135compact.com       35mm cameras       Robot Star

The 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, bayonnet-mount).

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.

The 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.

The Royal 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.

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.

Back view. Finder. Spring wind. Counter adjustment wheel.

Seen 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.

Seen from below. Tripod mount.

Right side. Film compartment opening bar and angle viewer.

Camera back open open, film compartment and N wind cassette.

The 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

Diameter: 46mm
Weight: 124gr.

The lens.

Seen from front.

Seen from the mount.

Camera and lens.

This 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

Diameter: 46mm
Weight: 200gr.

The lens.

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.

The 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

Diameter: 46mm
Weight: 200gr.

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 to read.

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.

The 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. Done.

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.

Although 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 the lens page. If you are interested in accessories, please have a look at the accessory page.