Monday, June 4, 2012

Death of a Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3

I don't have many requirements when it comes to a waterproof point & shoot camera. Just something that has decent image quality, a basic feature set, and a standard battery life... oh yeah, and it must be waterproof. 

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 scores high marks on all of those points, except the most important one - being waterproof.
After doing some research on waterproof point & shoot cameras I picked up the TS3 back in October 2011 for $270 from Amazon. Reviews gave it good marks in IQ, and I was taken in by the prospect of owning an orange camera. 

It survived it's maiden voyage to the Bahamas with flying colors as well as some snorkeling at Disney's Castaway Cay a few months later but the camera's most recent vacation, to Bermuda, proved to be it's last. 

After two days of taking pics while splashing around on the beach the TS3 started to become uncooperative.  First issues involved fogging inside the camera rendering all photos to look like the mess below:

I thought the fogging might have something to do with the temperate change (cold water & hot air) so I made sure to let the camera sit and acclimatize before using it. This had little effect as both the glass over the lens and the LCD screen were now fogging up. The camera's functions operated normally otherwise, but using it to take photos was pointless.

That evening after the beach I soaked the camera in fresh water (as I've always done), allowed it to air dry and all seemed well. At least until the next day when I tried to use the camera again.

When powered on the camera's front element and LCD immediately fogged up again. As I waited for the fog to clear the TS3 picked up a new quirk, as the LCD screen began flickering on and off. Things began to go from bad to worse at this point as the camera refused to shoot or even display photos. Error messages about the wrong display ratio began to flash on the screen as the camera ignored any attempts I made to get into the menu to check the settings.

Not wanting to waste my vacation fiddling with a malfunctioning camera, I put it away for the day and just went on enjoying my time on the beach (shooting photos with my iPhone).

When we returned to our hotel room for the evening I jumped on line to look for some trouble shooting tips. Unfortunately, I didn't find any - but what I did find where over 50 1 star reviews at Amazon all detailing extremely similar situations to what I was dealing with.

My guess is that a drop of salt water or two got through the waterproof seal has slowly been corroding the TS3's innards. So while it may not have been enough water to completely destroy the camera, it's enough to make it totally worthless. How this happened has me scratching my head, as I took great care to follow the manufacturer's instructions when closing and opening the seal.

At this point I'm going to call the whole thing a loss. From what I've read, Panasonic is extraordinarily unhelpful about this issue - instead chalking it up to 'user error' and offering up pricey repairs or replacements as the only option. I just wanted to post my experience as a warning to anyone considering the TS3 or TS4 cameras from Panasonic (as both use the same, flimsy waterproof seal).

It's a bummer, but what can you do? I've already got my eye on Canon's D20 for the next time a need for a waterproof camera arises. I think my Tusken Raider was really saddened about the loss of this camera. I mean, just look at the expression on his face below: