When it comes to lighting we all enjoy playing with the latest and greatest fixtures, such as the HighEnd Systems SolaSpot 1500 I reviewed recently. But using professional fixtures like the SolaSpot or other similar fixtures from manufacturers such as Robe, Clay Paky and Martin is very expensive. Now that’s all great if you’re working on a big show with a big budget, or you need the sort of rugged build quality designed for touring. But for many, the harsh reality is that money is tight, so the natural temptation is to buy budget kit.
Many of us in the professional industry will remember a time, and it’s not that long ago, when we would scoff and scorn at the idea of using LED in our rigs. But as the technology continues to mature and we get a better quality of light with better LED engines that also feature excellent dimming characteristics it’s become more and more common to see them.
What this also means is that the same technology starts to filter down into cheaper offerings. In this article we are looking at three different budget fixtures from Prolight Concepts, specifically their “Equinox” range aimed and marketed towards the DJ market. For the price on one Mac Viper for instance you could buy around 70 of these DJ Equinox lights.
Now let’s not pretend that a 30w Equinox LED fixture is going to compete in ANY way with a Mac Viper. That’s just not going to happen, but if all you want are some flashing lights with a bit of movement then maybe, just maybe you could use some of these instead.
Let’s start by saying that you can forget lighting a stage with just Equinox fixtures, while the Fusion 150 is surprisingly bright, you’ll still want to augment these with more conventional lights such as cheap parcans to give you your general stage wash. What we’re talking about here is adding your eye candy to your show or gig!
If you have a small studio space or a pub/club with live music then maybe you could consider these, but otherwise, think of them as an added bonus to augment your regular lighting rig.
Let’s start by looking at them as a whole because they have a lot in common, then I’ll go into more specific detail about each one. They all use an IEC power intake, with the Beam and Wash fixtures also featuring IEC out as well which enables you to link several units together. It’s a real shame the Fusion Spot Max doesn’t offer this feature as given their low power consumption you could run many instruments from a single supply. As it is, you’ll have to use lots of splitters to power the Spots. They also come with a hanging bracket and a safety eye, though you’ll have to supply the clamp and safety bond yourself.
In terms of control, they all have 3 pin DMX in and out which is standard on budget DJ equipment but throwing in an adaptor to switch from 5-3 pin isn’t a big deal. I like to make up looms consisting of IEC and XLR leads to quickly link all the units together, the Fusion Spot Max MkII throws a spanner in the works though.
Given that they all use DMX it means that you can control these from your lighting console. This is what separates these “DJ” lights from the one you would have bought a few years ago. DMX just wouldn’t have been found in cheap disco lights in the past, but with that level of control now built-in you can plot them into your shows just as you can any other moving light. It’s the crucial aspect that means we can even consider adding these to our rigs.
They offer different levels of control too, you can have them on a single channel, which is very limited and basically just lets you put it into a preset “show mode” where they do their own thing. Forget this one, it’s not worth thinking about unless you literally want random stuff to happen and just control when it’s on or off, you can’t even control the intensity. Far better are the 8 or 10 channel modes for the spot, or the 7 or 10 channel mode for the wash and beam, this gives you control of essentially everything. I’d recommend running them in the 7 or 8 channel mode personally, the extra channels in 10-channel mode just add fine pan and fine tilt. But it’s not worth wasting your time with that, if you want pin point accuracy, these are not the lights for you.
In 7 or 8 channel mode (depending on the fixture) you get pan/tilt, colour (RGBW), Gobo, shutter and intensity. Obviously the wash and beam units don’t have a shutter or gobos though and the spot is a colour wheel, not RGBW.
One thing you won’t find in any of these fixtures, and something that could be a deal breaker for many is that they don’t know where they are. By that I mean if you position the head and then manually move it, or it gets knocked, or it gets stuck on something. It won’t know what’s happened and will assume it’s done what you asked. That means from that point on, the calibration is wrong and none of your positions will recall correctly. You can reset the fixtures via DMX and it will then re-calibrate and correct itself, but that’s not always practical. So, these are best used where nothing can interfere with them. Having said that, once these have calibrated they are pretty good at having repeatable positions.
Okay, so it’s time to get more specific by taking a quick look at each individual fixture. I’ll start with my least favourite of the three and that’s the Equinox Fusion Razor Beam. This is a fixture that features 3 x 12w quad colour LEDs giving a total output of 36w. These LEDs focused through three separate lenses to give a relatively tight 6° beam angle.
The problem for me, is that while 6° is quite tight, it’s not really tight enough for an effective beam at this level of brightness. It’s also the most limited in its versatility, it’s a beam and nothing else. Many of the other more expensive beam units you will have seen or used will also have a gobo wheel, this is just a shaft of light and nothing else. Also, without haze you won’t get anything out of this lighting effect, of course this is true of every beam light, but it’s worth noting.
