The Robot I, introduced in 1934, was the first 35mm still camera with a built-in clockwork motor drive. It was the brainchild of German camera designer Heinz Kilfitt. After his idea was rejected by Kodak and Agfa, Kilfitt sold the design to Hans Berning, who set up his own company to produce the camera. The original Robot went through several incarnations before evolving into the final and highly prestigious Royal range. The Robot Royal 24, also known as the Model III, was the first.
Like its predecessors, the Royal 24 has a built-in clockwork motor drive. Unlike earlier cameras, whose spring was wound by a large knob on top of the body, the Royal’s motor drive is wound by a key on the base. The drive can be set at ‘E’ for einzel (German for singles) to wind one frame at a time, or at ‘S’ for serie (German for series) to shoot continuously at up to five frames per second. Shutter speeds run 1/4–1/500 sec.
The camera takes standard 35mm film which is wound into a take-up cassette. The jaws of the casette open when the body is closed and close again when it is opened to prevent scratching the emulsion during the automatic wind. It shoots 24x24mm images, more than 50 to a 36-exposure film. A coupled rangefinder in the viewfinder aids focusing.
The lens is removed by rotating a lever beneath. The camera reviewed here is fitted with a Schnieder-Kreuznach 38mm f/2.8 standard lens, but a range from 24mm wide-angle to 400mm telephoto can be found with top-flight names that that include Tessar, Xenon, Sonar, Biotar and more.
1953: Robot Royal 24
The top plate, left to right: film type reminder, rewind knob, accessory shoe, shutter release, film counter lock, film take-up knob and frame counter.
The Robot Royal 24, with single or continuous wind lever on the left of the lens and shutter speed control on the right.