crop it away. I kept an eye out for small screwdrivers as we travelled through Finland and Russia but didn’t have any luck there either.

Happily, the spot disappeared of its own accord about two weeks after it first appeared. (Maybe the suction was enough to eventually dislodge the dust.) I was delighted – problem solved!

But then, this week it came back. And it was WORSE.

Now I had three blotches, two smack bang in the middle of frame, one of which was present whether the camera was zoomed in or not:

Blotches

Luckily, by this time Alex and I were in Japan (I’m a bit behind on our travel posts!) and without even going out of our way we stumbled across a street of computer part shops in Kyoto, all of which were selling small screwdriver sets. We bought one and the next day I sat down to follow that video:

My model of camera is slightly different from the one shown  here but I was still able to get it apart and access the sensor. The trickiest part was unlatching the LCD screen, but once I did that I found I didn’t have to unhook the ribbon cables connecting it to the rest of the camera because I could just carefully put it to the right hand side.

Accessing the sensor unveiled SIX specs of dust:

Lumix TZ20 sensor with specks of dust

(You can see how the three in the middle match up with the spots on the text image above, the others were sitting out of frame.)

Removing them all was very satisfying.

I put the camera back together again and turned it with baited breath… it still worked! And the spots were gone! やった! Not ever having dabbled in electronics before I was really rather proud of myself.

Many thanks to Graham Houghton for posting his video tutorial explaining the fix, my Dad for tech support and advice via Skype mid-repair session, and Alex for putting up with me whinging about black blotches on our photos and dragging him in and out of shops literally half way around the world hunting down a size 0 Phillips head screwdriver. Due to the nature of the camera and the suction side effect of the barrel extending as it powers on there’s every chance more dust could end up on the sensor in the future, but now that I know how to fix it it shouldn’t be a problem.

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49 thoughts on “Lifting the curse of the black spot from a Panasonic Lumix

    • haha thanks! I was quite confident until I sat down to actually go through with it and thought, “Oh gosh, what if I actually break it?” But I guess then I would have needed to buy a new camera anyway so it was worth a try. And it paid off in the end!

  1. Good work! At what point in the process did you get stuck, or become unsure? (I assume that’s why you contacted your dad)

    • haha indeed! It was removing the LCD screen because I couldn’t figure out how to unlatch it. (It comes off very easily on the model in the video.) To be honest even though I did get it off in the end I’m not sure I did it properly, but Dad did help by suggesting where I needed to poke around. He’s been using Lumixes for a while now and he’s had to go through the same process on one of his cameras.

  2. Hi, thanks for the post! I’m battling a similar problem, but I can’t figure out how to open my TZ20 – what was your dad’s tip and how did you manage? I watched Graham Houghton’s excellent video and took out the 7 screws (3 bottom and 2 on each side), but the back panel won’t budge at all… Any ideas?

    • Hi Lan! After you take out the first 7 screws you’ll need to remove the two side pieces before the back panel can be lifted away. One of my side pieces actually popped off as soon as I took the screws out and the other came away quite easily, you might have to give yours a bit of encouragement. Then you can take the back panel off but the LCD won’t come with it like it does in Graham’s video – that was the bit where I got stuck (although it was much easier the second time I ended up having to do it!) To get the LCD screen off you have to play around with the silver bits at the top and bottom which are hooked onto parts that hold it in place. It might need a bit of patience, but keep at it and work gently and it should come off – when it does, remove it slowly so you don’t pull on any of the ribbon cables too hard.

      It’s difficult stuff to describe but I hope this helps a bit. It’s frustrating when you get stuck but very rewarding when you eventually succeed – good luck!

  3. Many thanks, worked like a charm. The trick I didn’t get was taking off the side panels first. Hope this helps other people too!

  4. Thank you SO much for posting. I noticed a huge black speck of something had appeared nearly smack-bang in the centre of my viewfinder last weekend and was afraid my only option was to replace my camera. May have to give this a try to see if I can sort it out before I need it again next Friday …. and worry about whther I need to replace it if I break it in the process. ;) :)

  5. I have tried to clean my Lumix ZS20 but got as far as exposing the CCD and discovered that the 3 screws holding it in place have been changed. They are not Philips like the rest but appear to be a hex head. Does anyone know what they are called so I can buy a screwdriver to fit? Thanks.

    • Hi Phil. I inherited a ZS20/TZ30 recently and it was suffering from the same problem, but as you’ve discovered, it’s a trickier beast to open. It seems that with each model Panasonic makes it more difficult to access the CCD sensor, which is a shame because being able to clean it appears to be an essential skill for Lumix owners!

