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Panasonic has used a firmware update to prevent punters using batteries bought from other suppliers in its digital cameras. The update, which applies to 16 cameras which between them use three models of Panasonic battery, was posted this week. The company claimed the move had been made to protect its customers, though some will …

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PR disasters...

I think you could argue Panasonic has a distinct interest in ensuring only 'safe' batteries are used in their cameras.

Remember the uproar about exploding Nokias a few years ago, where (as it turned out) all (or nearly all) exploding batteries were third party? People remember 'exploding Nokia', not 'oops - it was a third party battery'.

Not that there isn't a strong profit motive here also, of course.

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Anonymous Coward

Competiton Laws?

Surely this would be classed as anti-competitive and they will be forced to remove the block, just like when HP and Epson tried fitting chips to their ink cartridges preventing 3rd party ink from being used.

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Stop

me thinks...

...the EU may have something to say about that (i Hope so at least)

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EU sanctions

in 3...2...1... :)

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In a perfect world

"if a third-party battery is used and it does fail the way Panasonic describes, that's a matter for the user and the battery maker, not Panasonic's responsibility." would be very accurate.

However, we live in a world where if you break a fingernail trying to open a battery compartment you can sue the manufacturer for the 'psychological trauma' you suffer as a result.

There is undoubtedly a financial benefit to them from doing this, but there is still a valid excuse for them trying to protect themselves from lawsuits. After all, if one of these third party batteries did catch fire and destroy the camera, how could they prove reliably (and in a way understandable to a judge) that the battery was third party and not one of theirs?

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I don't know why companies do this...

Inevitably they just shoot themselves in the foot and create ill will. In the end it costs them money. Maybe not right away, but the next time a consumer is ready to buy, they will likely give Panasonic just a little less consideration when choosing a product.

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Baron

very poor show... alls thats needed is "if you use a battery pack other than one of ours and it blows up your camera, tough shit" type statement.

of course, if they charged a reasonable price for the things it wouldn't be an issue would it?

luckily I don't have and never will have any kind of panasonic camera. I'll stick to my canon thanks.

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Why the secrecy?

I have no problem with Panasonic making this decision *IF* they are also fully open about it: if the download page says clearly, right next to the download link 'This update may disable third-party batteries'.

But to put that detail elsewhere seems like they're trying to *appear* open while actually being secretive. This breeds distrust in the user community and means that future updates will be treated with suspicion. Sony learnt the hard way that undocumented functionality can lead to a serious backlash later, especially when it seems it is for the manufacturer's benefit.

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Hmmm..

I was looking around for a second battery for my Olympus SLR recently, and the official option was £40! While there were many no-name generic replacement batteries available for well under £10, I went for a replacement from what I considered a reputable battery brand (Uniross) for £15 - but presumably if Olympus were to follow Panasonic's lead I would have no choice but to pay through the nose for the "official" product :(

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I call Panasonic to Prove IT!

If there are only some aftermarket batteries that do not comply I call upon them to authorise those that do comply. If they wont do this, Only then we can say they are the anti competitive scum that we think they are and will get no more custom from me.

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make it annoying, rather than disallow

all it needs is to use the same technique for disallowing the third party battery, to pop up a message every time the thing is switched on saying that they are using an unsupported battery, that could be dangerous. Then say click ok if you agree to continue. It wouldn't hurt to burn the answer into some memory somewhere too, just in case.

Or they could allow the use of the battery but refuse to charge it, saying it's not compatible

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Not the first culprit

Sony did this with their camcorders and DSLRs. However, the dressed it up with a requirement to have the "infolithium" chip installed in the battery. basically that provides a much more accurate (as claimed by Sony) battery usage meter. If you do put a non-infolithium battery into one of their current range of DSLRs it will power up just enough to tell you that fact.

Of course it is straight protectionism. If you have Sony's first post-Minolta DSLR, the A100 it will indeed take either an infolithium or non-infolithium battery and work fine with each. The reason why it was that way - simply they hadn't got an infolitium battery available to fit.

The argument given by many apologists that this is protecting your expensive investment in some way by stopping the use of inferior, third party, batteries is rather undermined given that Sony's record on Li-Ion batteries catching fire isn't faultless. Even then, third party manufacturers have now worked there way around the system (although whether they are vulnerable to patent lawsuit infringements, who knows).

