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Robot Star 50
Miniature concealment camera

The Robot Star 50 was a wind-up 1 or clockwork camera, developed by Robot Foto & Electronic 2 (now: Jenoptik) in Schwelm (Germany) in 1969. During the Cold War the camera became heavily used in the espionage trade, by both East and West, as it could be fitted in a wide variety of concealments and was extremely 3 silent. The camera could take 50 exposures onto 35 mm film.

The camera is very compact and measures 4 just 11.5 x 10 x 4 cm. It was based on the Robot Star that was introduced during the 1950s and was available in two versions: the Robot Star 25, that could take 25 exposures on a single load, and the Robot Star 50 that could take 50 exposures.

Depending on the application, a wide variety of lenses was available for the camera. The image on the right shows a typical Robot Star 50 with a Xenagon lens made by Schneider Kreuznach. It was often the lens of choice for 'the services' as it had a small —easy to conceal— lens opening.
Robot Star 50

The Robot Star 50 is shown with various concealments in Keith Melton's book Ultimate Spy [2]. Although the camera is advertised as being 'silent' it is actually rather loud compared to other covert cameras. For this reason, the East-German security service, the Stasi (MfS), modified the cameras to make them virtually silent. The Robot Star 50 was introduced in 1969 and had a price tag of DM 550 (EUR 225) at the time, for just the bare body [3]. It was in production until the late 1990s. The (much smaller) Russian F-21 Ayaks camera was modelled after the Robot series.

  1. Wind-up or clockwork cameras are also known as spring-motor cameras.
  2. The company was established in 1934 as a brand of Otto Berning & Co., operating under the name Robot Foto & Electronic. In 1999 it became part of Jenoptik and in 2002 the name was changed to ROBOT Visual Systems GmbH. In 2010, the name was changed to JENOPTIK Robot GmbH.
  3. Although advertised as quiet, the camera was actually quite loud. For this reason it was often modified with a slower film transport mechanism.
  4. Dimensions are without the lens, but with the wind-up knob.

Robot Star 50 Robot Star 50 Top view Controls at the top Rear view of the open camera Rear/bottom view of the open camera Rear view of the open camera
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Robot Star 50
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Robot Star 50
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Top view
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Controls at the top
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Rear view of the open camera
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Rear/bottom view of the open camera
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Rear view of the open camera

The diagrams below show one of the most complete variants of the Robot Star 50, with viewfinder, spring-motor and film rewind mechanism. The large knop at the centre top is for winding-up the spring of the auto-winder. This version also has a film sensitivity setting (ASA).

Once the camera is wound up, the shutter-release button (just in front of the wind-up knob) should be pressed to shoot a picture. As soon as the knob is released, the film is transported. Although it is possible to release the shutter with a finger, in practice it was commonly operated by an electrical solenoid or by means of air pressure. A range of solutions was available for this.

  • Robot Star 25
  • Robot Star 50
Over the years, many different variants of the Robot Star 50 have been produced, often for specific purposes. Some variants have less features than the one show here. There are versions without a viewfinder and without the wind-up mechanism. In addition, the OTS of the Stasi often modified the camera for specific surveillance jobs. They developed a shutter-release solenoid and modified the film transport mechanism in order to make it more silent. Some examples:

  • Special lenses (such as the Xanagon 30 mm lens shown here)
  • Pin-hole lens
  • Various lens concealments
  • No film rewind knob
  • No ASA setting knob
  • No wind-up mechanism
  • With flash shoe
  • Without viewfinder
  • External viewfinder
  • With built-in miniature solenoid
  • With quick loading cassette
  • Shutter speed: B, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500 sec
  • ASA/ISO: 12 - 800
  • Film width: 35 mm (perforated)
  • Frame size: 24 x 24 mm
  • Exposures: 50 (or 25 on the Robot Star 25)
  1. Wikipedia, Robot (camera)
    Retrieved August 2015.

  2. Keith Melton, Ultimate Spy
    1996-2002. ISBN 0-7513-4791-4. p. 80.

  3. Detlev Vreisleben, Robot GEHEIM
    Retrieved October 2015.
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© Crypto Museum. Created: Monday 05 October 2015. Last changed: Monday, 21 January 2019 - 10:26 CET.
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