Robot Star II Vollautomat is not a beginner friendly film camera. It is a small camera using 35 mm film and it shoots square format pictures (24 x 24 mm). The viewfinder is not coupled with the lens, this is not a rangefinder. Zone focusing can be difficult at larger apertures. The VF is for composing shots only. That said, the camera feels good to use. The spring mechanism is unique and sparks joy, even though it has limited benefit for slower film shooting process.
A square format means also a diamond format!
It’s been a while since I’ve shot analogue, but recently I acquired the Robot Star II Vollautomat -camera, which inspired me to shoot a roll again. The camera is from the 1950s, as the camera line was renamed in 1960. It became Robot Star 25 or 50 depending on the model. It boggles my mind how an amazingly complex item can still be operational 60 years after its manufacture date. These cameras were popular in spy business during the cold war. You could wind up the spring, hide the camera in a briefcase and the cable release in the briefcase handle and covertly snap photos.
The Robot shoots 24×24 millimeter square frames, which was basically the reason why I picked the camera up. I wanted to shake myself up and refresh my thinking a bit. I decided I was going to shoot diamond shaped photos. Sure, shooting diamonds sounds gimmicky. But it is actually a nice practice, because when shooting diamonds, you have to think about composition a bit differently. Diamonds made me see my surroundings differently, and that inspired me. The standard of taking pictures is to shoot rectangular images with straight horizontal lines.
With diamond, you have a different kind of frame to match your vision to. Even if it won’t become my go to format, it was nice to try something different for once and square format camera made it possible. Seeing the results, it seems that with diamond format, you need to be super accurate with the orientation of the camera. Otherwise the results aren’t aligned right. A roll of 36 gave me exactly 60 exposures, which is a pretty nice amount! See below a sample of pictures I took with the Robot. Most pictures were taken at f8-f11.
The Robot Star II is both a pleasure and a nightmare to use
The Robot Star II Vollautomat is a fully mechanical spring-loaded camera. You can turn the black ring and get a fast shooting experience, where you don’t have to wind the film after each shutter click. You can just click-click-click away. Now with film, you don’t shoot fast so you don’t really need the function, but it does provide a nice tactile feel to operating the camera. The nightmare part is the zone focusing and I really don’t like the positioning of the shutter speed dial. It is located on the front and is fiddly to turn.
Focus by eyeballing distance to subject
The bad thing about Robot Star II is that you have a viewfinder with framelines but no way to focus the camera with it. The VF is unlinked to the lens, meaning this is not a rangefinder camera. You have to either make sense of the “snapshot” color markings in the lens barrel, or eyeball the distance to your subject and prefocus the lens and then compose and fire the shutter.
The snapshot color markings are meant to be used with smaller apertures. The snapshot setting is a fixed distance setting which covers the greatest depth of field from infinity to the nearest possible distance from the camera. So with 40mm lens at f8, you can set a certain minimum focus distance and everything from that point to infinity will be somewhat in focus. At f8, that focus distance is about 2,5 meters (8,5 feet), at f4 4,5 meters (15 feet), etc. I didn’t use the snapshot setting, I just focused by estimating the distance to my target. The lens has a maximum aperture of f1.9, which makes accurate focusing very difficult if the subject is nearer than 5 meters or so.
Quite many of my pictures turned out to be out of focus, even though I used small apertures and tried my best to assess the distance to the subject and play it safe.
The Doomo light meter feels like it was made for Robot
Doomo light meter is a cool little gadget that sits on Robot Star II like it was meant to be there. The design is very much in line with Robot camera, both look good and are pleasing to use. Below is a short video showing how to operate Doomo.
If you’d like to check the manual for the camera, head over to Butkus. The manual is a bit hard to read, but I guess you can find all the information there. I know it took me a bit of time to figure out the usage.
That’s all, thanks for reading! If you read this far, please consider giving a rating to this article below! I like getting feedback so I can do better in the future!
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