It is about time that this game on proprietary Lithium batteries got tidied up. Every new device you come across seems to have its own, proprietery battery form factor. The chemistry of these things is now well established. What we need is a range of standard battery form factors to suit 95% of uses. Maybe a few more options than for classic C/D/AA/AAA/PP3 formats used with dry cells and NiMh batteries, but not the nightmare of hundreds of different types, all marginally different.

As for competition law on this - well there is no automatic system which says that a manufacturer can't make things difficult for competitors by locking down interfaces. One crucial issue in European law is if the manufacturer has "market power" a tiny, niche manufacturer might get away with lock-ins. Microsoft would not. Things like the Panasonic batteries are in a middle ground. However, what the manufacturers are not able to do is use laws designed to prevent DRM cracking for protecting content to also be used as anti-competive measures. Stick a chip in to measure ink levels in cartridge maybe - stop another manufacturer reverse engineering this interface to produce a competitor. One for the courts to sort out.

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keep the battery sensor and add a dialog:

"This is not an approved Panasonic battery, and may be unsafe. Continue Y/N?"

Or put sensors in that detect and/or mediate battery malfunction; maybe with

an audible overheating alarm.

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Surely...

All they needed to do was to get the firmware to warn the camera user on-screen, when they put in a 3rd party battery, that it could cause problems, so that Panasonic have at least made their customer aware that there's a potential issue. That way the customer retains the right of freedom of choice in their supplier of accessories, and at the same time the camera manufacturer has discharged their obligation to inform users of the potential for damage.

Problem solved.

So where's my consultancy fee then eh?

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This is gonna **** ppl off

People who already have these cameras, and already have 3rd party batteries, will install the update and find these no longer work. This will cause problems.

If safety WAS the only thing they were concerned with, surely a pop-up message saying "WARNING: This is a non-panasonic battery. Use at your own risk" or similar would do a better job. It would scare off many people and yet still allow those who wish to take the chance. The only reason to completely block 3rd party batteries is to make more money.

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Grenade

Note to self

exclude Panasonic from any possible future purchaces, if they do this with battery packs who what else they will do it with.

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WTF?

Built In Obsolescence

One problem with this sort of thing is that Panasonic will probably discontinue the battery pack when their next camera comes out which, of course, will use a different pack. As you won't be able to get a third party pack you will either pay a fortune for a Panasonic pack (if you can get one) or bin a perfectly good camera.

There's a lot to be said for cameras that take standard AA Ni-MH cells.

It's a bit like the Lexmark printer I bought a while ago, after a year the ink cartridges started increasing in price -- they reached £50 for a black and colour and there were no third party equivalents -- I binned the printer and will never buy a Lexmark printer again. The one I have now (Epson) is only costing about £8 a set (black and three colour third party cartridges).

Oh look, shiny new icons

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Thanks for the warning

I bought myself a Panasonic FX-40 a few weeks ago and am generally happy with it. But one of the things that I noticed when I first used it was that the battery has a 4th terminal (marked 'D' - 'Data' presumably) and I immediately thought, if I'd known about that I probably wouldn't have bought it.

I was surprised to find that 3rd party batteries were available (for a bit more than half the price of the Panasonic ones) and this probably explains that: the device identification was not previously enabled. My impression so far has been that the 3rd party battery that I have may have a lower capacity than the original, but I need to do some proper measurements to confirm that. My 3rd party battery (manufacturer=INOV8) claims to have protection circuitry and I have no reason to doubt that; maybe a friendly dentist's X-ray machine would be the easiest non-destructive way to check.

Note that the battery charger has no connection for the D terminal; I would have thought that fire would be at least as likely while charging and this "protection" is ineffective against that.

I find it odd that we have totally standard battery sizes for all non-rechargeables and for nickel rechageables, yet for lithium rechargeables (only) we've got into a situation where every manufacturer has their own slightly different shape. How has this happened?

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Anonymous Coward

EU (@Stu Reeves et al)

I'd be surprised if the EU said anything about this. Nikon have had a similar thing in their cameras since the D200 (about 4 years?)...

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Paris Hilton

Quite a common occurence, those exploding cameras

I think if these items exploded on a regular basis through the use of 3rd party accessories there would be a reason to do this. Unfortunately its rare (as in hens teeth) so Panasonic has no justification.

