When you’re looking to install a lighting system, buy new gear or begin in stage lighting, the amazing variety of plugs can be overwhelming!
When multiple voltages, dimming and constant power all collide, it’s important to have a good understanding of the various plugs and what they all do.
It’s very important to have your plan together to keep all people and gear safe – messing up an electrical connection can quickly send people to the hospital! Electricity is a very serious matter.
In this post, I want to outline all of the common plugs in the production world, what voltages they typically run, and how to choose the right plugs for your application. I am based in the US, so this guide we be biased towards what we use here (but many of these plugs are also used worldwide)
Let’s Start With Voltage & Dimming
I mentioned in the paragraph above that on a given lighting truss or pipe, we are going to have 4 types of power. They are:
- 120v Dimmed Power
- 120v Non-Dim Power
- 208v Non-Dim Power
- 3 Phase 208v Feeder Cable for Inputs on power distros and dimmers.
These 3 types of power cover 99% of all fixtures in lighting rigs, and there are few fixtures that don’t use 1 of these 3 types of power as their input. For each type of power, we ideally want to have a different plug, especially in an installation.
The standards for these types of power are:
- 120v Dimmed Power – Stage Pin or Edison
- 120v Non-Dim Power – Edison or PowerCon
- 208v Non-Dim Power – L620 Twistlock or PowerCon
- 3 Phase 208v Feeder – Cam Loks
You’ll notice that the PowerCon plug is listed in both 120v and 208v NonDim sections. This is not an error. Many PowerCon fixtures are auto-ranging and can run at 120v or 208v. This is NOT true for all fixtures, so be careful, and never plug a fixture into voltage that it is not rated for!
When we’re working with portable rigs, it’s okay to mix 120v Non-Dim and Dimmed power on breakouts if you’re paying attention and have a team of competent lighting techs. However, be sure to NEVER mess with anything electrical that you don’t understand.
Let’s dive into the common plugs and uses in the lighting world.
The Standard Lighting Plug Types and Common Uses
This is the 3-pronged general duty plug that you have on the walls in your home and everywhere else. It should only be used for 120v power, and is best for Non-Dim 120v power.
I know that some people try and use this plug for 208v power, especially with PowerCon inputs(see below). However, that is very dangerous and can electrocute people if something gets plugged into the wrong place. Don’t do it!
Like I mentioned above, the Edison connector can also be used for 120v dimmed power, and most small dimmer packs and racks feature this plug on the output.
Just be careful, because if you plug something that is not dimmable into a dimmer pack, you will likely burn out the power supply. Even if you park your dimmer at full, it still isn’t the same exact current as a straight wall-plug due to the dimmers electronics, so even doing that is a risk to gear and should be avoided.
Our next most common plug is the flat plug known as a Stage Pin. Most commonly seen in theaters, it is often the standard 120v dimmed power plug and a great option for any installed venue. I really like putting dimmers on stage pins because you then know that no one can accidentally plug a non-dimmable item into a dimmer!
If you’ve been around stage lighting for awhile, you’ll probably know that stage pins don’t always plug together well, and that’s the reason why many people don’t like them. They’re either too loose and you have to tape them, or too tight and tough to get apart.
Thankfully, this has now changed. There is now an international standard for the exact dimensions of the Stage Pin plug, so any new Stage Pin plugs you buy should mate perfectly together. Hooray!
So, if you own or rent moving lights or other fixtures that run on 208v power, this is the plug that you should use.
It’s important to note that electrically, this plug has 2 hots and a ground, but no neutral. The 2 hot legs use each other to complete the electrical circuit, so there’s no need for a neutral.
PowerCon Blue and White
A lot of modern, auto-sensing moving lights and LED fixtures use a PowerCon input that will take 120v or 208v. This presents a problem when production companies buy all Edison to PowerCon cables for the inputs and then want to run the fixtures at 208v.
It is incredibly dangerous to use a 120v plug for 208v power! Even if you think all of your crew are paying attention and competent, a stagehand or volunteer help will plug something in and the gear will get fried, and they might too! Friends don’t let friends use Edison plugs on 208v power! Not only is the Edison plug not rated for 208v, it’s just plain dangerous.
The True1 is an update to the existing PowerCon connector that I believe will eventually replace the “old” PowerCon completely. Neutrik has engineered this plug to be both waterproof and able to make/break while the power is on.
This is a significant improvement over the old Blue/White PowerCon’s, and for that reason, I am excited to see it take over!
Socapex Multipin Cable
Socapex is the amazing cable that we use in the lighting world to carry 6 circuits of power inside 1 multipin cable.
Socapex features 19 pins, an all-metal exterior and locking threads to keep the connectors together. The locking threads mean that junctions between 2 cables can be in the air, which is very helpful!
In the lighting world, we have what are called 6-light bars that have an actual Socapex plug on them and then distributes the 6 circuits to the individual lights.
When using these bars, you can simply go from the dimmer rack to the bar and plug in Socapex on both ends.
When using individual lights, you can use a Socapex fan out, also known as a break out. This cord takes the Socapex end and turns it into 6 circuits of Edison, Stage Pin, or L620.
Like PowerCon, Socapex cable can be used for both 120v and 208v power.
This is where you need to be careful, and know what you’re doing. Always have good labels on your Socapex, and never, ever mate a 120v fixture to a 208v plug. I know a technician who went into the hospital with 3rd degree electrical burns on his hand because he was hurrying and messed up. He could have died, but he was fortunate.
As long as you keep that safety tip in your head, work carefully and never make an electrical connection you don’t understand, Socapex is a great tool to save you a ton of time and cable mess! FYI, “Soco” is the shorthand name for Socapex, and that’s what you’ll hear it called most of the time.
Single and Three Phase Feeder Cable Cam Loks
The last piece of cable we use for lighting is the feeder cable that connects all of our gear to the building power supply in the venue we are setting up in.
This cable is typically Cam Lok cable, and is split into individual cables per conductor. That means, for a typical 3-phase power connection, you’ll have five Cam Lok cables to tie in.
Don’t touch Cam Loks unless you know what you are doing. They carry very high amounts of power, and are very dangerous. If you don’t know what you are doing, don’t mess with power, and ask a professional to help you.
Similar to Cam Loks, you may also see Mini-Cams. These are a tiny version of the larger Cam Loks and are used for some video lighting, smaller power distros and dimmers.
Wrapping It Up
I hope this Complete Guide To Stage Lighting Power Connectors & Plugs has been helpful to you in whatever context you live and light in.