Three things to consider before you buy new lights

Buying new lights is a big deal for churches. Lights can get really expensive and if you don’t make good decisions now you will be paying for those bad decisions for years to come. Let us take a look at the top three things you should consider before buying new lights for your church. Here is what you should really be asking

  • What types of lights you really need?
  • What is the cost to maintain the lights?
  • How to buy lights we can grow with

What type of light do you need?

You may not need LED or intelligent lighting to get the job done. I can argue that conventional lighting is 90% of what a church needs to get there message across. Or at least that is where you should start.

If you don’t already have 40-60 conventional lights I would argue that you are not ready to jump into more automated rigs. I say this for a few reasons.

First, LED fixtures and automated lights are often 5-10 times more expensive than a par can or ellipsoidal. Any lights source that is repeatedly used as a front wash for a pastor or singer key light should just be a par or ellipsoidal. Only the constantly changing key light and effects lights should be automated.

Second, it is unlikely that you are going to buy enough LED’s or moving lights to really do anything interesting. 4 or 6 lights is not really interesting unless your stage is about 10 feet wide. Just think about the coolest lighting looks you have seen. Count the fixtures. I bet it is 20-30 maybe 50-60 in the scene.

Third, LED’s and automated lights introduce a huge conflict in color temperature that you need to handle for the camera. Which is a huge pain and unless you are buying really expensive LED units they don’t look great on people’s faces.

Forth, the cost of a lighting desk to handle automated lights vs conventional lights is 5-10 time more expensive. And 10 times more work to program these lights.

For the money, conventional lighting is going to take you further, last longer, and be much more stable. Conventional lights done well are by far the easiest thing to do in the long run. The only thing to worry about is changing lamps and gel repointing fixtures every once in a while. Which is not a big deal because you should be planing a way to maintain any light you purchase.

What is the cost to maintain the lights?

Maintenance, what is that? Yep, you are going to need to pay attention to your lights. No matter what you buy you need to be able to get to them to work on them. Changing the lamp, cleaning the lenses, or getting them repaired should be considered before purchase. Plan to work on the lights. If that means renting a lift or scaffolding, you need to budget that cost into the maintenance plan. Expect to touch each light once or twice a year.

Speaking of lamps, Automated lights are great, but the need new lamps as well. Those lamps can cost up to $250 each and only have an expected life of 2000 hours. That is a high price to pay compared to conventional lamps that are $16 each.

And what happens when the inexpensive LED pars burn out. Typically you will only lose one or two LED’s but you can’t fix that. So you just end up throwing them away. What is more expensive a $200 light you replace every 2 year or a $600 light that last 10. Sometimes buying more expensive fixtures is cheaper in the end.

Buy lights you can grow with

It is almost certain that the lights you are thinking about buying right now are not the only lights you are ever going to buy. So let’s take a moment and figure out how they will fit into a larger system.

Some times we look to buy the light we need right now and don’t think about how that light could be reused down the road. I am sure that your church will not throw the light away when the current design changes, so what makes a light able to be used in many roles.

First, we should consider weight and power. With newer LED fixtures coming on the market the weight has come way down. It is still something you have to consider when hanging the fixture overhead. Also, some of the fixtures like LED pixel tape need special power requirements which may be limiting. Larger moving lights require 208 or 220 volts of power. If you don’t already have these different voltages widely distributed you may want to stick with 120-volt fixtures.

Second, while wash lights are less expensive, all they do is a wash the can’t project gobos or do aerial effects. But on the other hand spot or profile fixtures can project gobos and when frosted out they make a great wash fixture. Personally, I would always spend the money to get a spot or profile fixture even if you use them as a wash from time to time. For a small upfront cost you basically get two fixtures.

Third, we should consider a fixtures zoom and output. When buying a fixture for a specific look you will probably make sure that the fixtures have enough output and the correct beam angle for that look. But what if you move it to a new location? Because of that you always want to buy fixtures with a zoom or easily changeable lenses. Otherwise, you will be stuck with a very limiting fixture. I connect output with the zoom because when you zoom out the fixture you give up output. So you want to always buy more output than you think you need. Dimming a fixture is possible, but doubling the output is not.

Lastly, but popular fixtures. Buying fixtures that everyone else has and that you can find locally for rent. If you have a fixture go down or want to rent more for a special event it pays to have a local vendor with the same type. It makes swapping out or adding to your show a lot simpler. Buying used fixtures is fine, you don’t want to buy a model that has been in the market for more than a few years. Especially in the automated department. If you are buying a new type of fixture to add to you inventory it would pay off to buy the latest and greatest even if it cost a little more. Those fixtures will be available for longer in the market place and have better tech support if anything goes wrong.