The Robot3 Action Camera is a cheap 35mm plastic toy camera produced circa 2007-2008. It was sold by Vastfame Camera, a Hong Kong export company that had ties to a factory in mainland China. Vastfame produced a series of toy film cameras as well as digicams, underwater cameras and disposable cameras.
Perhaps the most celebrated of Vastfame’s lineup was the Robot3 – nicknamed the Disderi Robot. The name Robot3 comes from the fact the camera has three lenses which were covered by a brightly coloured piece of plastic in the shape of a robot’s face.
Keep reading for my review of the Disderi Robot / Robot3, or press play on episode 35
Introducing the Robot3
The Robot3 is made from plastic and comes in many different colour combinations. The base colour of the body is black or white, but each camera is given a splash of colour (and personality) with the addition of bright coloured plastic used for three parts of the camera: the cute robot face around the lenses, the film rewind crank, and the shutter button. Colours used for these areas include orange, pink, purple, blue, green and yellow.
Other Vastfame toy cameras
Vastfame also made two lens and four lens variants of these toy cameras. The two lens is called either the Twin Star or the Twinkle Two. The four lens camera is known as the Action4. The Action4 is quite a strange name in my opinion, as the brightly coloured plastic on the front of this camera looks like a butterfly.
What’s so special about the Robot3?
Apart from being quite adorable, the Robot3 produces an unusual effect – pressing the shutter button produces three images on the one frame of 35mm film. Having multiple images on the one frame of 35mm film is not unusual in itself, there are many other action sampler cameras that do this. What makes the Robot3 different though – from other action samplers as well as the Twin Star and Action4 – is that the frame dividers are curved.
It’s said that this gives the impression that you are looking at the world from a robot’s point of view, which immediately raises two questions in my mind: 1) Why wouldn’t a robot have sophisticated stereoscopic vision? and 2) Why would a robot be able to see out of their mouth? Of course another consideration is that the lens flips the image, so the “mouth” image ends up on top of the frame, so it’s not really like looking at a robot’s point of view at all. Maybe I’m overthinking it…
Despite its quirky looks, and its questionable raison d’etre, the Robot3 is a super fun, super cute camera that gives fun lomo inspired results. Although I’ve only shot two rolls of film through it, it’s captured a place in my heart. It was one of six cameras that I used for my film photography zine Every Summer.
Robot3 / Disderi Robot specifications and features
- Focus distance: 1 metre to infinity
- Lens configuration: three 25mm lenses – two on the top row (robot’s eyes) and one on the bottom row (robot’s mouth). The lenses flip the image, so the long part of the image actually ends up at the top part of the frame. Curved frame dividers are said to give you the impression that you are getting a robot’s view of the world.
- Lens sequence: The three exposures are taken in a sequence that lasts for about 1/5 of a second. As you’re holding the camera in your hand with the lenses facing away from you, the sequence of is bottom / right / left – which of course is reversed on to the negative as top / left bottom / right bottom.
- Shutter speed: fixed shutter speed of 1/100 second.
- Aperture: fixed aperture of f8.
- Battery: none needed.
- Strap: yes
- Film counter: yes.
- Rewind button: yes.
- Viewfinder: no inbuilt viewfinder, only a pop-up “sports viewfinder”.
- Recommended film: Depends on the light where you live, ISO200 or ISO400 are good places to start, but you could in theory choose any film.
Robot3 / Disderi Robot toy camera manual
It’s so simple you really don’t need a manual, but here it is anyway, worth a look for the cute cartoons I guess: view the Robot3 / Disderi Robot toy camera manual.
Where can I buy a Disderi Robot?
I bought my Disderi Robot from a Facebook Marketplace seller in Brisbane, Australia. Scouring the ads just before I left work, I saw a camera for $2. I had no idea what it was, but for that price I didn’t care. In the pouring rain I turned up at the seller’s house on my way home and handed them a shiny $2 coin in exchange for the seemingly brand new in box with instructions Robot3 camera.
