Q: The lens of my husband's camera has a scratch in the middle. It's a nice, little Panasonic DMC-ZS3 he got in 2009. It has a Leica lens that goes down to an effective 25 mm wide angle, and he considers this wide angle to be very useful. He is considering having a repair shop replace or repair the lens. Do you have any suggestions as far as repairing it? Could the glass be buffed, or would that destroy the quality of the lens?
A: Your 2009-vintage Panasonic DMC-ZS3 is, indeed, a nice little camera. I used one of its predecessors as a pocket camera on vacations, and it provided many clear, sharp and colorful images. Even with the enhancements of today's cellphone cameras, it's a viable camera if you need something pocket-size with a big zoom range.
Having the camera professionally repaired is not practical. Even if parts are available (and I suspect they are not, given the age of the camera), the cost would be much more than the value of the camera itself. I don't know the depth of the scratch; if it's not too deep, it might be possible to buff the lens to minimize the effects. But there are limits to how much of the glass can be removed before it starts to impact the optics.
Professional photographers know that small marks and scratches on the front of a lens often do not have a visible effect on the images. When they do, it is usually because the defects are on the back lens element (for interchangeable lens cameras) or the lens is a wide-angle. The longer the focal length of a lens, the less likely it is that smudges or scratches will affect the images. Your husband might be able to use the camera for everything except his wide-angle shots — although it sounds as if he really likes them, so that likely isn't of much help.
There is a home remedy you can try. An old trick is to use a fine-line black marker to fill in the scratch. This will reduce light scatter caused by the scratch. It might not fix the problem completely, but it could reduce it. This is where I would start.
Given your husband's fondness for the camera, I suggest you replace it with a used one. KEH camera (keh.com) specializes in used equipment. When I checked, the website was listing a used DMC-ZS3 for only $69, including the battery and charger. Your husband's current battery and charger would be interchangeable with these, so he should keep them if he discards the camera. And even if he decides not to replace his camera with the exact same model, there are lots of great old cameras on the market.
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