Paris, 'cause I stand a better chance of bedding her than I do of having my camera explode.

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Pirate

Panasonic is right

also in view of the fact that a user could change to such a third-party battery without knowing the risk, because I do not think that "third-party battery packs producer" will write the truth, i.e. "look we are able to underbid the original manufacturer because we sell you the parts without the security feature".

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Thank you Sony and Electronic Arts

For showing us that you can shaft the consumer twelve ways to Sunday and still get revenue. Thank you for giving the bright DRM religion to other companies, we really need yet more instances where what we do with the stuff we buy is subject to corporate oversight.

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Grenade

Price Comparison

Replacement Sony Li-On battery for 3 year old device = £80

Generic Li-On battery from 3rd Party Specialist = £5

Conclusion ??

Money for old rope!!!

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FAIL

Battery DRM

Well its the difference between a "two for $10" IED from Ebay or a good replacement battery from Hama, Hahnel, Energizer etc. They are understandably fed up of getting warranty claims caused by dodgy batts but this is OTT. I was going to buy a TZ7 which has a short battery life (say 100 shots with all Mega OIS stuff etc) and even a good pattern battery was £30. Panasonic want nearer £50. Must replace that crappy battery on my 6230i. Sorry, forgot to say Nokia don't make genuine batteries for them any more.

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WTF?

Myst-all-chucking-frighty!!!

So, you buy a car. Let's say it's a Beemer. After a while ( AFTER the warranty's run out) you get a new set of spark plugs from Halfords/Walmart/whatever.

Car refuses to run. Software detects 'illegal' parts, and the fuc*ker stops. Probably, given software response speeds, just as you're overtaking the motherfuc*ker-of-all-trucks. Nice.

Panasonic quote:

[ Warning ]

"After this firmware update your Panasonic Digital Camera cannot be operated by 3rd party batteries (non genuine Panasonic batteries)."

One word in there - YOUR.

Panasonic - EPIC FAIL!!!

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PAH!...

like any manufacturer / retailer - once theyve sold thier wares all they are interested in is the bottom line! faulty products are an inconveinience and warrants minimal expenditure. surely if the punter sticks in non-standard parts they have already voided the small print anyway so whats to worry about. cant see how theyre gonna make any money out of this. The only thing I can see happening is their sales are going to bomb big time coz customers will be grumping and griping about having to but genuine spare at rip off prices instead of perfectly good copies! Eventually people will associate panasonic with awkward greedy camera maker and go else where.

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So how long before...

... third party power pack suppliers start making compatible batteries with copied chips like those who make compatible ink cartridges?

"Remember folks, using compatible cartridges may give poor results or damage your printer or fund terrorism (and will stop us selling our ink at higher prices than vintage champange...)"

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Wanna laugh?

Try contacting them about this.

I tried. But, I'm in Finland, and speak English.

Once again, Epic Fail

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h 2

Back to front poor design

"Some of these aftermarket batteries are not equipped with internal protective devices to guard against overcharging, internal heating and short circuit"

Should it not be that the battery pack supplies the power and it's the device that monitors the supply and protects itself and the battery, poor design if you ask me.

Howie

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Linux

iPods?

Don't iPods have batteries that are only supposed to be replaced by Apple themselves?

You may find that bleating on about not being able to put 3rd-party batteries into cameras forces companies like panasonic to take the apple route.

At the same time, if something can be serviced by the end-user; there should be a variety of competing options for the user to choose from.

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Where's the EU when you need it ?

Panasonic's conduct is as disgraceful as Epson et al microchipping their printer refills.

Batteries for torches, calculators, watches (and everything else) come in a range of about 10 formats -- so what's so special about Panasonic cameras?

EU really must address the US, Japanese and S. Koreans and warn them that they have a few years to introduce a standardised range of phone and camera batteries and printer refills that work across all brands and that any products that don't conform (unless with solid grounds for variation) will be barred from EU markets.

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Firmware upgrade...

If they did this via a firmware upgrade, presumably the hardware already had the ability to distinguish between battery packs?

The interesting thing is that they didn't use that capacity right from the start.

Did they somehow not realise they had the ability to do it, did they not want to tell people who were buying a camera that they could only use official batteries, or is there some other reason?

