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:


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.