4 June 2024

Enter the Dragon

Commercial creator Chris Magee is fired up about the Sun Dragon, Atomos’ new five-colour LED strip light.

By Atomos

Conventional cinema lights come in the shape of point sources, panels or linear strips, but Atomos has come up with new LED production and cinema strip lights that deliver a new dimension in both flexibility and performance. Sun Dragon is billed as the world’s first sun spectrum-accurate, five-colour HDR LED production light in an LED strip form. Traditional LED strips are typically not accurate in colour and brightness due to poor LED quality, and the end-to-end accuracy drops off significantly, resulting in varying performance on-set. Sun Dragon solves these issues with its precision five-colour arrangement, a CRI of 99 (Colour Rendering Index) and TLCI of 98 (Television Lighting Consistency Index), ensuring faithful colour and brightness reproduction.

Ahead of their release this summer, the lights were put through their paces by the Melbourne-based commercial videographer and photographer Chris Magee. He has spent 20 years working as a cinematographer in film and TV production in LA, has shot high-end commercials for brands including Ford, GM and Mastercard, and worked around the world shooting commercials, documentaries, music videos and even a feature film. “In the corporate world, we have little to no crew and high expectations,” he explains. “I am interested in any kind of technology that’s going to make my life easier and give me an edge. In particular with the Sun Dragon, I was keen to test scenarios that would be tricky to light with other fixtures.”

Shape light with ease

Instead of a more conventional fixed, heavy and cumbersome form factor, Sun Dragon is designed as a malleable strip. This makes it easy to flex into any shape, carefully controlling reflections and shadows with a precision that’s simply not possible with traditional fixed-shape lighting.

“Sun Dragons are fantastic for quickly getting light into places where otherwise there would be no time to do so,” continues Magee. “Take for example a person walking at night in a shot: I can just lay a Sun Dragon on the ground, on a hedge or on a bench, over a tree branch, or hung quickly on a couple of stands, and cover the distance of the walk needed for the shot. This might typically take six to eight soft lights laid out evenly – and that’s a lot more work.”

If you still need a panel source, simply coil the Sun Dragon in a spiral and it behaves like a panel light source. Wider spirals make a wider light throw, and denser spirals form a closer, more intense beam. “Two Sun Dragons can give me light on two sides very quickly. Alternatively, coiled up they can become a portable, lightweight soft fill light which can be walked with the shot,” advises Magee. “They are great to throw out of focus in the background of a shot to add colour that fits into the environment.”

“Sun Dragon’s control and accuracy means less correction in post, saving time and money.”

Accurate shadowing

The ultra-density of the five-colour (red, green, blue, amber and white) LED lights avoids annoying micro shadows – which can require diffusers on regular thin LED light strips – and increases the relative brightness to a consistent 2000 lumens.

They can add colour interest to bland scenes, for example dramatic under-lighting which Magee used a lot in the test shoot. When it comes to illumination, Magee says there’s more than enough light for most uses, inside and/or in the evening. “Given the low light levels most of us work in at night, it’s been necessary to dim the Sun Dragons way, way down more often than to turn them to 100%,” he says. “They have plenty of punch”.

Each Sun Dragon comes with a spiral carry case, with metal mounting options on the rear and magnetic removable diffuser covers for more traditional light panel use. What’s more, they are fully dust proof, water-resistant and waterproof to a depth of one metre. Rain, spray and accidental spillage pose no threat to this all-weather light which can cope with desert or beach environments without issue. “Unlike any of my other lights, the Sun Dragons can be set out in the rain and powered by V-Lock batteries, making them very versatile.” Magee was also pleasantly surprised by how rugged the lights felt. “Typically, lights can be quite delicate objects and prone to accidental breakage when moved around. The fact you can just roll up the Sun Dragon made it feel it would be less likely to get damaged easily.”

Precision control

Power is nothing without precision control, so Sun Dragon’s RGBAW design comes with an active controller with a large display, and wireless/wired DMX remote control allowing for nearly any hue on the colour wheel to be mixed during operation. Basic set-up for brightness, colour, hue and RGB channels is available via Atomos AirGlu devices. Sun Dragon is also Bluetooth compatible for DMX control from iPad and iPhone apps. “Just having these lights in my kit makes it so easy to get shots I usually would not have time to set up,” Magee reports. “Additionally, I can add incidental colour to shots quickly. The control and accuracy means that less correction is needed in post-production, saving more time and money.”

The new lights can be controlled using Atomos monitor-recorders with AirGlu, and the brand-new Ninja Phone, allowing shots to be set up quickly and accurately. This degree of lighting control delivers immediate visual feedback to the cinematographer and eliminates checking and re-checking, which is especially important for HDR. “Creative videographers and photographers have options we never had before,” says Magee. “As I work with the Sun Dragon and find new uses, I can see it becoming an indispensable part of my kit, helping me create featurelevel lighting for corporate shoots. Sun Dragon can make me more competitive by adding dramatic features at relatively little extra cost, and save me time too.”

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