When putting together a lighting system, I am often asked about the characteristics that make up the different types of moving head fixtures on the market.
Stunning looks can be created with hybrid fixtures that will add incredible light to your designs.
Users want to know exactly how each type of fixture works, and how it will benefit their stage designs not only visually, but also how the units will function from a programming standpoint to make it easier to create great looks faster.
The wash, spot, beam and hybrid make up the types of most commonly used moving head fixtures.
In this article, I will not be discussing light source (LED vs. ARC), but you can reference a previous Worship Tech Director article I wrote on the topic. I will however be offering some details on each type of fixture, and how they can benefit your ministry and your ability to create stunning visuals that will positively impact your worship experience.
The wash fixture is the foundation of every good lighting rig and design. It's the building block fixture.
The wash fixture sets the overall tone of the stage and provides the most even and consistent light. Its beam (please don't confuse this term with a "beam" fixture) naturally provides a soft, diffused edge that can easily be blended between fixtures to create smooth light across a stage. They also have a very consistent and even field of light across the lens.
Some moving head wash fixtures have a fixed degree beam angle, meaning you must work with the inherent size the manufacturer created, while others offer a motorized zoom that allows the user to select a wide range of beam angles. Depending on the fixture, this can easily range from 9 to 55 degrees zoom.
One would ask "why would I want a fixed beam, when I could have a zoom?" The answer: cost. Having the additional capabilities to allow for a zoom will increase the cost of each fixture. If you are considering smaller, more cost-effective wash fixtures, this price difference can be a few hundred dollars per fixture.
Larger wash fixtures typically just include a zoom, because they carry a higher price tag and the user expects the feature. Wash fixtures can be used for back lighting to create a great foundation of color, or to make it easy to put a nice back wash on vocalists, instrumentalists, or teaching pastors. They are also an ideal choice for key lighting, because of the smooth blend and even field of light.
Wash fixtures can come in color mixing or white-only versions, if you are in the LED range and typically the ARC source range will offer multiple color wheels or even CMY color mixing capabilities.
Overall, you definitely need wash fixtures in your rig.
The spot/profile (either name works as the overall feature set is the same), is where the visual POP or eye candy starts to show up in your lighting rig to create those stunning looks every designer longs for. These lights create that money shot, when a handheld camera takes a focused lens up shot toward the ceiling, picking up some hands on a guitar, and that beautiful gobo break up is beaming down through the haze.
Ahhhhh such satisfaction to see that look. High-fives all around the tech booth!
That look comes from the spot/profile fixture. These fixtures naturally have a hard or focused edge. They are designed to punch through a wash light and really stand out in your design. They have at least one gobo wheel (often two) that will give you many choices of patterns.
Most often you would use this fixture over the stage to provide texture to floors, walls, scenery, etc., as well as beam through the air or sitting on the stage, giving you the ability to put up aerial effects through the sky.
When hung out over an audience, they can provide nice texture over a crowd, on house walls or just supplement additional beam effects that look great live and really show up well and add depth for camera shots.
Spot/Profile fixtures can also be used for key lighting, although you will want a variable frost in the fixture to help soften the hard edge. These units, in upper level models, can also come with framing shutters that allow you to cut the beam of light and shape it to an exact size, which can be a fantastic feature for advanced designs.
Additionally, these upper level models of fixtures often include animation wheels to allow for amazing water, fire, and other beautiful looks for designers, who want to take their design to another level.
Overall, spot/profile fixtures have a solid place in every design and open many opportunities for incredible designs. Coupled with a wash fixture, I consider them both as foundation in every good design.
A beam fixture is pure visual joy!
It has one job to do POP! PUNCH! WOW!
Beam fixtures have made their way into just about every major design over the last several years. They are extremely popular and when used properly, can add another layer of depth and dimension to a design.
I say "when used properly," because the beam fixture isn't what I would consider to be a "foundation" fixture, so it's pure eye candy and is limited in its capabilities. For this reason, it can be used incorrectly and often can be used too much, in a design.
A beam isn't a fixture that will ever give you a soft edge or a subtle gobo look. Its characteristics from a light beam perspective tend to have a significant hot spot and it is just not designed to be a finesse style fixture. It's a big loud voice in a quiet room. It wants all the attention and it gets it.
Typically a beam fixture has a very narrow focus, often 3-5 degrees. They usually have a color and a gobo wheel to add some breakup and color to the portfolio.
Aside from that, they are a fairly simple fixture. I like them scattered across a stage and also flown and inter mixed within a wash and profile foundation design.
This fixture adds so much to a lighting rig but again don't overuse it in your designs. It's a one-trick-pony kind of fixture, and should be lower down your priority list for purchase, if you don't have a good foundation of wash and spot/profile fixtures that also are included in your rig.
You guessed it A wash/spot/beam fixture all in one! These seem to be the popular new kid on the block. Every manufacturer seems to be touting their latest version of this style fixture.
Personally, I like these fixtures, but in moderation, as I do a beam fixture.
Again, I wouldn't consider them a "foundation" fixture in my design, but I like to have them.
If it's up to me, I would choose a hybrid over a beam, because it can offer me more choices with my design. Things to look for in a hybrid is how the lenses change from one style of light to the next. Is it one smooth transition from wash to spot to beam, or are there clunky lenses that drop in and out? This can be a major consideration depending on how you would intend to use the fixture in your rig.
I like them again flown or ground supported on the stage. I especially like them on the stage for what they can do for aerial effect.
Stunning looks can be created with these fixtures that will add incredible light to your designs. Some manufacturers have a mid-range and top range fixture in the hybrid model.
Differences between models within the ranges, of course, are price point and features. Top end models will pull in a CMY color mix module and often a zoom range. The hybrid will not typically be your finesse fixture like a spot/profile would, but I find it to be a very versatile fixture in a ministry environment to put on top of a good foundation.
Each of these types of fixtures will help make your lighting system come alive and will add a dimension of creativity that will open many possibilities for you as a designer. They represent a broad range of features and price points, so it's important to know how you want to use them and what your expectations are for what they will give you so the proper fixture can be selected.
Have some fun, do some research, and dream about what these tools can do for you and how they can positively impact you worship experience!