When you write a website dedicated to teaching stage lighting, the most common question you get is “Should I buy “X” light”, or “What lights should I buy”.
While it’s quite flattering that you’d like my opinion, the answer to the question is more about taking your needs into consideration than making a blanket statement!
In this article, I really want to break down what it takes to make a great purchasing decision and how you can identify your specific needs to buy the right lights.
Most people first consider their budget and plan their purchase based on the wad of cash that they have to spend. This is all well and good, but often can result in buyers remorse – whether because you bought too expensive of a light, too cheap of a light, or just the wrong light!
Instead, I want you to first look at convenience, durability, and ease of use.
How easy is the light to set up and tear down? Does it use 5 pin DMX or 3 pin, and how does that compare to the rest of your lights? How much does the light weigh, and is it suitable to be set up by one person, or will you need a helper?
For example, a Chauvet 4Bar System, is incredibly easy to setup, and you’ll feel like you’ve set up 4 lights in the time it normally takes to set up 1 light – because you just did! If you set up and tear down every show, this may be the right choice for you, but it probably isn’t the best value for an installed venue!
As another example, the 4Bar lighting kit only has 3-pin DMX…which is all fine and dandy unless the rest of your lights take only 5 pin! At that point, you’ve got to carry around adapters everywhere just to connect your lights together – no good!
How tough are you on your gear? On this website alone, I know I have both readers who will tour their lights with bands or do live productions with them, as well as readers who will use them in their personal or church lighting rigs, taking gentle care of them always.
Or will your lights be installed, only moved once per year or even less? Does it matter if the light in question has a cheap plastic case, or is a metal body required?
Generally, the more expensive a light is, the more durable the feel of the case and yolk is. When I’m looking at LED fixtures, I prefer to buy fixtures that have a fanless design – this makes for less moving parts to break down the road!
While thinking about durability, I also like to check out the light’s warranty. I really like to see if the manufacturer actually believes in the light enough to guarantee it’s not going to die right away! For this reason, I don’t advise folks to buy any light that has less than a one-year warranty.
Yes, you might pay a little more, but it is totally worth it.
Ease Of Use
When you sit down to program the light, will it work well with your console? Does it have features you will use, and is the light of the right brightness to match the rest of your rig?
At this point in your buying journey, it’s a very good idea to identify some lights that will meet your needs. Pick out a variety of fixtures to compare regardless of price – we’ll cover that as we move through the next step.
Once you’ve thought through these basic aspects of your lighting needs, it’s time to dive deep into the budget, coverage and accessories.
Since you’ve entered this conversation with the end goal being to buy something, I hope you had a budget in mind at the beginning. If not, go ahead and make up a reasonable number now!
Seriously, though, take the time to look at the lights that you’ve identified as a fit for your needs, and figure out how many you could buy within your budget. Then, let’s think about coverage.
When it comes to coverage, there are 2 main specifications that we need to consider – is the light of the right angle for your needs, and is it bright enough?
Here’s my guide to washing your stage evenly. Use this guide to ensure you get the right angles out of your lights!
Brightness, on the other hand, is a bit more confusing and complicated! Before LEDs became insanely popular, you had incandescent and arc-beam lights, and that was pretty much it. If you wanted to compare 1 unit to another from a spec sheet, it was generally pretty easy to do.
Then LED’s hit the scene. Different manufacturers use all sorts of different standards and methods for measuring and documenting brightness, and what we ended up with is a mess! For this reason, I recommend that you compare LED’s based on the wattage and quantity of LEDs inside your fixtures. Compare lights that you already know to the ones you’ve never seen before and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how bright they’ll be.
If you hit a moment of realization that you’re not going to be able to cover as big of an area as you wanted for your budget, don’t cheap out! Buying less of the correct lights and adding more later is far better than wasting your money on something that doesn’t meet your needs and will break or need to be replaced later.
Last, but not least, we cannot forget about the accessories that we need to make these lights shine! (Pun totally intended 🙂 )
Do you need clamps, safety cables, DMX cables, lighting stands, truss, extension cords or a DMX splitter? All of these can eat up your budget fast if you’re not careful!
By popular demand, I’m going to feature below some lights that I’ve really found to be winners. This comes with a few caveats:
- Just like anyone else, I have brands that I am more familiar with, and fixtures I have used more than others. There are a LOT of great brands out there that make great lights. These are a few I really like.
- Most of the lights featured below are made by Chauvet. I have no affiliation with Chauvet, I just like their stuff, and their support have helped me and clients of mine way beyond expectations!
- Be sure to use the guide above to find out what lights are right for you. Good lights are one thing, but if it’s not the right light for you, then it’s not right!
An LED Par is great when you’re looking to point a light out on stage and get a since, defined circle of light. They can also be used to uplight walls, backdrops and other set pieces, but keep in mind they will give you a more “beamy” look as opposed to an even wash when uplighting (Sometimes this is the goal – texture – other times it is not!).
