Copyright 2005 by: David Martin Jacques
There are many lighting choices if a church wishes to go “all out” in its lighting support for its worship services. If high intensity lighting and sophisticated moving light effects are required, in most cases, the tools that are necessary to create these effects include fixtures that are powered by powerful arc lamps. These fixtures, designed primarily for the rock n’ roll industry, are extremely powerful and versatile, allowing the user to create bright, sophisticated lighting atmospheres.
However, this technology comes with a price. The fixtures that fit in this category retail between $6000 and $14,000 a piece! In addition, their maintenance costs can be quite expensive. It’s no wonder that until recently, only the most affluent churches were able to afford this equipment.
Several companies have recently been flooding the market with technically sophisticated automated lighting fixtures that will “wow” even the most demanding concert lighting designer. Vari*Lite, High End Systems, Martin Professional, Coemar, LSD, American DJ, and several other automated lighting manufacturers have entered the market, resulting in a fierce price and technology war. The primary winner of this heated competition is, of course, the consumer. For what was once an industry that had a narrow user base, this competition has created opportunities for even modest houses of worship to rent and purchase this technology.
The newest player in this competition is a small company from the Czech Republic. Robe Show Lighting came upon the lighting industry like a storm. Even though Robe may be an unfamiliar name to most lighting professionals, the company has for years been selling automated lighting fixtures as an original equipment manufacturer for such European lighting companies as Futurelight, Movietec, Saggiter and TAS. Robe has now decided to sell directly to the consumer in the Untied States. With its full range of technically sophisticated automated lighting fixtures, Robe has evolved as a powerful contender in this increasingly competitive industry.
We decided to test one of Robe’s most popular products, the ColorSpot 575AT. These fixtures have been recently purchased by several churches across the United States. In most cases, this model was chosen by these churches because it incorporates most of the features from Robe’s chief competitors at a price point that is very difficult to match. As we wanted to see for ourselves if these features are indeed as well designed as Robe’s competitors’, we put the ColorSpot 575AT to the test in our theatres and light lab at California State University, Long Beach.
First, a few basics about the ColorSpot 575 AT... This is a moving head fixture that is based on a 575w Metal Halide arc lamp. This lamp is extremely efficient, and coupled with Robe’s sophisticated dichroic glass reflector, produces an amazingly powerful and even field of light.
The ColorSpot also includes a motorized zoom with apertures of 15, 18, and 22 degrees, one rotating and index-able seven-position gobo wheel, one static nine-position gobo wheel, two dichroic color media wheels, a variable speed rotating three-facet prism effect, a variable frost feature, a very fast and accurate shutter (dimmer), a motorized iris, and a remote focus feature. The unit will pan 530 degrees and tilt 280 degrees.
These features are roughly equivalent to much higher priced moving lights offered from Robe’s competitors. In fact, the only feature that we found missing was a CYM (cyan, yellow, magenta) dichroic color mixing module. CYM allows you to fade from color to color. However, the ColorSpot’s two color wheels produced a very wide range of colors: most quite usable for theatrical purposes. So unless you must fade from color to color, this system is probably flexible enough for your purposes.
After testing the optics of this fixture in our light lab, we decided to test this fixture in a “real-world” situation on new theatrical production in our large Studio Theatre. The ColorSpot 575 AT was on for practically ten hours a day for five solid weeks in cueing sessions and rehearsals, so it received a more than thorough testing. We discovered absolutely no problems with this fixture. In fact, it never failed in any of our tests! This is a first for our labs (and was quite a disappointment to my lighting design students!).
We were all impressed with many of the ColorSpot’s features. The fixture’s variable zoom and focus parameters were amazingly efficient, producing an even field of light throughout its wide zoom range. Focusing between gobo wheels produced even blending and morphing of the two gobo patterns. The frost feature was widely variable (although light leak and glare was somewhat excessive at full frost). We were also very impressed with its variable rotating prism effect, creating wonderful animations of light patterns.
As the ColorSpot was hung from a lighting pipe approximately 32 feet above the audience, its operating noise was quite acceptable. We found the fan noise of this fixture relatively quiet compared to its competitors. The ColorSpot was only obtrusively loud when activating the strobe effect. But then again, we have yet to hear a strobe effect from a moving light that was not noisy. (And how often will you use a strobe effect in your worship service anyway? I don’t think your pastor would appreciate that!)
We also found the ColorSpot very easy to install and control. We used an Electronic Theatre Controls Expression 3 control console for this show and loading the personality for this fixture was very easy. (The “personality” of the fixture is the specialized code that controls all the separate parameters of that particular light).
Once loaded, controlling the light was a breeze. We could accurately manipulate each parameter and achieve exact and consistent movement. Due to its sophisticated motors, the fixture never displayed stepping and was silky smooth in its movement. In addition, the pan and tilt motors on the ColorSpot are very fast (for a large moving head fixture). The light consistently hit its homing spots every performance.
The designer and director desired several lighting effects in the show, and the ColorSpot performed magnificently! One of my personal favorites was a rotating prism effect during an especially beautiful musical and movement section. The liquid morphing of gobos through the prism was sensational! On the other hand, there were several instances when just a plain, unfiltered arc light was required for a special moment. The purity of the beam was gorgeous, with no visual abnormalities.
The Robe ColorSpot 575 AT is a welcome fixture to the church market. I am sure that the larger companies are quite concerned with this newcomer’s products. Along with the 575 AT, Robe has recently introduced a ColorSpot and ColorWash 1200 AT. Not only are these new moving lights extremely bright, they also incorporate CYM color mixing--placing them in direct competition with High End Systems’ X-Spot, Martin Professional’s Mac 2000, and Vari*lite’s VL2500.
Robe’s new moving lights have already created a buzz among church lighting designers. The Cathedral of His Glory in North Carolina has already installed a complete Robe automated lighting system into its worship space (see CPM article… place proper issue month here). I am quite confident that we will be seeing more great products in our houses of worship from this exciting new company. Your church may be the next to discover the powerful impression left by this fixture!
David Martin Jacques is a lighting consultant for numerous houses of worship across the United States. In addition, he designs theatre and opera productions in the US and throughout Europe. He also heads the graduate stage design program at California State University, Long Beach. David may be contacted at email@example.com .