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Anonymous Coward

nothing to do with safety

The only reason this can happen is because the lithium ion batteries have a chip inside and can be identified by the camera.

Can you imagine if the manufacturer of your television, hi-fi tried to stop you using Tesco's, Duracell, Varta AA, AAA batteries in the remote control? There would be a massive public outcry and the company would be a laughing stock. But because the cameras are using Li-Ion batteries they'll can technically do it and will probably get away with it too.

It's nothing to do with safety whatsoever, it's an anti-competitive practise to force people to buy and only use panasonic batteries.

I think having a standardised set of lithium ion batteries in the way we have AA, AAA, C and D cells would be a good thing all round and it would certainly bring down the cost of them.

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@I don't know why

Because the camera makers are worrying about running out of megapixels and that people wont automatically buy a new model every couple of years.

So you simply stop making the battery for 2008 model and you can sell them the 2009 model with the same imager.

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Gits

While I quite understand Panasonic not wanting folks to use the el-cheapo, knocked-off-the-back-of-a-lorry Chinese no-name power packs, there are of course more reputable brands available.

I'm particularly thinking of Duracell, Ansmann and Hahnel. I've used battery packs from the latter two and I've found them to be - to a degree - superior to the manufacturers kit, (in my case it's digicams from Canon and Panasonic). Heck, the Duracell advert I saw claimed that their battery "guaranteed to meet or exceed the specification of the Panasonic CGA-S005E".

As "Justabloke 1" says - all Panasonic needed to do was to say "if you plug something into this camera that we don't approve of, then we bear absolutely no responsibility for any consequences - direct or otherwise".

To go down the route detailed in the article stinks to high heaven of just wanting to force consumers to toe the line. Problem is that the availability of 3rd party alternatives (it's called "CHOICE" Panasonic!) is a positive selling point - not a negative one. If they REALLY want to protect the consumers then drop this dumb idea, and instead give a list of recommended batteries, i.e. "We prefer that you use our kit, but if you want to use X, Y, or Z's then this is okay. Anyone else and you take full responsibility"

I was thinking of replacing an elderly Canon hi-zoom with a Lumix next year, (as the little FX-01 compact has been just brilliant), but if Panasonic are going to pull this kind of dumb stunt, then I think Mr Canon will be getting my money instead.

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FAIL

I think the US courts have already found this to be an illegal business tactic

In the case of HP and either their ink or toner cartridges. And in any event it is not subject to the DCMA.

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Grenade

DRM?

Digital "Rights" Management? I can tell you which "rights" that company has in MY camera. None. Nil. Zilch.

Ten "nice try" points for trying to transprt that "you don't OWN what you bought, you just have a license to use it" nonsense from the music industry to physical goods.

Twelve million minus points for intentionally damaging working camera/battery combos.

I don't own a camera from Panasonic, but boy do I wish I did. Go ahead and break my camera with a firmware update. Make my day! Pay for my lawyer AND a better camera from a rival company!

(Picture to the left: Panasonic digital camera repair kit.)

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legacy equipment just doubled in second hand value!

Wa-hay, my 2 unpatched Panny cameras have just doubled in value when I come to put them on Ebay one day!

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FAIL

So how long before the crap chinese batteries copy the chip

But the good quality 3rd party batteries will be unavailable.

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FAIL

Nice Going Panasonic

It looks like I am going to have to put Panasonic on my list of permanently barred vendors; right behind Sony and Epson and HP.

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Stop

let me fix this for you

Panasonic developed this technology after it was discovered that some aftermarket third-party batteries do not meet the rigid safety standards Panasonic uses.

Should read:

Panasonic developed this technology after it was discovered that some aftermarket third-party batteries do not meet the rigid profit markup Panasonic uses.

@Miek - Don't iPods have batteries that are only supposed to be replaced by Apple themselves?

Believe that they do....and it's expensive to get them replaced...and you don't necessarily even get YOUR iPoop back from them. My little Sansa has screws and you can change the battery yourself. New battery comes with screwdriver and new set of screws JIC!

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Megaphone

Bait and switch

This story is a perfect example of why proprietary technology should be avoided. Yeah, a product may seem great, but sooner or later the manufacturer will do something to make an item more profitable. Some people may not have a problem with this, as the change may be subtle or doesn't affect them, but most of the time it isn't subtle and sooner or later you will get affected.

