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I will preface this review by stating that these opinions are mine, and not necessarily those of any of my clients, gear providers, employees, or anybody associated with Blueshift Design. My gear reviews are long-winded, prone to digression, and highly opinionated. If you use what I say to make any real decisions without seeing these products for yourself, you’re insane.

The Robe Spiider

Robe is a Czech Republic company that’s been around for a while. The company has seen a revival in recent years, with their gear experiencing a sudden uptick in popularity, especially in the United States. I first became aware of the company when VER recommended their ROBIN 600 Wash for the tour I designed for Ronnie Dunn. The lights impressed me then – they had a high build quality and excellent output, as well as decent dimming curves in an era where there were many LED products struggling in this area. They kept releasing good lights after that, particularly the Robe Viva and BMFL, which have enjoyed a lot of success.

The Spiider, however, is a different light entirely. Comparisons to the Clay-Paky B-Eye are almost inevitable, as both fixtures have the same basic design idea of an array of RGBW LEDs arranged in a largely circular fashion with very little space in between adjacent cells, and a “gag” to give the light an extra visual trick to dazzle us with. More on that later.

As I’ve noticed with most LED offerings these days, manufacturers are very quick to point out how homogenized their sources are, and indeed the individual RGBW dies that make up each pixel in the Spiider array are quite indistinguishable from each other. As an aside, apart from a ridiculous light made by High End Systems a few years ago, the dreaded “Skittles” have been largely absent from the world of professional lighting fixtures for some time, and thank Eris. (I’m looking at you, Richard Belliveau.) There are no multicolored shadows anywhere in the Spiider’s range. The fixture is bright – rated at 50,000 lux from five meters. The zoom goes from 4º to 50º, making a really tight beam that looks as though it could (in the words of one of my audio friends) “scrape the paint off the arena walls”. The zoom, while usable, is a little slower than I would like. To be fair, however, very few LED zooms these days live up to the incredibly fast standard the Martin MAC 301 set back in the day – but that said, the Spiider’s is fast enough to use as an effect and certainly not sluggish.1 This really is a value judgement, and usage needs will vary from project to project. Rally narrow settings with individual pixels look great, with thin pencils of light shooting out the front of the fixture that look amazing in haze.

The “gag” that this light presents us with is a unique one, so far: the central pixel on the light has an optic above the primary die optic that focuses the individual dies, separating and diverging them. During normal operation, a sort of “frost filter” sits over these LEDs and homogenizes and mixes the output so this effect (which Robe calls the “flower” effect) isn’t seen, but remove it from the optical train and spikes of multicolored light emerge, stabbing saturated beams across the room. Curiously, since the second optic diverges and separates the dies while focusing them, you can’t get mixed colors out of this effect. If you put in, say, the red and white emitters, you’ll get red beams and white beams, but no pink beams. This prism-like effect can also rotate, lending another layer to an effect usually reserved for spot and beam fixtures.

How does this measure up to the effect produced by the B-Eye? This ultimately depends, as it always does, on your specific application, but I think I have to come down on the side of the B-Eye effect being more visually “striking”. This doesn’t mean the flower effect is bad or even uninspired, it’s just that rotating your entire front lens is a really good trick that I think will be difficult to top. I use the flower effect – though sparingly – in my show, and it does look good. Props to Robe for trying something different. It definitely works.

What is not good about this light is the color stability in fades.

To be fair, I’m referring to a software version that Robe was shipping their fixtures with as of summer / fall 2017, when the 70+ fixtures that I took on the road were delivered to me by 4Wall. During programming, we (Andre Petrus and myself) realized that the fixture shifted significantly toward green as it was dimmed. This was not just a case of two designers being persnickety about their precious colors, this was a warm yellow turning to a somewhat chrome-y citrus lime color as it dimmed. The same thing happened in cyan, with the gamma curve of the green emitter being totally out of whack in relation to the other emitters in the light. (There was another issue too, of the LEDs “smoothing” color changes when intensity was below 100%, but this wasn’t as big as the color fades issue.) Now, software issues happen in our industry, all the time, and the companies release software updates that we apply and life goes on. My beef in this particular instance was 1) the amount of convincing it took for Robe to believe me that this issue was occurring and 2) the amount of time it took to get a fix to us, one which significantly improved the issue but did not solve it entirely. As of this writing (summer 2018), I still have not had a software update which totally fixes the issue of color stability in fades. It’s a lot better than it was, no doubt, but still not as good as it could be.

