THE FOLLOWING MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED
WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR ©
The Push to Replace
Older Lighting Fixtures
by Richard Bonner
Are You Spending
All lighting fixtures possess at least one quality in common:
they can project light onto a stage. Some do it more brightly
than others; some do it more efficiently than others; some do
it with more control than others; some do it by different methods.
Because of marketing and the desire of companies to produce sales
through replacement, more so than the lack of availability of
lamps and parts, older fixtures are being rushed into obsolesce
even though they are still completely useful.
This article is focused toward the usage of older fixtures for theatre
purposes, but could also be applied to products other than stage lights.
Only fixtures with incandescent lamps will be compared here, but there
will be a final word regarding other light sources.
Some Factors to Consider:
- Size and Weight: Today's non-motorised lighting fixtures
are smaller and often lighter in weight than in the past. Due to other
factors discussed below, they can put out the same amount of light from
this much smaller package. The reduced size and weight are factors in the
touring part of our industry, but not generally so in permanent
- Efficiency: Lamp design today allows for more lumens
per watt. When these lamps are incorporated into older fixtures, they
improve the performance of that fixture in that less heat and lower
power consumption can be realised. Specifically:
- Heat: The lower-wattage lamps of recent lighting
instruments put out less heat. However, lower wattage lamps can
also be used in older fixtures with good results when the larger
size of reflectors and lenses is taken into account. Just as a
larger window in one's home transmits more light into a room,
large reflectors and lenses do the same for transmitting more
light to the stage.
- Power Draw: Some older fixtures require
higher-wattage lamps to compete in light output with recent
fixtures. However, when older models with larger reflectors and
lenses are chosen, these models can compete because those
reflectors and lenses gather and transmit more light output.
- Parts Availability: This is a major drawback to using
older fixtures. However, one can use parts from some fixtures apart to
make up several working ones. Plus, older fixtures can often be had for
very low prices, so parts are not impossible to be had. Then there is
the possibility of parts substitution from manufacturers of similar products.
- Expertise: Those familiar with older fixtures can wring
the most usability from them through servicing and substitution of parts.
Don't replace older fixtures just because they are dirty and out of
- Quality versus Cost of the Replacements:
Older lights that were manufactured by quality companies, and have been
properly serviced, are often a better choice than low-quality modern ones.
In particular, cheap LED fixtures often have inconsistencies between units
and even among the LED elements incorporated. They also don't dim as
smoothly or with the same curve as incandescents.
Questions to Ask before Removing
Existing Fixtures from your Inventory
- Do you really need replacements? If your lights are still
working and they adequately light the stage, why replace them? In many cases,
existing lights don't perform well because they are dirty and/or out of
alignment. See our
Equipment Maintenance article for
- Will the replacement suit the purpose? By all means
replace a fixture if the replacement will fulfil a purpose not presently
able to be had. Before paying out money though, see if the required task
can be carried out by using another fixture from your current inventory.
Or, will a change of placement or lamp wattage help? What about an accessory
such as barndoors or a snoot; might that serve the requirement?
- Will there be unwanted side effects? Consider:
- Cost? Will the money spent be worth it? Will the new
fixture really be all that much better -- enough to justify the
expense? How many years will it take to recover the cost of
buying versus restoring your present inventory to top-working
- Performance? Will it be adequate? New fixtures don't
necessarily perform as well. Some are not as well built. Some
compromise construction in ways that add frustration for those
that must handle, set up, adjust, and maintain the fixtures.
- Maintenance? Will it be hard to maintain? Will the
fixture be easy to disassemble, clean and lubricate? What is its
longevity in the marketplace? If it is not to be around long enough,
will replacement parts be available for a reasonable length of time?
- Does your present Fixture Still Serve a Purpose? Can it be
used for some task? If it's not suitable as a main light, might it be
useful as a special? As a scenery or wall washer? As a lobby fixture to
provide a theatrical atmosphere for waiting patrons?
- Does the Fixture Still Perform as When it was New? If not,
service it. Clean, align, and lubricate it. Replace missing hardware.
If it is not in good shape, refurbish it. A fully overhauled fixture
can be bought for around half the price of a similar, newer unit. If
you do the work yourself, the cost will be far less.
(Again, see Equipment Maintenance.)
It is not wise to fall prey to the "New! Improved! Shiny!" marketing of
manufacturers that simply want you to constantly replace your
lighting without considering if there is an advantage to do
so. Replacements may well be necessary and provide
wonderful advantages not currently had, but
replace under your terms, not theirs.