With that said, it does create a beam and if that’s all you want it will accomplish that goal. From a personal perspective, when I see a beam I need it to cut through my lighting state and travel a long distance. Sadly this fixture just can’t do that.
The other issue, although it’s not a big one is that colours don’t mix in the beam. So at the end of its travel you will see the individual colours that make up the beam as shown in the image to the right. When looking at the beam in mid-air you won’t see this, but it’s simply the way this fixture uses three separate light sources to create the beam that causes the effect. You can actually use this to your advantage though as chasing between the different colours actually shifts the beam in the air slightly which can give a nice looking effect. Overall however, I don’t really recommend this particular light other than for very specific situations where you have short throw distances and low ambient light for it to cut through.
Next up is the Equinox Fusion 150, this is the LED wash fixture. I was suitably impressed by the output of this light, it’s by far the brightest of the bunch consisting of 12 x 12w quad colour LEDs giving a total output of 144w over a suitably impressive 40°. The thing to notice here which is where the low-budget comes into play is the fixed beam, there is no zoom, manual or otherwise. Now that’s not in the least bit surprising given the cost and it’s often difficult not to become too overly critical of things because you’re used to more expensive fixtures with more advanced offerings. Treat this as you would any standard RGBW wash light, but with the added bonus of pan and tilt! Compared to many generic RGB parcans you can buy the price is not even that much higher than a good quality unit. So for small venues you could almost argue that installing these is a better value option than buying generics!
One slight issue I did find was the evenness of the beam, the wash has a significant hot spot in the centre, the picture doesn’t really do justice to this and it looks slightly more even than it does in person. Perhaps to be expected, but the claim of 40° is probably stretching the reality of the usable light.
For most people though, you’d be looking to use these on the deck, perhaps on a drum riser or such like. Using them for eye-candy and movement, and this is the recurring theme here. I’d be more than happy with say half a dozen of these rigged on a back light bar for a band. You will be using these fixtures mostly for back light. There’s not really much more to say about this fixture, it’s bright and its size belies its abilities.
Finally we have the Fusion Spot Max MkII, arguably my favourite of the three, though the wash is a very capable unit. The spot features a single white 30w LED, which on paper isn’t as bright as the wash or beam. But given that the wash spreads over a wide-angle, the spot is only projecting a 13° beam. The optics for such a cheap light are also surprisingly good and make the most out of the 30w available. It’s a nice white LED that’s not too blue, I didn’t have a measuring device and the spec sheet doesn’t state, but if I had to guess I’d put it right around the 6000k mark.
Again you make compromises with the cost, the only focus is via turning the front of the lens manually and there’s no zoom. In fact all you really get is a colour wheel and a fixed gobo wheel. But if all you want to do is to throw some breakups through your haze, then what more do you really need?
The gallery of images below show the various gobos available and the effect of them in haze:
As you can see, there’s a reasonably good selection of breakups and the shafts of light cut through haze cleanly. The Fusion Spot Max MkII also includes split colours as well as gobo shake. Something that looks better than I imagined it would. If I could add just one more thing to this fixture it would be some rotating gobos, but again it goes back to budget. You can’t expect miracles at this price and what it does do it does very well. For me, perhaps the most impressive feature of this light was its speed. It will throw itself around so very fast it’s almost hard to believe. You’ll never get one of the large moving heads to shift at these speeds, for that reason alone these little lights have a place for some very cool effects. Just remember to keep your general lighting low for the times when you want to add these to your states.
Generally speaking I’ve been more than impressed with what these fixtures are capable of for their price. But when working to a budget there’s always the temptation to go even further. To that end you can find almost identical fixtures that are even cheaper. The Chinese copies seem like a good deal on paper, they boast identical specifications. But, what you should watch out for are inferior parts and cheap build quality. The image on the left shows a comparison shot of a cheap Chinese copy next to the Fusion Spot Max MkII. I think it demonstrates how, even though they are both 30w LEDs, the Fusion Spot on the right in the image is significantly brighter. Not only that, but the pan and tilt motors are lot slower in the cheap copy. The Chinese copy was almost impossible to focus, and the quality of the plastic casing was clearly inferior. All this is before we even get into the issue of warranties! Sure you may pay a little more, but in the end, the extra you pay is worth far more than you save.
What do you think? Would you ever consider using what are essentially DJ products on your show? Have you already done it? Let us know in the comments below! If you’re not convinced, why not pick one up and see for yourself? You may just be surprised by what you find, and it’s not going to break the bank. Besides, they make for a cool toy if nothing else.