The next in line on our examination
of lighting fixtures is the PAR,
which is an acronym for Parabolic
The classic PAR is a reflector and lamp
all in one. It is a sealed-beam lamp, like
an old-school car headlight. The rear of
the envelope (the glass enclosure of the
bulb) has a parabolic shape and is coated
in an aluminum material for a built-in reflector.
The filament of the lamp is placed in the precise focal
point of the parabolic reflector so that the light rays exiting
the lens are parallel. This creates a focused beam of illumination
from a compact, lightweight lamp.
|Fig. 1: PAR Diagram
|Fig. 2: PAR Lenses
The PAR has four major components: lens (A); reflector
(B); base (C); and filament (D). (Fig. 1.)
As the PAR has a fixed relationship of reflector,
lamp and lens, the only way to change the spread of
the light is to change the bulb (or, in higher-end HMI
PARs, change the lens). PARs typically come in very
narrow spot, narrow spot, medium flood and wide
flood varieties. The quickest way to tell the difference
is, the more “stuff” you see on the lens, the wider the
spread of the light. (Fig. 2.)
As a standard bulb, a PAR is typically used as a wide,
intense floodlight. You’ll see them often used for exterior
illumination, particularly security lights. Small
PAR fixtures are great for “spotty” and intense practical
lighting on a set. You often see PAR lamps in overhead
recessed lighting in commercial and private venues.
PARs have a size designation: PAR36, PAR64—which is a reference to the diameter of the lens in
1/8-of-an-inch increments. Take the number, divide it
by 8 and that will give you the lens diameter in inches. So a
PAR64 has an 8-inch diameter lens (64/8 = 8).
The simplest professional PAR fixture is the PARcan,
which takes the PAR globe and encloses it into a simple metal
snoot to make it more of a spotlight fixture. The PARcan
is used more often in theatrical and concert lighting than
it is in film and television. The last time I used PARcans on
a shoot it was at the Encounter Restaurant at Los Angeles
International Airport (the spaceship looking building in the
center of the airport, which most people mistakenly believe
is the control tower). I used 112 PARcans on the ground,
pointing straight up, circling around the entire structure to
light up the outside wall. They’re a workhorse fixture, but
the light is often too harsh for direct use on faces.
The next most common usage of PARs is in a multi-lamped
fixture. We use PAR64s in 4-lamp, 6-lamp, 9-lamp, 12-lamp
and even 24-lamp configurations, all in one fixture. The 6-
and 9-lamp configurations are often called “Maxibrutes” and
the 24-lamp is called a Dino or Wendy light. These are often used for nighttime exteriors off a condor
or cherrypicker for wide, broad backlight.
PAR64s are 1,000 W lamps, so 24 of them
in a fixture provide a considerable punch.
The individual lamps in the multi-array
fixture can be swapped out for very narrow
spot (nicknamed “firestarters” for the
intense heat they project in a very tight
beam), narrow spot, medium flood or wide
flood for different uses. It’s possible to have
some wide, some medium and some spot
in the same fixture to cover greater distances
with the spread of light.
The light beam that comes from the PAR
is elliptical in shape and, often, can be rotated
vertically or horizontally by spinning
the physical lamp itself.
HMI Pars have a sealed beam reflector
and clear lens and require an additional
lens to be placed in the fixture—they are
typically spot (near clear), medium (some
facets in the lens), wide (more facets) and
stipple, or very wide (the most facets in
The only other real oddball in the PAR
world is the ETC Source Four PAR, which
features the same lamp as the ETC Source
Four Ellipsoidal Reflector Spotlight, precisely
positioned in a parabolic reflector
and separate, interchangeable, lenses for
spot, medium and flood.
Finally, FAY PAR lamps have a dichroic
filter to raise the color temperature to
5,000 K from a tungsten lamp.
Jay Holben is the technical editor of
Digital Video and a contributor to Government
Video. He is also the author of
the book “A Shot in the Dark: A Creative
DIY Guide to Digital Video Lighting on
(Almost) No Budget.”