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, even if it fit your budget!
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, and they’re typically silent, too!
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 🙂 )
Wrapping It Up
Okay, so obviously, this is a LOT. If you haven’t taken into consideration all of these different variables before, we can help! At Learn Stage Lighting GEAR, you can contact us with some information about your needs and we’ll reply back with our recommendations at your personalized price!
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!