Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Tale of Two Cameras

In the early spring of 2014 I discovered that my new Panasonic DMC-ZS30 digital camera, which had been only indoors during the winter, had a defect. The GPS did not work. Even under a wide blue canopy of sky, it could not find a signal.

I called the Panasonic service number, and we went through the basic steps: reset the camera to factory default, reload the GPS assist data off the Internet, etc. The GPS on this camera still did not work. Panasonic emailed me the address for repairs, in McAllen, Texas, and told me that the turnaround time would average 14 business days. This was on March 8th. Two trips loomed, Purushaland later in March and Bhutan at the end of April.

I had already sold my trusty but aged DMC-ZS3 on eBay, so while the ZS30 was being repaired I would be without camera. I was suspicious of the repair time and put off sending in the camera, mailing it when I returned from Bhutan. The tracking info said that McAllen received the package on May 27th.

By June 24th, not having heard anything, I was concerned and called to check. The status was "awaiting parts" and Kevin gave me a case number in case I needed to call again.

I called again on July 8th, and the status was unchanged -- awaiting parts. Panasonic's custody of my camera already stood at 42 calendar days. Natalie escalated my case and gave me a service order number.

We were leaving for our Canadian Rockies trip on July 16th, and I was worried. It was time to quickly buy a backup camera in case Panasonic didn't come through. I ordered a Panasonic DMC-ZS35 from Amazon on July 9th.

I should explain Panasonic's numbering system. If the number ends in a 0, such as DMC-ZS30, it is the top of the line of that generation. If it ends in a 5, such as DMC-ZS35, it's the less expensive version of one generation newer. Thus, my DMC-ZS30 was the prior top of the line, and the DMC-ZS35 was the less expensive of the current line.

Why did I choose it? Familiarity of operation, and to be able to use my existing camera batteries and chargers. Buying outside the Panasonic DMC family would mean new batteries and chargers.

I called again, on July 11th, and talked to Jonathan who connected me to Robert. The status was the same. (Clearly Panasonic doesn't maintain an efficient parts warehouse.) He offered to send a replacement camera, but the time it might take was too long, given that I was flying to Canada in five days. I didn't want that package sitting on my doorstep, so I said I would check later and took the ZS35 to Canada.

On my return there was a message on the answering machine for me to call back about my camera. I called, on August 4th or 5th. Because Panasonic hadn't been able to repair my camera within 30 days (today was day #69 or #70!) they offered to send a replacement if the part wasn't in stock. It wasn't. I received a refurbished ZS30, about which I have no complaints, except that I had keep prodding Panasonic about my repair. The GPS works.

I want to warn you about some differences between the ZS30 and ZS35.

I knew that many of the ZS35's specs, such as number of pixels on the display, were inferior to those of the ZS30, but I wasn't prepared for how slow it was. To compare cameras for this blog I used my refurbished DMC-ZS30 and the ZS35 I took to Canada. For each camera I started the iPod stopwatch with my left hand and the camera's power button with my right hand, quickly moving my finger to then depress the shutter button. How long did the ZS30 need to boot and take the picture?
How long did the ZS35 take?
When you're trying to capture something transient, such as a wildlife spotting, this is frustrating. The same lag applied to switching modes, such as from Program to Intelligent Assist or Scene Mode to Panorama.

And the ZS35 was fat, because its display was hinged to help you take selfies. It barely fit into the camera case I used comfortably for the ZS30. Here's the front of the ZS35, in selfie position.
And the back.
Unless you are really, really obsessed with selfies, I consider this a minus.

The screen resolution is worse, although the importance of this is an individual matter. Here is the ZS35 screen,
and the ZS30.

I also stumbled across the fact that the ZS35 doesn't support as many video formats as the ZS30. When I moved the memory card that still had the Bhutan photos and videos to the ZS35, it refused to play the videos. Reviewing the photos was distressing because the ZS35 could produce only coarse thumbnails rather than a full image of the ZS30 JPEGs.

The optics of the ZS30 are marked "Leica," a respected name, while the ZS35 are "Lumix," Panasonic's house name.

The DMC-ZS35 was cheaper than the DMC-ZS30, and it showed. It saw me through Canada, but I can't recommend it as a primary camera.