      The star-like screws you found in your ZS20 are Torx head screws (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torx). You’ll need a T3 or T4 screwdriver (I can’t remember exactly which one but I know T5 is too big). You can buy sets of them at dx.com or other websites. Be careful when you do eventually undo them and remove that final panel because there are 3 springs underneath that will pop out (one for each screw).

      Unfortunately, even after I finally managed to get to my TZ30’s censor and clean it (and readjusted the censor frame/border which had slipped and was appearing in each photo) I discovered that some of the dirt was on the *other* side of the censor, and I wasn’t willing to open it up any further. Sick and tired of these issues I’ve ended up changing over to a Sony Cybershot DSCHX50V and I couldn’t be happier with it!

      Good luck to you either way!

      • Hi – I see you have bought a new camera, does that one have the great zoom in ability too and if so has it had the same problem of internal dust? My partners Lumix has done what yours did and now she’s looking for something else because it was the close up of flowers or the texture of a butterfly wing that she loved so much. Any suggestions? Thank you

      • Hi Sula. I haven’t had any problems with internal dust with my Sony Cybershot DSCHX50V and the zoom is superb (30x optical!). It’s an excellent camera, I think the colour is a lot better than the Lumix too. I’m very happy with it and I don’t miss the Lumix at all. There’s probably a newer model of the Sony Cybershot DSCHX50V available now but I’m not sure what the newer model number would be, you can probably find it with a bit of googling.

      • Oh darn. I *just* got to the torx screws on my ZS20. It would be annoying to go get the right tools but then only fix half the problem… But I’ll try.

        It’s a pity to toss a camera due to some dust, and I have already more than once :(

    • Hi Kashmira. How you treat your camera, how often you use it, whether you keep it in a case or not, etc will affect how often you find black spots appearing on your photos. I owned, traveled with and used my TZ20 extensively for 18 months and had to clean its CCD sensor twice. It does seem to be a common issue for Lumix cameras and I’ve since upgraded to a Sony Cybershot DSCHX50V which I’ve been really impressed with – so at this point if you’re considering the latest Lumix I would recommend getting the DSCHX50V instead!

  6. I found that just spraying around the lens with some compressed air does the trick, and you don’t have to take your camera apart. This article got me started on the right track to a solution though, so thanks for posting,

  7. I have a panasonic lumix DMC SZ1 which whenever i zoom shows 2 black spots which shows in the pictures two . But when i zoom out the black spots are gone please HELP !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hi Dipto. Sorry, for some reason I didn’t receive a notification about your comment so I missed it until now! I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that exact model but it sounds like the same issue described above: specs of dust on the CCD sensor. You could try following Graham’s video in my post, but you might find your camera has a slightly different construction. Alternatively, you could try Dan’s suggestion in the comments on this post about using a can of compressed air around the lens. I hope you managed to find a solution!

  8. Many thanks.I have the same symptoms and now feel brave enough to do it(70yr old).Nothing to loose anyway.will keep you posted.Cheers Colin Shorey

  9. Thanks so much for this. I replaced my lumix DCM TZ10 because of this problem, but didn’t do any research and assumed it was my fault. Now I have the same problem on my new lumix DCM-LF1 and am very annoyed with myself for not researching, as I wouldn’t have purchased a similar camera if I had known it was a common issue. Am just off to buy a screwdriver to practice on my old camera.

  10. Have just vacuumed the outside of the camera, with the lens extended, on my Lumix TZ20.

    It appears to have shifted a blob of lint right in the middle of the lens… and not caused other damage (that I have noticed so far).

    Will post again if it has, in fact, stuffed anything up.

    • Thanks for the hint Karen.Sadly vacuuming did not resolve the problem however will pass on the hint to others as first line of attack.Looks like the back will have to come off so to speak.Cheers Colin

      • Irritatingly had a speck of dust on Lumix TZ25 sensor for last month. Saw this post and a few minutes ago stuck end of vacuum cleaner tube over end of whole lens with camera turned off and speck has gone. Let’s hope it stays away. Thanks for all the hints! Cheers simon

  11. Graham, thanks for this great video with easy to follow procedure. Today I opened my camera to remove a speck of dust from the inside of the camera and onto the sensor. I noticed a white dust particles on the filter right away and removed it. What was really not so simple, was the handling of the tiny screws and the reconnection of a narrow ribbon cable. But otherwise the procedure was very simple to follow. Now, I can create again dust-free photos with my camera. Thank you!

  12. Thanks for all the comments, this has really helped. This is my second Lumix and I love it except for the annoying black spot which has just appeared on my pictures again. I have a warranty which hopefully means i can change it, but now not sure that I want to replace it with another Lumix. Any suggestions

    • Hi Jan, after getting black spots on two different Lumix models I abandoned them for a Sony Cybershot DSCHX50V. 30x optical zoom, great colour, never a problem with dust on the sensor. There’s probably a newer model available now. Good luck with your warranty!

  13. My camera a DMC-T220 developed a black fuzzy spot too. Not able/equiped to follow your instructions I came up with my own idea. – Switch on Camera, extend the lens, using with a vacumn cleaner suck out any dust. It has worked so far OK.

    • Thank you for the tip Pauline. I tried the compressed gas method and it seemed to add more debris, perhaps blowing debris around within the DMC-ZS10. Then I tried the vacuum cleaner method you describe and it cleared it up.

  14. I have just got back from Latitude Festival with the same problem with my Lumix DMC TZ20. A dark splodge on the screen but no mark on the lens. it was a very dry and dusty festival [ no rain-YAY!] I found your blog but i was too scared to take my camera apart. I got out my Henry Vacuum cleaner. Turned it on and shoved the nozzle in front of the camera lens. I turned the camera on and amazingly the splodge has gone ! Mended in 10 seconds. i am pretty chuffed with myself.

  15. Awesome video! Followed the steps for a similar camera DMC-ZS10. Once I got the case open steps were the same, but thankfully did not need to unplug the ribbon cables.

  16. Same problem as everyone else, dark spot. Before taking my camera apart, I tried the vacuum method – simply pushed the lens into the nozzle of my Shark vacuum and turned it on for a few seconds. It worked! At least I’m not seeing any dark spots right now. Tried against my white ceiling and the blue California sky – both look spotless! Hope it lasts… I like my DMC-ZS15 just fine, hope I won’t have to replace it now. Thanks!!!

  17. Your video is fantastic! I was worried I would completely screw up the camera, but you provided the sensible and safe way of getting the dust spots out without destroying the camera itself. Since my camera is out of warranty anyway, I figured I’d give it a try, and I am glad I did. My camera is now clean from the nasty dust particles it had accumulated inside. Thanks so much!!!

  18. I was all ready to try and find an English-speaking camera repair shop here in Shanghai (oh, the potential pain that would entail!) but found this, used the vacuum cleaner technique and my trusty old TZ8 is ready for tonight’s Muse concert. Thank you! :)

  19. I have a 19 and disassembled only to find back side of lens housing riveted in and could see no way to get apart. I reassembled and had 3 screws left over,disassembled again and could not see where they go.I then reassembled and remarkely camera works then went to close article on computer and saw comment about vacum,
    this seems to have fixed it. lets see how long camera works without these 3 screws.

  20. I have a Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 and this year, on the last day of a holiday a big black mark, just like everyone elses, appeared on the lense and all my photos. I decided to give up and upgrade as a treat and now have a Sony a6000 which I would thoroughly recommend. Anyway … as the Panasonic is a decent enough compact, and I didn’t really want to ditch it, I thought I’d try and fix it.

    I read every comment on this great thread and thought right, I’m up for this but realised I don’t have any mini-screwdrivers, am rubbish with technology and am pretty impatient.

    I decided to take a more technical route.

    I zoomed in fully to extend the lense. I then blew and blew and blew on every part of it. I then banged the camera on the kitchen table.

    Voila! Black spec gone!

  21. The vacuum cleaner trick worked for me! My Lumia DMC-ZS10 had lots of dust bunnies (and yes, I do carry this in my pocket when I travel). Not wanting to deal with taking the unit apart, a couple seconds of suction from my vacuum cleaner did the trick!

  22. Damn, I had thought after two Sony DMC-HX20V’s and 1 x DMC-HX30V this camera would be the answer to the dreaded black spots that always occur half way through a trip and somewhere your not going back to anytime soon. Eg Monument Valley. Long story short after a couple of successful fixes I’ve ended up with a box full of bits, as on two cameras the screens went blank after cleaning the sensor, and two of the wheel selector buttons popped off and won’t go back together. Anyone have a clue as to why the screens have gone blank. I can’t reset the cameras to default as it’s a screen selected option either.

  23. I’ve only owned Panasonic Lumix cameras for years and my DMC-SZ7 picked up the spots almost immediately. I’ve taken any number of Apple products apart successfully, I guess I can tackle this one. Those processes all require much patience.

  24. I have just tackled my Lumix DMC TZ35 with the Dyson and the blobs have gone. It’s amazing and I now no longer have to replace this one with another camera. This is my third Lumix and each time the blobs have developed after 2/3 years. Thank you so much.

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