CPM Reviews: The Strong Radiance® Followspot
By: David Martin Jacques
For: Church Production Magazine

Copyright 2006 by David Martin Jacques

For many years Strong Entertainment Lighting has been known as one of the leading manufacturers of followspots. As a young student of lighting in the 70’s, I used to run an old Strong carbon arc Super Trouper® for my theatre productions. Back then this instrument felt state-of-the-art as I directed an intense beam of light onto the performers.

A great deal of technology developed from those days of feeding carbon rods into a very hot and gaseous arc chamber. Since that time Strong has developed countless new models of followspots incorporating the latest technological developments in lighting design. Yes, there is still a model called the Super Trouper, but other than the name, it holds little resemblance to the antique model I used to operate. The new Super Trouper incorporates the latest lighting technology available, runs smooth and quiet, and continues to be considered the paradigm in which all long-throw followspots are judged by.

Feeding on this distinguished tradition, Strong has introduced a brand new model for medium to long-throw applications. This model, called the Radiance ®, arrived at our light lab at California State University Long Beach last month for review. We put this fixture through extensive real-world tests, from assembly to optical measurements. We also tested the ergonomic design of the Radiance. Although our expectations were quite high (due to Strong’s reputation), I am happy to report that we were quite pleased with the test results.

Upon opening the large shipping box, we quickly discovered that the Radiance was very easy to assemble. The fixture comes with a very sturdy tripod base that has excellent telescoping capabilities. This is welcome considering the weight of the fixture. Once placed onto the base, the Radiance felt perfectly balanced and was not front or rear-heavy. The base itself felt very secure and incorporated excellent telescoping controls allowing the operator to adjust the height of the fixture. The base also folds easily into itself (like a camera tripod) for easy transportation and storage.

Once set on its base, all we had to do was install the lamp (an 850 watt DC double-ended metal halide lamp). This is a very easy operation as Strong has designed a user-friendly lamp-housing module. This module also has adjustment knobs that allow the user to easily align the lamp vertically and horizontally to the reflector, allowing you to create an even field of light (discussed later).

We quickly appreciated the Radiance’s new yoke design that frees the side and top part of the fixture from any mounting brackets making it very easy for the operator to reach all the beam controls. The controls are all logically placed and easily adjusted. Strong has designed a new “Insta-focus” knob that allows the operator to quickly fine-tune the focus while adjusting the zoom. This knob is located right next to the zoom control and travels with the zoom as it slides forward and back. On the top of the Radiance you will find controls for the douser (a new “iris” design that creates smooth fading of the light), a horizontal shutter, a vertical shutter, and a nichrome steel drop-in iris. These controls are very smooth and the handles are covered with heat-resistant plastic. The drop-in iris is an interesting addition as it can be easily removed from the fixture and replaced with a gobo.

After the quick and easy assembly we plugged the spot into an A/C wall outlet, flicked on the toggle switch, and the Radiance came to life. The Radiance is designed to delay the start of the quiet cooling fan so that the lamp can reach full intensity quickly. The lamp reached full intensity in less than a minute.

After the quick warm-up, we were amazed at the power of this fixture. It produced an extremely bright, and even beam of light. Our lighting measurements confirmed the power and flatness of the total field of light. Although an even field is very important for all lighting fixtures, it is especially crucial for followspots. We played with the lamp alignment adjustments and found that we could tweak the alignment to fine-tune the field.

The “Insta-focus” knob that travels with the zoom control made it very easy to adjust the focus and zoom with one hand. This is very convenient and a welcome user feature for spot operators. Although you can easily adjust the focus while zooming, it is good to note that due to its True Zoom Focus (“TZF”) system, the Radiance kept a constant focus throughout the entire zoom range.

The Radiance’s vertical and horizontal shutters are a welcome addition. With one hand you are able to not only accomplish a circle iris (with the drop-in iris), but also create a box iris (by closing both the vertical and horizontal iris’s at the same time). The framing shutters also make it very easy to frame off the light as the operator follows the performer. Another nice feature is that with an internal adjustment, you can manually adjust the angle of the blades for extreme keystone angles.

We found the pan and tilt movement of the fixture very intuitive. The light felt like it almost became part of the operator’s body (the key to good followspot design). The tension adjustments kept their uniformity throughout the entire range of vertical and horizontal movement.

When we took the Radiance apart to view the optical system, we were pleased with the easy internal access via the two metal panels on the top of the fixture. After loosening a few quarter-turn fasteners, handy pop-up thumb lever permits easy lift-off of the panels. Nice touch… We discovered that the lenses and beam-shaping control modules were well designed. They can also be easily removed for cleaning and servicing.

The six-color, self-canceling boomerang color changer allowed us to change colors almost instantaneously. There is also a handy flap that creates a transport cover for the color changer. When released, the color frames fall under the followspot for operation. The flap can later secure and cover the frames inside the color changer for transportation.

Overall, we rated the Strong Radiance followspot excellent in all areas. We only have a few small suggestions for improvement. The first is in regard to the side grip handles on the fixture. We would like to see a rubberized coating on the handles as the sharp steel edges may get tiresome to the operator after extended use. Coating the handles with heat-resistant rubber or plastic would solve this. The same comment applies to the handles on the color changer. Finally, there is no optical sight to “pre-aim” the spot. We would like to see this feature incorporated on all followspots. The fixture that Strong sent us was a prototype, and we hope to see these improvements on later production models.

The paradigm of judging a followspot goes beyond the simple measurements of optical qualities. A followspot must almost become an appendage of the operator so that the light becomes part of the performance. Therefore the design of the ergonomics of the fixture is crucial. The Strong Radiance achieves this high level of excellent operator ergonomics. In addition, the light quality of the Radiance is exquisite. If you are in the market for a high-quality followspot, make sure you check out this fabulous light. You will not be disappointed.

David Martin Jacques is a lighting designer and consultant for theatre, opera, television, and houses of worship in the US and worldwide. He also serves as Head of Stage Design at California State University Long Beach. He can be reached at djacques@csulb.edu .