Chauvet’s Slimpar 56, 64 and 64 RGBA (featured) have a special place in my heart. These LED lights are bare-bones, and get the job done on a budget. Yes, they use “old-style” individual R, G, B, and A LED’s, but they are bright and cheap!
Is it the most featured light in the world? The brightest? The best? Nope! But it’s a steal of a light, and great in a lot of entry-level applications and areas that need a splash of light! And Chauvet also offers a great battery-powered version of this light – the EZ Par!
If you’re a band, or anyone who needs to light a band, the Chauvet 4Bar is hard to beat. For the price of single par units, you get a great 4-head combination that makes it quick and easy to set up for a gig. 1 power connection and one DMX connection is all you need, and you’re up and running.
Plus, the current version of the 4Bar features Tri-LED’s – making this unit brighter and more capable than ever!
Blizzard’s LB Par Hex is a great deal if you are looking for a brighter LED par with many colors. Featuring Hex LED’s (RGBAW+UV), you can mix up pretty much any color you desire. The built-in UV LED’s can provide a blacklight effect, but are also surprisingly useful in creating colors in the red/blue/purple family that really pop!
The LB Par Hex also features PowerCon compatible power-linking – a great timesaving and mess-saving feature!
If you’re looking for a LED par that is really stinkin’ bright and looks good too, look no further than the ADJ Par Z120 RGBW. This fixture comes in both Chrome and Black housings, and offers a choice of multiple different angles, and really nice colors.
The best part? You can move the lens to change the angle of the light without taking the light apart! This is one thing that I really like about this par! And the colors look really, really good too!
LED Striplights / Bars
When I think about LED striplights, there are 2 main uses that I use them for – either to uplight a wall or set piece, or to hang in plain sight behind or above a stage to add colored “pixels” to my design. Here are a few units that I really like:
The Chauvet Colorband H9 is a great, simple LED strip that excels in a lot of ways. It features 6 colors of LED – RGBAW+ UV, and can be broken up into 3 zone of independent control. There’s no independent pixel control, but it’s simple, it’s bright, and it’s inexpensive.
Chauvet’s Pix-M is a great upgrade from lesser LED striplights. Not only does it have individual pixel control, it also is able to move on the tilt axis! While it only features RGB LED’s, they are quite good and you can make a good number of colors out of it.
The Colorband Pix-M is not only a great effects light, but works awesome for washing sets and backdrops too!
Atmosphere: Haze and Fog
Having atmosphere in the air makes an impact bigger than buying another light or 5 – so it’s worth the time and effort it takes to bring it into certain venues.
With that said, I cover haze and fog on their individual pages:
Oil or Water – What Hazer Do I Need?
The Complete Guide to Fog and Foggers
Just like LED units, when I come to recommend moving lights, it’s not easy to make blanket statements. There are some many different feature options that exist in a moving light, and it’s about finding what’s right for your needs.
Do you need zoom? Color mixing? Rotating gobos? Prism? Framing shutters? These features are NOT found in every moving light, so part of finding what is right for you is knowing what matters to you.
Generally speaking, moving head spots offer gobos, a sharp edge and the ability select a number of colors from a color wheel. Until you get to the higher end, moving head spots are not going to have color mixing, and may or may not have zoom capability.
Moving head washes, on the other hand, almost always offer color mixing and almost always offer a great zoom range. Not needing to maintain a sharp focus means the zoom can be much wider – an asset for front lighting a stage or washing a curtain or set piece from up close!
Just like everything else above, the best light for you needs to meet your needs – check out this post for more on moving lights!
Just like a lot of my recommendations above, I really like the moving lights from Chauvet. They offer good bang for the buck, and amazing support if anything goes wrong.
This series of moving lights are the base-level that Chauvet offers. They move, have a good set of features and are pretty bright as well. These units do tend to be louder in fan and movement noise than more expensive lights, but overall these provide good bang-for-buck for folks that do lighting in musical environments where there is a good level of background noise.
I’ve used units from this series, and am always happy the units.
You don’t get every feature under the sun, but for the price, these are an excellent fit for many circumstances. Most of these units feature standard IEC plugs – which are non-locking, so you need to watch out and ensure they are plugged in firmly – especially for units flown in the air.
The great news is that the latest light in the Intimidator series features locking Powercon plugs – a big plus, and a feature I imagine will !
Treat them nicely, and they’ll work well for you for a long time!
Chauvet Professional Moving Lights – Rogue and Maverick
Chauvet’s latest line of professional moving lights are nothing short of incredible. Not only do they compete with fixtures from the “big name brands”, they also compete on price.
While they tend to have a larger base than competing units, I would use a Rogue or Maverick unit any day on a professional show! These units also feature the latest professional grade power plugs, and feel built to last.
Wrapping It Up
I truly hope that at the end of the day you purchase the right lights for your needs. While this guide isn’t my typical “nuts and bolts” how-to guide, I hope it’s got you thinking…and more importantly, I hope it’s given you some insight as to what you should look for in your next lighting purchase!
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