It's Lighting Convention Time

'Tis the season when we're presented with the newest inventory of devices, tools and toys for the entertainment lighting industry, the fruits of equipment designers' imagination.

All entertainment lighting practitioners, lighting designers, gaffers, directors of photography, lighting directors and so on, anxiously await the news with anticipation. We wonder what new piece of equipment will solve all our problems, provide an elegant solution to increase our speed, make things easier or give us a new means to give our work greater visual impact.

I find that, even if the previous year didn't quite meet expectations, I still expect the new season will bring a new fixture or device to open a wide door to new horizons.


Just last week, I was invited to see a new fixture at one of the lighting shops in Los Angeles. I was promised by a very excited host that I would be amazed at what I would be shown.

As is very typical with today's new arrivals, it was a new LED fixture. It was designed with a very impressive state-of-the-art LED engine and packaged in what I thought was a very small, inventive and smart-looking enclosure with a self-contained dimmer. I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. Then it was turned on. For its compact size, it appeared quite bright. We shined it on a wall. Yes, I was amazed.

Fig. 1 is a representation of the field pattern of the fixture. As you can see there is a hotspot in the center and then a significant amount of light outside this center area. This rather unusual pattern gave rise to a vexing question, "What do I use it for?"

If I were to define it as a spotlight, would not its success depend upon how closely the field angle is equal to the beam angle? To refresh your memory, the field angle is the locus of points in the fixture output pattern where the intensity is equal to 10 percent of the center beam intensity; while the beam angle is where the intensity is equal to 50 percent of the center beam intensity.

Fig. 1: The observed lamp pattern

Fig. 2: The expected lamp pattern
Fig. 2 illustrates what I had expected. It was hard for me to guess how I would apply this new fixture. With this pattern, it certainly could not be a substitute for general purpose spot like a Fresnel. I searched my experience and came up with none.

Also, if I desired the observed pattern, a conventional spotlight with some diffusion could easily replicate it. What immediately came to mind were thoughts about the subject of new developments and their acceptance.


If we look back in the history of some of the previous innovations in our industry, we can determine the pattern of reasons for success. An interesting example is the introduction of "Baby" film/TV lighting instruments.

Fifty years ago, lighting instruments were heavy and clumsy, great steel monsters. This was due to the fact that the physical size of the lamps was quite large, substantial spherical glass globes that needed volume to dissipate the generated heat.

Enter the lamp manufacturers and heat-resistant glass, which allowed the lamp to be repackaged with a smaller tubular shape so the entire fixture line could be redesigned in an enclosure at least one-half the size and weight.

However, this alone might not have guaranteed success if it were not for the fact that the functioning of the new instruments was equal and, in a few cases, better than the original heavyweight. More important, the price of the smaller, lighter and equivalent fixture was about the same.

These positive factors contributed greatly to the success of this straightforward development resulting in a steady growth of popularity over the years for these "Baby" fixtures for replacement and inventory.


A more dramatic illustration is the enormous success of the moving light in the entertainment industry. What is remarkable is that even as it was being introduced, the cost was comparatively high, but the units were never considered expensive because of their astounding capabilities.

There was little hesitation; acceptance was practically immediate and the rush was on. Even the rather high degree of unreliability in the early designs was overlooked because of the moving light's ability to do things never before possible, features that had only been in the wildest dreams of lighting designers and thought to be unattainable.

So, here is another, dissimilar pattern of success for new development, a revolutionary broad base of performance features, new to the field—price tag, no issue.


The two examples illustrate what's at hand here. We have a new development. Its success is dependent upon user acceptance. The relationship between factors such as performance and cost are always present. Performance features can cover a wide range of topics as efficacy to labor saving. The evaluation of the desirability of the improvement does include the investment cost. This is always part of the final consideration.

If the new development is a lighting fixture, we may see a gain with some specific performance issue such as light output, size, weight, spectrum, usefulness and new capabilities—but as has always been the case, all the factors have to enter the equation.

Unfortunately, in the case of the new spotlight, there is little reason to even consider the fixture due to its failure in performance. Revolutionary advances are the easiest. It is the middle ground that is the most difficult to evaluate.


Today, with the abundant numbers of newly developed lighting fixtures, we should be especially cautious. Make sure you arrange the bulleted features of the newest kid on the block in the order determined by applying your personal priorities. For example, it is quite possible that performance may take precedence over size or vice-versa. But this decision must be your own.

Before you buy, do your own test in your facility to determine if the new device fits the application and performs as you expect. The final judgment of its value, the Rate on Investment if you will, should be with you and based upon your opinion and judgment. You are the user.

Bill Klages would like to extend an invitation to all the lighting people out there to give him your thoughts at