A couple of things here to be aware of – the time that we were programming this show and subsequently blowing up the Robe inboxes were a time of strife for a lot of people in Florida – the coast was getting pounded by hurricanes that certainly didn’t improve communications with the Robe team in Sunrise, though I can’t entirely give them a pass on this because the company is headquartered in the Czech Republic and has other personnel around the United States. Secondly, and this is the big one: how on God’s green earth did nobody notice this issue before the software got burned to thousands of ROMs?

When I first brought this to the attention of the Robe people, what I got was a lot of “runaround” answers – check your settings, maybe it’s something in the effect you’re running, we’ll look into it, and then nothing. I think it goes without saying that ours is frequently a time-sensitive industry, and so I was quite clear that we needed an answer sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, it was a week before I got any indication that Robe was taking this issue seriously, and weeks before I finally got a working software update from the company. This isn’t how I want support to respond; I realize that many times, issues are caused by programmers not doing something right, or having weird settings in their console, but it would be a simple matter to check the validity of what I was saying on fixtures at their factory with their consoles. After that, I was disappointed in the “tech support shuffle” that I felt like I was getting from the various people I talked to – once it became clear that I was dealing with an actual issue, it would have been preferable to talk to a software engineer or at least their head of North American support so we could very quickly dialogue and come to a workable solution. I’m pretty sure I’ve had the biggest touring rig of Spiiders in North America (as of the time of that tour, anyway) and we use them as our primary washlight – and so you’d think Robe would like to see their new flagship LED washlight in working and shipshape order on as large and visible a tour as this.

This isn’t to bash on Robe, I have friends at the company, I’ve spoken to the CEO who is a knowledgable and really smart guy, and I love the products that they’ve been putting out. This support issue is certainly a misstep, but one that I think could be fixed in future which would lead to better-functioning gear and happier LDs all around.

1. One might wonder what the reason for the slowdown in zoom speeds in these “frying pan”-style lights has been, however. More weight needing to be moved back and forth? Laziness? Lack of demand for really fast effects? ACME Really Fast Motors went out of business? Anyway, good job, Martin.

The Clay Paky Scenius

A lot of this will retread earlier thoughts about this fixture, because I wrote it up for the magazine that I write for, PLSN.

My experience with these lights has been almost universally positive, in terms of lighting output, quality of light, and quality of the effects.

The Scenius Profile shares the same lamp and exterior form factor with its Spot cousin, with a 1400W lamp from parent company Osram with a native color temperature of 6000K. To change the lamp, users loosen four captive screws at the rear of the head, remove the cover and twist out the lamp, inserting a new one. All parts remain captive during installation so there should be no problem with changing a lamp while hanging. The light comes with a reflector specifically designed to produce an extremely even and flat field, and it succeeds — it produced a very smooth field all along the entire zoom range, and I saw no visible hotspots. There is tendency for this lamp to color-shift over time, perhaps more than I notice in lights like the Viper, but overall is not objectionable.

Immediately after the lamp, reflector and hot mirror are a pair of dimmer flags. These are of a design I’ve seen before in Clay Paky lights – a pair of metal flags with a comb-like edge, on top of which sits frosted glass to help smooth out the edges. The flags work well; the dimming very closely follows an ideal square law curve, and it was almost perfectly even across the field, with no visible vignetting. One thing I saw that I didn’t notice when I wrote the original PLSN article is a bit of steepness at the bottom end of the dimming curve – we used these lights for our primary truss spot fixture, and the have a tendency to “pop” on at very low values. Clay-Paky certainly has the chops to build a smooth dimmer, so I’m curious as to why this issue persists. (There is another issue with the dimmer that CP uses in this light, relating to a first run of the fixtures, wherein the flags would warp from the heat of the lamp, this has since been addressed.) Otherwise, this is a very usable dimmer.

One thing I do not like about this system is that the dimmer flags are also used for strobing. This, I feel, is a misstep – though I understand the cost reasons behind the decision. There’s a “crispness” to the Vari-Lite way of using dedicated, hard-edged strobing flags (with no smoothing glass), in that there is “fade” time, especially when strobing while the dimmer is at lower levels. (Since the smoothing glass is still somewhat in the beam.) It’s not a huge problem, but I do notice it. Clay-Paky makes up for it by having some of the beefiest motors on dimmer flags that I’ve seen – the entire rig of 70-some odd lights makes a very audible “clunk” when you hit “At Full” on the desk. It’s fast, I just wish they had gone a tiny bit further and added a pair of dedicated strobing flags.

Further down the optical train is the color mixing system. This is a flag system, with pairs of dichroic glass closing and opening across the beam like a pair of curtains. Like all the other effects in the Scenius, it’s very fast – Clay-Paky went big on their motors for all the effects in this light. This system will pull off some surprisingly fast snaps to white, almost as fast as a color wheel would. Like all color mixing systems, the choices made here were made in an environment of competing concerns – saturation versus pastels, speed versus evenness of the mix in the beam. Like all flag systems, this one has better and worse positions for the focus glass within the optical system in terms of evenness of the beams. In general, this system behaves well within the understood optical characteristics of systems like this. The colors chosen are good – in particular, the mixed reds are true reds and the yellow is balanced. There is a fixed color wheel that – frankly – I don’t use very often, but I do use the green filter in one song, which adds a lot of punch to the brightness that would otherwise be lost in the mix system.

The gobos are unremarkable, but certainly not boring. They’re all black and white glass, rotate very fast to very slow, and there’s a nice mix of breakups and aerial patterns.

There is also a four-bladed beam shaper, like in an ellipsoidal, in the Profile version. (I’ve used both the Profile and the Spot) Each blade can be inserted across the entire output. Each also rotates, providing flexibility to create shapes like triangles. I measured a full blade insertion at 0.72 seconds. The module also rotates 90º within the light, taking 1 second to make a full-range movement. Each blade is on a slightly different focal plane, and it is therefore impossible to get every single blade into perfect focus, but one can get quite close. I suspect many users of this light will use this system with the blades out of focus, like a theatrical ellipsoidal, so I didn’t find this objectionable.

The zoom is very fast and covers a wide range, from 8º to 50º. Focus tracking works reasonably well, however, like the Spot version, the zoom travel range is greater than the focus travel range. Therefore, at the narrowest zoom ranges you cannot get gobos into focus. Clay Paky clearly prioritized a greater zoom range over making sure both ranges overlapped perfectly, and it’s just something to be aware of in your programming.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the Clay-Paky Scenius range. I’ve also used the Unicos on Charli XCX, but haven’t had as much time to do a deep delve into their features and performance. Serviceability is excellent – all the modules use thumbscrews where practical, with screws remaining captive and impossible to drop into the light. Overall very solid piece of engineering, and one of my favorite spot / profile fixtures on the market.

Described as “A dancer writes a diary entry.”, this experimental dance piece by Jonah Haber features dancer Niamh Wilson shot against a phosphorescent (glow in the dark) wall. As the dancer moves through the space, a strobe periodically fires, freezing her position in shadow against the surface behind her. Observe:

 

I’m a huge fan of dance, and – as you know – light, and this is a delightful and unexpected usage of light in the art of dance. I wonder how possible it would be to create a reactive phosphorescent softgoods backdrop and use this concept elsewhere.