It goes without saying that today's theatrical lighting instruments are better than they have ever been before, especially in terms of output. At the foremost front of this revolution (and, no, we are not talking about ETC's latest moving light) have been the manufacturers of “cool beam” ellipsoidals, where developments in manufacturing and optical design have yielded ever more powerful lighting tools.

We're all aware of the benefits afforded by ETC's exceedingly successful Source Four line, and when the 750W version was introduced, many felt the ultimate ellipsoidal had been achieved. Clearly, ETC's commitment and development of their fixture line has been most influential; they deserve a lot of credit, and to make any sort of ill comment toward this success seems ridiculous in a way. I do not mean to pick on the Source Four specifically here, but its dominance in the market presents it as a principal in the “brighter brighter revolution,” as I call it. For me though, the reality of this development in lamp, fixture, and marketing performance has been more of a mixed blessing, and the impetus for this column. It is true, a brighter light is just that, a brighter light, and in application lighting designers do find themselves looking for a “brighter” light. In many situations, the light afforded by equipping modern-day theatrical lighting instruments to their maximum rated, highest wattage lamp, as many venues are electing to do, can be as much of a challenge as an effective tool to the designer. Frankly, in many situations they are just too bright for the all-purpose lighting of a show.

I first encountered this problem lighting the premiere of a contemporary ballet company in a new, 500-seat theatre. The Source Four instrumentation was new, clean, and all were lamped to 750W. During the first technical rehearsal, the problems with intensity became immediately apparent as dancers were falling off pointe, disoriented by the intense lights in their faces. In their minds, the lights, at 70% intensity or so, were “dangerously” bright. Slowly, through the process we dimmed everything further and further, and the color got muddier and muddier. Neutral density was out of the question (and out of the budget), as every instrument in the rig would require a cut or two, not to mention the lack of time to cue it in. To say the least, I threw a bit of a temper tantrum to the house staff about re-lamping the house plot to 575W.

Despite the personal show of passionate dissatisfaction, re-lamping was not an option; the short run premiere went up and got reviewed as such. This marked the first time I had ever fooled around with single percentage points to adjust intensities with such great variance on stage. When a dimmer is at five percent and light can unmistakably be seen on stage, as was the situation with the example at hand, the fixture is entirely “over-lamped.” It was the amount of light that was visible on the stage at such a low-voltage level that amazed and frustrated me. With the amount of light being transmitted from the fixtures at such low levels, there was no provision for any sort of preheating. From that point, this has been a hot topic on my plate: it is not necessary to lamp every fixture to the maximum rated wattage!

All I'm asking is that people making lamping decisions consider how they are lamping the majority of their fixtures and why. Do you really need a rig of 750W Source Fours? Most productions do not require big punch from every unit in the rig, particularly in small theaters. If the baseline of a plot is the highest possible wattage, there is no place to go to, like starting to cue a scene with every channel at full. Considering all of the associated factors (instrument, lensing, throw, and so forth), the quality of the light at a reasonable playing level is what should determine the necessary lamp. For instance, if a 575W unit is bright enough for the circumstances, the throw is not Radio City Music Hall-like, then the results of a 575 running at full versus a 750 running at 75 percent should be more crisp, clean, and appealing light, particularly with color.

Speaking of Radio City Music Hall, it should be noted that Ken Billington lamps his Source Fours to the 575W flavor, finding the intensity to be adequate to light the largest of productions at Radio City Music Hall. The idea follows through to other types of fixtures and lamps where that crisp, clean PAR backlight or uniformly lit cyc with defined color is “absolute beauty” because of its full intensity. Having the range of the lamp suited to the overall level of the show or desired effect gives the user a greater spectrum with which to light, unless one is partial to the looks of low color temperatures and flat contrasting.

