Recently I was looking for a cheap pocket camera with a big zoom range to keep handy in my pocket for going to the dog beach with Gimli and other adventures. I happened to spot one of my candidate cameras, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8, in “Not Working” state on eBay. The camera problem was that it had the lens stuck open in the extended position. As a result, the camera was nonfunctional and the display showed the error message “System Error (Zoom)”.
A stuck lens is a very common problem with modern digital cameras with telescoping zoom mechanisms. Having acquired this broken camera, mainly as a personal repair challenge, I set upon trying to fix the apparently stuck lens. What I’ve documented here is probably quite applicable to these other very similar Panasonic models (DMC-ZS3, DMC-ZS7, DMC-TZ10, DMC-ZS10, DMC-ZS15, DMC-TZ20) and possibly other cameras from other manufacturers, especially those using similar Leica lenses.
I had a few key clues as to what the problem with this one was. Apart from the error message and the out-of-position lens, when I put my ear to the camera, I could faintly hear the zoom motor running when I switched the camera from playback to shooting mode, so I knew that the zoom system was getting power and the motor was at least somewhat functional. Use all your senses! None of the usual tricks of power cycling and pushing various buttons and rotating and holding the zoom lever to reset the lens and camera worked, so I began disassembly to have a closer look for the problem. Here’s what I did to fix it.
Some initial hints in case you are going to attempt this repair yourself: keep in mind that it’s tricky, the camera is fragile, and there are tiny parts to worry about. Be careful and gentle! I take no responsibility if your repair attempt fails, but I think this repair was fairly easy. For repairs like this, I keep small containers handy for screws and other small parts, and I use a plastic shoebox-size container to keep larger assemblies and parts organized and away from dust. You’ll want to do the work at a well-lit workspace, as free from dust as possible. Speaking of dust, the disassembly that I describe here is several steps toward what you will need to do to get at the camera sensor and other internal parts, if you need to remove dust from the optical path or from the sensor itself.
The only tool you really need for the disassembly is a small Philips “jeweller’s” screwdriver. If you are even contemplating doing this repair, you probably already have one. A small pair of tweezers is also helpful in reconnecting some ribbon cables after the repair.
First, turn the camera off and remove the battery if you haven’t already. Then you can proceed with the frightening job of taking your fine fragile precision digital camera apart. The camera outer shell is similar to many other pocket cameras of this genre. It has front and back metal cover panels, and small plastic side panels. To remove these panels, remove the three small Philips-head machine screws at the bottom of the camera near the tripod mount
then remove the 2 screws on each side panel (total 4).
Then, gently but firmly, using just your fingers, pull away the side panels, starting at the base of the camera and pulling out and downward relative to the camera body. The panels might be difficult to remove, and if so, try also shifting the metal front and back plates to help loosen the side plates. Have a look at these pictures for further details:
After getting the side panels off, with some gentle prying on the sides, front, and bottom, you should be able to free the front and back panels. The front panel (the lens side) will come off freely, but be very careful with the back panel. There is a ribbon cable connecting the display to the camera. For this repair, disconnect it by pulling very gently on the ribbon cable, away from the connector. Prior to pulling the cable from the connector, you might need to release a small locking tab on the connector. Usually that can be accomplished by pulling the tab away from the connector along the line of entry of the cable.
Now we are getting close, but there are still parts to be removed to get at the problem lens to fix it. Next up, you will need to remove the 3 black Philips screws in the corners of the chrome metal shield plate over the back of the lens and sensor.
We’re getting close. Next, disconnect the two approx 1.5cm wide ribbon cables from the black lens assembly to the main camera circuit board by pulling on them gently. They are fragile, so as usual, be careful. (These need to be removed so that you will be able to remove and work on the lens.) Then, remove the 3 silver Philips screws in the black lens and sensor assembly that hold it to the camera. At this point, you should be able to pull the lens and sensor assembly out of the camera to work on it:
It was at this stage that I could finally see what the problem was. Much as I had suspected, the pinion and circular rack had gotten stuck at the end of its range. I can’t be sure how this came about; certain battery conditions or other error conditions may have caused it, but regardless, it was repairable in the following way.
I found that I could disengage the stuck pinion gear by very gently bending the corner of the black plastic near the motor, and in that state, I could rotate the black lens base such that it pulled the lens back into its “off” position and the lens cover closed.
The usual caution: be very careful and gentle when you rotate the black lens collar. While doing that operation, I gripped the corner of the black assembly near the stepper motor and pinion gear and bent it very gently to disengage the pinion. That is the critical operation. Watch the pinion closely to be sure it is disengaged. I was then able by rotating the toothed collar to get the lens moved back into its closed position. So far, so good. Now to reassemble and test the thing.
To reassemble the camera, first carefully re-install lens module into the main camera body and re-install the 3 silver screws. Then, reconnect the 2 ribbon cables from the lens module to the camera PC board. Next, connect the ribbon cable from the back panel display to the PC board on the camera. (I found it easier to get this cable into place before putting the shield plate on. A pair of tweezers on the tabs of the cable helped, but be careful.) Now install the shield plate and the 3 black screws to hold it. Be careful to keep the plate aligned with the screw holes and guide tabs as you install it.
Now, gently put the back panel into place, being careful not to strain the ribbon cable. Be careful with the position of the Play/Camera switch on the back; positioned correctly, it should engage the actual switch on the PC board and click gently into up and down positions. Put the front panel and side panels back on. Re-install the side panels and the 4 side panel screws, and the three base screws.
Inspect the camera for any assembly errors. Then, reinstall the battery and give it a try! Good luck. My ZS8 repair was actually successful after all this, and so far the lens zoom has been operating just fine. Here is a photo taken with the camera shortly after the repair:
I’m reasonably happy with this cheap pocket camera so far in limited testing. First of all, it works, which wasn’t the case when I got it! The main thing I don’t like about it so far is that the case is a very shiny silver. Silver??? Cameras should be black to stop unwanted reflections, but that is a whine for another post. Maybe next time I have this one apart I’ll spray paint the case black…