A year has already passed since Samsung’s mirrorless camera, the NX10, was launched. Since then, the NX100 and NX11 were launched in sequence. Today, we are going to meet the NX10 development team that made all this possible. Are you ready to listen to how they went about developing the camera and other behind-the-scene stories?
I heard that defining a new standard is very challenging. What do you have to say?
Sungwook Choi (Opto-Mechanics Lab) : That’s true. If there is a predefined standard, you only need to develop the functions and spec based on that; however, for the NX10, we had to virtually start from scratch. This included developing everything from the body to the lens, flash and even the buttons.
Hongju Kim (Product development Group) : Because of that, there was a lot of going back and forth of reports and business plans between the product planning team and the development team. We call this ‘pingpong,’ which basically means that if the planning team sets the spec based on existing point-and-shoot camera and sends the draft to the development team, they will reply back saying something like ‘With this brand new camera, this is not enough to develop anything. We need more specifics!’ and will return the plan back to the planning team. Some members in the planning team were a bit frustrated in the beginning because they thought they did all they could do only to be rejected.
Youngbae Kim (Product planning Group) : The camera turned out to be a new-to-the-world thing, nothing like the point-and-shoot cameras or DSLR. Much confusion was caused because the concept was new to both the product planning and the development team. So, We ended up creating a cross-functional team of planning, development, and design and practically lived together for three months while working, eating and pulling all-nighters.
Myunggyu Kim (Mechanical Design Lab) : Many are still crammed in that room burning the midnight oil in order to develop the follow-up version.
Hongju Kim : It was not only the Samsung employees that had a hard time; the parts developers also had to struggle to come up with something brand new.
Myunggyu Kim : If you look at Japan, the camera industry is advanced across the whole value chain, so you simply need to pick and choose the parts you want. But, The market in Korea is not as developed, so we had to go through an arduous process of developing every single part from button to shutter with the parts manufacturer. It was the first time for them to develop such parts, so they probably had a hard time, too.
Hongju Kim : At one time, when we were developing a shutter and I accidently broke a sample shutter that cost something like $10,000. Luckily, we were able to repair it, but I was really worried at the time. I still have the sample on my desk.
So, it seemed like the development process was really bumpy. Were there any issues once you completed the product?
Sungwook Choi : QA(Quality Assurance) was also an issue. Being the new concept as it was, we didn’t have a good idea of what to do to pass the quality test. You can’t drop an interchangeable lens camera from whatever meters high as you would do with an existing point-and-shoot camera, you know.
Hongju Kim : Oh, and the dust! (Everyone suddenly laughs at the word ‘dust.’
Youngbae Kim : It was definitely dust that gave us a hard time towards the end.
Myunggyu Kim : We had no idea at the beginning. We simply thought that we would do the assembly at the clean room, just like when we do it for point-and-shoot cameras, but this turned out to be totally different. First, the camera is bigger than point-and-shoot so the dust was way more visible. In addition, having a clean environment was not enough. Every single part that went in was covered in plenty of dust when they were shipped from the parts supplier. It’s not like we use a handful of parts, so dealing with this became a huge issue.
All in all, we even set up a ‘Dust TF (Task Force)’ team and visited all the parts suppliers to ask them to do vacuum-wrapping and to manage dust throughout the whole distribution process.
A ‘Dust TF’?
Myunggyu Kim : Dust may seem trivial, but as it was critical, we put a lot of time and effort into it. It was, in fact, a great achievement for us to have controlled dust to the level that we did in such a short timeframe.
Sungwook Choi : ‘Dust TF’ team really worked hard. Pulling an all-nighter was a daily routine.
Myunggyu Kim : We even came up with our own way of swiping dust out. After a long research, we did a special coating on the optical filter that goes into the image sensor to prevent dust from gathering.
What is your assessment of the NX10?
Sungwook Choi : Not only the lens, but also the image sensor, DSP, AMOLED, battery and the molding were all developed using Samsung’s technology, ensuring quicker response and better quality. It is not an exaggeration to say that the camera is ‘the culmination of Samsung’s cutting-edge technology’.
Hongju Kim : Not only those who made the outer surface, but the software developers worked very hard as well. They practically lived together for almost half a year. Once the device is ready, the ball goes to the software team and it’s in their hands where the NX10 finally comes to life.
You have spent more than 3 years working on the NX10. Any symptoms?
Sungwook Choi : Hurting back? (laughs)
Myunggyu Kim : Phobia for a phone that rings around the clock?
Hongju Kim : When we developed the CIS (CMOS Image Sensor), we focused a lot of attention on noise. When I am walking on the street and see a square shape in the pathway, I think of noise.
Sungwook Choi : I guess you all dreamed of working? (Everyone nods in agreement)
Myunggyu Kim : It’s like trying to solve an issue you couldn’t during the daytime in your dreams. (Everyone laughs)
The meeting with the NX 10 product planning and development team was more like a nice chat with friends, rather than a formal interview. These five developers who now boast perfect teamwork are currently devoted to the next NX series. I cannot wait to see how the next NX will look like!