When I got it home, the shutter wouldn’t fire and I thought I’d bought a dud. Then I remembered that some cameras don’t seem like they work until you pop a roll of film inside them. After loading up and winding on a test roll of 35mm film, I pressed the bright pink shutter button and the robot’s lenses whirred into action. Bingo!
The cameras pop up from time to time on online marketplaces, but they don’t seem to be that common. I’d suggest setting up an alert on eBay if you’re super keen to get one – more details about this process in my blog 12 top tips for buying film cameras on eBay.
Using the Robot3 / Disderi Robot
The Robot3 is a very simple and fun camera to use. It doesn’t need a battery to operate, just add 35mm film! The shooting process is pretty simple – wind film on, wave camera in general direction of the action, press shutter button, repeat.
The camera has no in-built viewfinder, so you really do end up waving it vaguely towards your subject, hoping for the best. The camera has a “sports viewfinder” – a piece of plastic that flips up from the top of the camera that you can use as a framing guide. I’d suggest the sports viewfinder only marginally helps framing, but it’s better than nothing.
As tricky as precise composition can be with this camera, sometimes you get lucky. I love the image below I took of two trains in Switzerland. In the bottom two images, the train in the bottom left frame seamlessly blends with the carriage in the bottom right frame.
The three wide angle 25mm lenses take about 1/5 of a second to finish their noisy shooting sequence. As you’re holding the camera in your hand with the lenses facing away from you, the sequence of is bottom / right / left. As the lens flips the image, the sequence then is reversed on to the negative as top / left bottom / right bottom.
The camera supposedly has a fixed shutter speed of 1/100 second, but as you can see from almost every image on this page, the long “mouth” lens image is considerably brighter than images from the other two lenses.
The quality of the images is not bad for a plastic camera – certainly a lot better than others I’ve used. They are relatively sharp, with some blurring and vignetting towards the edges of the frame, especially the top part.
The only real issue I had using this little toy camera was loading the film, which was tricky on one occasion. The main issue seemed to be that once I had fed the leader in the take up spool, it kept coming out as I tried to advance it. Maybe I’m too used to the luxury of premium compacts – eventually it wound on.
The Robot3 / Disderi Robot is a camera that you should take everywhere. It’s light as a feather, weighing in at just 70 grams or 2.4 ounces without film. It’s the kind of camera that you can throw in your bag without even noticing it’s there. It’s not the most compact camera in the world, but it will happily fit in a pocket without weighing you down.
What film should I use for the Disderi Robot?
It all depends on the light you’ll be shooting in – safe choices to start off with would be ISO200 or ISO400 colour negative film. I’ve shot successfully in bright sunshine with both 100 and 200 speed colour negative film, which is known for its wide latitude. Having a wide latitude means that it doesn’t matter if it’s a little underexposed or quite a bit overexposed, the images will come out fine.
The beauty of the Disderi Robot – like many other cheap plastic cameras – is that you know all three parts of the exposure triangle.
If you’re not sure if you have enough light to shoot with, fire up a smartphone light meter app. Enter your film speed as the ISO and f8 as the aperture. The shutter speed of the camera is 1/100 second, so as long as the light meter app is telling you that the shutter speed is 1/100 or higher, you’re good to go.
For example, if the app recommends 1/200 second at f8, you have plenty of light for the shot. The Robot3 has only one shutter speed – 1/100 second – so you’ll get twice as much light as needed.
Where the name Disderi Robot come from?
I’ve combed the internet for hours and I’m yet to find who coined the term “Disderi Robot”. Around 2010-11 there were multiple mentions of the “Disderi Robot”, even though this name doesn’t appear on the camera, the box, or in the instruction manual.
My best guess is that it was a nickname that someone used soon after it was released, and it stuck. Disderi was the name of a 19th century pioneer of commercial photography who invented the Carte de Visite camera – capable of taking up to ten images on a single collodion plate.
Note that despite its name, this camera should not be confused with the German Robot cameras of the 1930s and 1940s.