Lighting 101: Making the Leap to Moving Lights

3 06 2013

Lighting 101: Making the Leap to Moving Lights

Moving lights can be flat out awesome. Whether it’s live in concert or on shows like American Idol, we’ve all witnessed moments where great music meets epic lighting and creates a moment of “wow.” It looks different every time (with flexibility being a big advantage of these fixtures), but this incredible visual environment can be very engaging with the right audience, including an increasing number of churches. I often get asked about moving fixtures, and people are often surprised to discover my response is to discuss all of the reasons they shouldn’t buy them.

The True Cost of Ownership
I love moving lights, don’t get me wrong, but they are a big investment that require a commitment well past the initial price of a fixture. What most people don’t consider is they have so many moving parts, they will require maintenance and repair. These fixtures need regular cleaning and check-ups, so if you don’t have the time to keep them up, you probably should stick with renting them when you need them. When it comes to budgeting for these fixtures, I tell people they should expect to spend a minimum of 50% of the cost of their fixture over the first 5 years in maintenance and repair. In other words, a church looking at a $3,000 fixture should really be thinking about a 5 year minimum cost of $4,500. It’s worth the expense if you need the features of a moving light, but it’s important to be aware that there is a cost of ownership past the initial purchase.

Getting What You Need
I find what many churches really want is one or two aspects of what many moving lights can do, such as color changing and gobo patterns. Or perhaps their biggest priority is having an aim-able spotlight. These are great things to have in your arsenal, but frankly they can be done much more cost-effectively in other ways if you don’t need to have all of those features in one single fixture. Static LED fixtures are great at color changing and it’s simple and fairly cheap to put a breakup pattern (called a gobo) into an ellipsoidal fixture and project it onto a surface. There are even moving ellipsoidal solutions that are much cheaper than most traditional moving lights, such as the Apollo Right Arm. While moving lights are becoming more affordable these days, it’s still much more cost effective to tackle many of these features individually in a single, more cost effective fixture.

In fact, I believe moving light fixtures shouldn’t really be considered until you need 3 or more of the following features, all in one fixture:

Regular flexibility of aiming – Needing controlled light in different, strategic locations regularly
Moving effect lighting – Perhaps your congregation will enjoy and be engaged by light beams moving through your hazed room
Frequent color changing – You need color, and you want to change it multiple times per service
Gobo projection – Texture can make a plain set look amazing, giving it interest and extra dimensionality
Focus-ability – Life is not always better in focus, sometimes gobos look better slightly out of focus
Zoom-ability -Sometimes you need a narrow beam to shoot through the air and sometimes you need a wider wash light for a backdrop or people

What To Look For In Moving Lights
Once you understand the true costs of owning moving lights and have decided that they are right for you, it’s time to dive into the many dozens of available fixtures and figure out what will meet the needs you have. While everyone has specific features they are looking for, the top 5 features I look for in most cases are:

1) Zoom/Focus
If I’m going to spend thousands of dollars on a light fixture, I want to make sure it’s as versatile as can be. Ideally, I can zoom it in to become a very narrow beam that looks great shooting through haze and zoom it out to become a wash fixture for people or backdrops. And, with changes in zoom, you’ll need to be able to adjust the focus to your changing focal distances. I’m a big advocate for flexibility and for the money, zoom and focus are the features I believe maximize a moving light’s flexibility.

2) Color Mixing Over Color Wheel
Color wheels aren’t terrible, but it can be awkward to have hard cuts from color to color, especially if you scroll through 3-4 colors live to get to the one you want. With versatility being a key goal for me, color mixing gives me hundreds more colors to choose from and the ability to crossfade gracefully from one to the other with the lamp still on.

3) Brightness
If you’re going to invest in a moving light, be sure to get one that you’ll have no trouble seeing. In a large room or one with a lot of ambient light, be prepared to spend more on a fixture bright enough to have visual impact. Additionally, if you’re using a lot of 575 watt or 1,000 watt white lighting fixtures on your stage, a 250 watt automated light probably won’t cut through the noise. Especially once you start adding color filters, you’ll need more brightness out of your moving fixtures than your conventional ones if they’re going to have impact.

4) Noise
Moving Fixtures make noise. The question is, then, how much noise will these lights make, and will it be a problem in your room? With fans to cool the lamps and lots of mechanical parts moving and spinning, it’s important to make sure your fixture doesn’t draw attention to itself when you don’t want it to. If your light rigging points are far from your audience, this isn’t a huge concern. For churches with a 25 foot or lower ceiling, the noise your fixture will produce is an important factor to consider.

5) Gobo Wheels
Many moving fixtures have gobos and a wide variety of options regarding them, so it’s important to what gobo options (if any) you need. Many fixtures with gobo wheels have one wheel where the gobos can rotate and another wheel or two where the gobos are fixed. Additionally, some fixtures can use metal gobos while others require much more expensive glass gobos. Choose fixtures that have a combination of gobo wheels that will meet your needs (I want at least one wheel where the gobos can rotate) and have gobos you can afford.

What Features Do You Need?
With any piece of technology, the first question you need to ask and answer is, “what do I want to accomplish with this?” If moving light fixtures are in your future, start thinking about what features you need in order to create the environment that will engage your congregation. My typical list is above, but what are the features that will meet your needs? Maybe you need to be able to shutter and shape your lighting beams. Maybe you don’t need color mixing and a color wheel is just fine. The features I described tend to also be the features that drive up the price of the fixture, so you can generally save a little money if there are features that aren’t important to you.

As always, if you’re looking into upgrading your lighting (including moving lights), our retail and systems teams would love the opportunity to serve you and help you get exactly what you need.





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