It has been established, generally, that higher wattage lamps offer greater intensity, but not without considerations. Obviously, greater wattage lamps consume a greater amount of energy. Remember, the notable selling point of the 575W ellipsoidal is the significant cost savings presented in terms of energy. In hand with the energy saving concept comes the idea of heat from the lamp; a 750W having greater heat output resulting, again, in increased energy costs. Moreover, these elevated operating temperatures take their toll on the expendable media used in or on the fixture. The 575W fixture was marketed with the inherent facility to have four units on a single 2.4kW circuit, up from two 1000W or even three 750W units, thus permitting a greater level of circuiting flexibility. Then there are the added costs of the lamps themselves, with nearly a ten-dollar list price gap between a 575W HPL and a 750W HPL. A similar gap between the 575W GLC lamp and the 1000W GAC leverages a similar playing field for the Selecon Pacific and Strand SL.

Factoring in these cost increases for a higher-wattage path should be foremost with today's bottom-line budgets, not to mention our Earth-friendly strategies. Philips Lighting is addressing the question of consumption with new technology in their Broadway range of lamps. The newly released Ceramic ST250HR with C3 technology is the first discharge lamp to accurately match the characteristics of a 1000W halogen light using four times less power, with four times less heat, and four times the average lamp life with a CRI over 90. It is technologies like these, in hand with advancements in ballast and mechanical shutter systems, which offer solutions to the output to power consumption problems discussed.

Having said all that, it is not necessarily true that the lower wattage lamp is the proper choice for a given circumstance. As mentioned previously, there are occasions where a few lights, here or there, need to be significantly brighter than others. The option to lamp up is necessary for those units that may benefit from those extra 5,380 lumens: a 50° at a longish throw, or that system of 19° in the second cove in dark blue. There is always that center pool of light that needs to be 20 feet in diameter and as dazzling as it can possibly be, using six 50° units, with the brightest lamp that can be had in them, piled up.

This lamping concept not only applies to the modern day “cool beam” ellipsoidal, but is true with most all units in an inventory. 1,000W far cyc units maybe too bright for that 20 foot high drop, so do you dim them down, or would 750W or 500W lamps work better? Take, for instance, the Selecon Pacific range of base-down ellipsoidals with the North American-bound versions presenting some 11 lamp choices. I applaud Jeremy Collins and his company for making such a variety of lamps available in his fixture line. Each lamp has its purpose and benefits, from a 575W GLC, 750W GLD, to a 1000W Blue Pinch GAC, two MSR575 variants (hot-restrike and non hot-restrike), a MSD version, two CDM discharge architectural lamps, and the before mentioned Philips Ceramic ST250HR. The modular idea behind all of these lamp choices is to allow the designer/specifier to get the right combination of luminaire and lamp to suit the needs of the application.

The Pacific fixture itself is a perfect example of when a higher-wattage lamp may be useful, and not necessarily for intensity. The Philips Blue Pinch 1000W GAC lamp in the Pacific produces a super-flat beam dissimilar to that of the 575W or 750W lamps in the same instrument. This can be particularly useful for projection or that “wide-open beam” look where the flattest field possible is desired, regardless of intensity. I have spent a small amount of time with the J-Rayer Ellipsoidal by Japan's Marumo Electric. The combination of the J-Rayer's custom-engineered Ushio lamp and high-quality lenses creates a fixture that has a really unique quality to its light, regardless of wattage or intensity.

Remember that these examples are specific to these particular manufacturers and products; each manufacturer, fixture, and lamp combination is different in its own way, some more than others. I strongly encourage everyone to take an opportunity to obtain at least one available variant lamp for each fixture in their inventory and investigate how the fixture they know to look a certain way appears differently with the simple change of a lamp.

Again, enough emphasis cannot be placed on the suggestion that lamp decisions be based more on purpose and need rather than on the maximum ratings on the manufacturer's specifications. Hopefully my frustration with “over lamping” will remind those who make lamp decisions to consider the factors of the lamp selection equation and make a thorough evaluation on how to effectively lamp their inventories to best light their subjects. In the end, for me anyway, it is all about achieving the best product possible; any help from the lamps will be taken with the utmost gratitude.

As a lighting and projection designer, Nicholas Phillips has dance credits at Houston Ballet, Washington Ballet, Ballet Memphis, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, and Suchu Dance. Theater credits include the national tour of Michael Baisden's Men Cry in the Dark, and industrials for NBA's Houston Rockets and Shell Oil Company. He also serves as Houston Ballet's technical coordinator, and can be reached at