As more and more products get more and more software in them, we will witness bait-and-switch more and more. Take the new Sky Plus software "upgrade" as an example: they could have made it so that more info was on the screen at once, but they chose to have a little display of the TV whilst you are in the menus/guide instead. That'll be because Sky+ has become a victim of its own success, and users are using the guide and menus whilst the adverts are on. So the software got changed so the adverts still get put in front of the viewers, and those eyeballs increase in value as far as Sky is concerned. Yes, the update solved a lot of silly problems that should never have been their in the first place (and would have been fixed already if the tech was open), but the software has also gained anti-customer features, and the customer got no choice about it.

I am personally sick of being fucked over by hardware/software manufacturers crippling their products in some way. I want to be a customer of companies that produce the best products that technology will allow, and have got to the point where I will not do business with crippled product shifters. DRM is probably the worst example of crippled products, but large amounts of current media are only (legally) available through crippled means. I am not about to stop partaking in society, so the only way I can obtain products in non-crippled ways is through "piracy" (not the nautical variety with actual human victims).

Manufacturers had better pay attention. As time goes on more and more people will realise that crippled products are not worth their time, and this drives potential customers away from the manufacturer. The brainless consumers will still be foaming at the mouth the get the latest crippled iDevice, but the savvy customers (with much more disposable income, due to not throwing cash constantly at purposefully broken products) will be much more loyal if you sell open and quality products.

To bring this rant slightly back on topic, I will now be ignoring Panasonic cameras. In fact, I have resisted spending much on a digital camera so far as the market is moving fast and stuff becomes obsolete a bit too quickly.... that and my film cameras actually take a photo when I press the shutter release, not a fraction of a second later like most digi-cams. I know there are GPL firmwares for some Canon cameras, but Canon themselves do not provide this openness - the firmware is a hack. Why should I patronise a company who will not provide openness even when their product is capable of be used in an open way?

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FAIL

Epic Fail

I have a couple of laptops - one about three years old, one about six, both perfectly fine for travel. Neither of the manufacturers is supplying 'manufacturer's spec' batteries any more. So I should throw a couple good computers away just because I might have to use an aftermarket battery? Hell, NO! Nor should anybody with a printer, or a camera, be tethered to the manufacturer by chains of silicon!

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WTF?

Yet another reason

We should all stop supporting companies that do this shit. I have a Canon camera and yes the battery is not something I can go down to the local grocery store and buy but its a neat little job and I have no reason to have to worry about something like this happening seeing as it only has 3 connectors on it (+,- and ground). I have to agree on two big things here:

1) The cameras (and really ALL battery driven electronics) should handle the power management internally. It really cant be that hard to do seeing as it already exists in some form.

2) If they want to do something similar to this, why not give a warning that its not a supported battery and therefore if anything happens to you or your device from using this battery you waive all liability to the manufacture of the device and will be ridiculed if you try to sue us for your ignorance.

/Well im certainly liking these new icons :)

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Ugh...

This is one firmware upgrade I'll take a pass on. I have a Panasonic TZ3 camera AND I have a 3rd-party battery. I would understand more if Panasonic made this change for models that aren't already in customer's hands, but those of us who have 3rd-party batteries, this is a total pisser.

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FAIL

Panasonic customer base reduces

I have just dropped Panasonic off my camera upgrade list .

Would Ford get away with “We have noticed that customers are using petrol which is not sourced from our partner provider Sainsbury. Our engine computers have been configured to prevent non Sainsbury fuel being used for your protection”

What next "Our camera will no longer accept third party memory cards"

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WTF?

WTF?

I use a Canon EOS; and while it has a funny-shaped battery pack, you can buy (from Canon) a "holder" of the same shape which uses 4xAA batteries.

I don't get this.

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Boffin

Firmware downgrade?

Is it possible to back out this "upgrade", or install an older version of the firmware?

netgeek

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FAIL

Just bought...

...a Panasonic Lumix FZ28 with a spare non-Panasonic battery. Both batteries have 4 terminals and, so far, both work. No firmware updates for me, thanks. No more Panasonic gear either.

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Only a matter of time.

That will certainly put me off buying a Panasonic camera for a while as they charge way over the top for their batteries. I'll just wait for the third party battery makers to clone the chip.

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