Robot 1 – introduction to a spring motor powered camera (clockwork camera)

Robot 1

The Robot 1 is a spring motor powered camera created in 1934 under the brand of Otto Berning. It takes 24x24mm (square format) photographs and was designed by Heinz Kilfitt around 1930. It’s told that the patent was sold to Hans Berning after Kodak and Agfa rejected the design – and that’s how the amazing journey started at Otto Berning.

Berning Robot 1 Camera
Berning Robot 1 Camera

From the patents perspective, two versions or two cameras were initially planned or the second evolved from the first design: One with a spring motor and one without a spring motor as seen in the following patent filed in 1933 and the one filed in 1935:

Patent – camera without a spring motor

Highly recommended to read through it since it gives you a glince how brilliant Heinz Kilfitt was as an inventor.

Page 4 of the patent paper even shows the Type K cartridge which is mandatory to use the Robot 1 camera.

Patent – camera with a spring motor

It’s often discussed if Heinz Kilfitt had the idea for a spring motor himself or if Hans Berning came up with that idea. If you’re interested in my opinion, I must say that for me, it’s being hard to believe that a gifted watchmaker couldn’t come up with a clockwork/spring motor himself, especially while every watch has been powered that way for ages now. But I guess we’ll never find out the truth.

Robot 1 Characteristics

According to Hans Grahners “Robot Das Sammelbuch” the camera was produced from 1934 to 1938 with serial numbers going from 3000 to 23xxx for the civil version of the camera. And a maximum of 8000 cameras were produced.

That statement fits well with what I’ve seen so far for the couple of years on auctions, flea markets etc. The latest Robot 1 camera I’ve seen so far myself, came with the serial number 218xx and a 4 digit number “6589”, which could be the production number.

Production number? in a 218xx Robot 1

Let’s have a look now on some Robot 1 characteristics and their differences or the evolution of individual components:

Manufacturer’s Plate

manufacturer’s plate of and early camera with the serial number 39xx
found on various later ones for example with serial number 159xx
found on various later ones for example with serial number 183xx

Viewfinder

uncommon viewfinder on a 39xx Robot 1
so called “Version 1” viewfinder from 1936 on a 159xx Robot 1
so called “Version 2” viewfinder from 1937 on a 183xx Robot 1
so called “Version 3” viewfinder from 1938 on a 218xx Robot 1

Camera Body Lock

Camera body lock on a Robot 1 with serial number 39xx
Camera body lock on a Robot 1 with serial number 159xx
Camera body lock on a Robot 1 with serial number 218xx

Frame Counter Wheel

Frame counter on an early 39xx Robot 1
Frame counter on 159xx Robot 1
Frame counter on 198xx Robot 1

Shutter Speed Setting Wheel

Shutter speeds being upside down
Shutter speeds being correct from the users view