Lighting gear can be really expensive—so you might think you’re out of luck unless you’ve got a huge budget to work with. Luckily, some products stand out for the exceptional value they provide. If you’re pinching pennies and need the absolute most bang for the buck, consider these options before you buy.
Light Board: ETCNomad
If you’re a student or a teacher and you need a lighting controller, you’re in luck. Electronic Theatre Controls offers a $250 version of their ETCNomad in their Education Package. All you need to provide is a computer—they give you the hardware and software you’ll need to transform a laptop or desktop into a user-friendly (and full-featured) light board. It’s upgradeable down the line and works well as a standalone option or as part of an Eos/Gio/Ion system.
Moving Light: Rosco I-Cue Intelligent Mirror
This classic product turns a conventional stage light into a moving light. Just slide the motorized mirror into the gel slot of a Source Four and presto—one light can be a special used in dozens of different places onstage during a show. No need to get out the ladder and refocus a light—just grab the pan and tilt on the light board and record a new cue. The Rosco I-Cue runs roughly $600 on the used market, or $900 new. For next-level control, try adding it to an LED ellipsoidal to get control of color and focus.
LED Stage Wash: Luxium ZOBO
If you’ve tried the hardware store’s inexpensive screw-in LED fixtures (like PAR 30’s), you’ve probably noticed the corners they’ve cut: poor color quality and ugly dimming. Luxium Lighting is dedicated to fixing that with their ZOBO line of fixtures. It’s a theatrical-quality fixture that’s perfect for small and medium-sized venues. Five colors of LED produce a wide range of colors excellent for both skin tones and saturated washes. They’ve got wired, wireless, and Bluetooth control options starting at $150.
LED Cyc Wash: Chauvet DJ Wash FX
Lighting fixtures made for DJ’s are affordable, but they aren’t usually suitable for stage use. The Chauvet DJ Wash FX is an exception. It’s a color-wash fixture that just squeaks over the line—at $200, it’s about the cheapest LED that can wash a broad surface with color from a relatively short distance. If I had to solve a $1000 “light the cyc challenge,” these would be a strong contender—five of these little things from 7’-8’ away would cover a surprisingly wide distance. They won’t output the same intensity and color range of pricer fixtures, but they get the job done at the lowest possible cost. They’ve also got a new Version 2 out now, adding UV output for a blacklight effect.
Testing Tool: City Theatrical DMX Cat
This little tester can solve a lot of lighting problems. It's the DMX Cat, short for "Control, Analyze, Test." Plug it into a fixture and test from your phone, or plug it into a lighting system to test DMX and access advanced network settings. Lighting systems used to be just electricity and light bulbs—now they’re full of computer gear and electronics. The average user doesn’t need to dive into the nitty-gritty of circuit boards to put on a show, but having the $350 DMX Cat on hand when there’s a lighting problem can save hours of guesswork.
Light Plot and Pre-visualization Software: Capture
Drafting a light plot used to mean mastering complex CAD software. Not anymore. Capture is lighting software in a deceptively simple 3D environment—with just a few hours practice, you’ll be importing stages and scenery, hanging and focusing lights, and creating renderings of individual scenes. Then, after you’ve seen your design in action, Capture will easily translate those ideas into a light plot and equipment list. There’s a student version that anyone can experiment with, but unlocking the full fixture library will run $450+.
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