ASTEP 400, the main instrument of the ASTEP (Antarctica Search for Transiting ExoPlanets) programme, is a 40 cm telescope, designed to withstand the harsh conditions in Antarctica, achieving a photometric accuracy of a fraction of millimagnitude on hourly time-scales for planet-hosting southern bright ( R ~ 12 mag) stars. We review the performances of this instrument, describe its operating conditions, and present results from the analysis of observations obtained during its first three years (2010–2012) of operation, before its repatriation in 2014. During this time, we observed a total of 22 stellar fields (1° x 1° field of view). Each field, in which we measured stars up to magnitude R = 18 mag, was observed continuously during ~7 to ~30 d. More than 200 000 frames were recorded and 310 000 stars processed, using an implementation of the optimal image subtraction photometry algorithm. We found 43 planetary transit candidates. 20 of these candidates were observed using spectroscopic follow-ups including four targets classified as good planet candidates. Our results demonstrate that accurate near-continuous photometric observations are achievable from the Concordia station at Dome C in Antarctica, even if we were not able to reach the nominal photometric precision of the instrument. We conducted a correlation analysis between the rms noise and a large number of external parameters and found that source of the ~1 mmag correlated noise is not obvious and does not depend on a single parameter. However, our analysis provided some hints and guidance to increase the photometric accuracy of the instrument. These improvements should equip any future telescope operating in Antarctica.