Robots are a world apart. They are ultra-small, spring-wound 35mm film
cameras with interchangeable lenses. To keep the cameras small, they
chose the 24x24mm picture format. They are completely mechanical. They
are designed for discreet, hyperfocal use, colour-points on the
distance scale of each lens indicate the depth of the field according
to the aperture set. Until the introduction of the Star II, they
had an angle-viewer for more discretion. So the Robots played an
important role in spying from the 30s to the 80s. There were silenced
shutters available. And there were technical versions with big film
canisters for the use in trafic radars.
A bit of general
information: There are two main lines, the original Robot (24x24mm,
screw-mount) and the Royal (24x36 mainly, but also 18x24 and 24x24,
When the Robot I appeared in 1934, there was no
standard 35mm cartridge yet, so they had their own feeding cassette (T) and
a winding cassette (N). The II in 1938 had some improvements. The I and
the early II have 26x0.75mm screw-mount which was then changed to
26x1mm until the end of production. All lenses can be mounted on 26x1
cameras, but the 26x1 lenses cannot be mounted on 26x0.75 cameras.
IIa in 1951 is the first to accept standard film cartridges, but still
has no rewind. The Star introduced the rewind, but still needs the N cassette
for winding. There was a cheap version of the Star without rewind and
angle-viewer called Junior.
The Star II (Vollautomat, which
isn't automatic at all) is a major redesign from the end of the 50s in
2 spring versions, the integrated 25 picture and the sticking out 50
picture version. It needs the NR cassette
for winding. Both were renamed in the 60s as Star 25 and 50. They
stayed in production until the 90s. The production ended with a limited
edition collector's model, the Star Classic in 1996.
is a different line, bigger, with bayonnet mount, burst mode and a
rangefinder. The Royal II is a
simplified version without burst mode and without rangefinder. The III
is the last and most sought-after mode lof the series. They were made
in 3 formats (with the same exterior body), 24x36, 24x24 and 24x18
(rare). When buying lenses for these, please note that all lenses for
the 36 model fit the others, but 24 model lenses will not properly work
on 36 models. The lenses are not marked, the 36 versions have 2 cut-out
slots at the back, the 24 version only one. The
Recorder is a technical variant of the Royal without viewfinder. Some
Recorder models have a simplified mount.
The camera shown here, a Robot Star. The camera's main features are:
Various interchangeable lenses, hyperfocal setting Fast automatic shutter cocking and film wind via spring motor, up to 25 pictures per wind Shutter: fast rotary shutter, B 1/2 - 1/500, 2 flash contacts, Bulbs and X Size body: 72 x 111 x 40 mm, Weight : 482 g
Front. One of the newer standard lenses, and built-in viewer. 2 flash sockets. Speed setting.
view. Finder. Spring wind. Counter adjustment wheel.
from above. Rewind handle, has to be lifted, accessory shoe,
angle finder switch, spring wind, shutter button, shutter
unlock/lock/rewind switch, counter unlock button, wind wheel and
exposure number indication.
from below. Tripod mount.
Right side. Film compartment opening bar and angle viewer.
open, film compartment and N wind cassette.
NR cassette (take-up side) from a Star II dismounted. The hook of the spring on
the core is
important. The Robots don't work without a take-up or wind cassette.
Please note that the Star needs the N winding cassette, not the NR!
The TR cassette (feeding side) dismounted. This is only necessary if you want to use bulk film.
Size comparison with the newer model. The bodies are the same except upper housing .
The difference in hight is only about 4mm at the highest point.
The body without lens.
With original leather case.
Schneider Xenon, 1:1.9/40 Focal length: 40mm
Aperture: F 1.9 - F 16
Min focus distance: 0.5m (at F 8 = 37cm)
Length (from flange): 31/35mm
Seen from front.
Seen from the mount.
Camera and lens.
lens is much lighter than the old version (124/216 gr). There are some
more differences. This one has a 5-blade aperture, the old version is
multi-blade, perfectly round. The new version focuses down to 37cm at
F8 (old: 55 cm at F 8). Mine has faint click stops for the aperture and
it has no firm grip to unscrew the lens. It moves more easily, settings
are easier to read. So both versions have their pros and cons.
Schneider Tele-Xenar 1:3.8/75mm Focal length: 75mm
Aperture: F 3.8 - F 22
Min focus distance: 1m (at F 8 78cm)
Length (from flange): 44/50mm
Seen from front.
Seen from the mount.
Lens and Finder.
Finder, viewer side.
Finder, seen from front.
Camera with lens and finder seen from the front.
Camera with lens and finder, seen from the back.
lens has a multi-blade aperture, perfectly round. The finder has a
luminous frame which adapts according to the distance set.
Robot Tele-Xenar 4.5/110 Focal length: 110mm
Aperture: F 4.5 - F 22
Min focus distance: more than 2m
Length (from flange): 75/78mm
Camera and lens.
Seen from above, A big lens.
The lens is lightweight but quite big. Mine lacks click stops for the aperture. It moves easily, settings are easy
This is my favorite Robot camera/lens combination, which slides easily into a coat pocket.
The camera and the 30mm lens.
The lens is extremely short.
Robot cameras are very small cameras with interchangeable lenses. They
are extremely robust and fast, which makes them quite heavy. Film
loading is a bit complicated, but once you are used to it, it's fine. As proposed in the manual, it's not a bad idea to do some exercise with old film first.
You have to lift the wind button, remove the wind cassette, dismount the wind cassette and insert
the film into the spool. Then the casette is re-mounted around the film
tip and re-inserted. The film cartridge goes into the other side. The
wind button has to be engaged into the wind spool and the film
tightened. Then close the film compartment a action the shutter twice.
The cassette has a big advantage: if you open the camera
with the film in it, you only lose 2 photos. There are feeding
cassettes for bulk film. Handling is easy otherwise. With some training
and short shutter speeds you can shoot up to 4 photos per second. A 36
exposure roll gives up to 55 photos. Spacing is very tight omn my cameras. I can sometimes have up to 64 photos from a 36 roll. The lenses are
high quality lenses and designed for hyperfocal use. So the absence of
a rangefinder is only a minor issue.
the finder is very small, I prefer the Star to the Star II. It's
smaller, weighs less. The spring wind is easier to use for me. Both
models are fine. With the 30mm lens (I love wider angles) it's a good
and fast combination for street photography if you want a mechanical
camera. Hyperfocal setting and modern film make it easy to guess
exposure and distance and get beautiful photos.
The Robot cameras are fun
to use. The lenses are very sharp. As they are small and rapid, they
don't attract any attention. Last, but not least, they are mechanical beauties....
If you want to see more lenses, please visit thelens page. If you are interested in accessories, please have a look at the accessory page.