Are followspots still an affordable option for HOWs?
As HOWs tighten their budgets, is there still a place for followspots in today’s worship service? Alice Gustafson talks to the experts to find out
With so many different lighting fixtures out there to choose from, how does the humble followspot fare in today’s competitive HOW market? With budgets tightening, the followspot may no longer be the first point of call for a typical worship centre. Worship AVL Asia spoke to a range of Asian lighting distribution companies to determine if followspots are still popular.
‘It depends on what type of services a church does,’ muses Tobin Neis, director of marketing for Barbizon Lighting Company. Based in the US, Barbizon has offices in Australia, India, the US and in Europe. ‘In a more traditional setting it might be a little glaring for some of the attendees, but in some of today’s larger buildings it is a great way to suggest focus for the parishioners.’
‘To provide an example, the Chauvet Followspot 1200 has eight dichroic colours, CTC 3200K, an electronic dimmer, zoom and focus,’ adds Rob Runko, company director, Showtools International – Chauvet’s Australian distributor. ‘These features could cost lots of money, however we have sold many to churches.’
‘Followspots are affordable for larger scale houses of worship,’ offers Shelby Liew, marketing executive at Malaysia’s Concept Audio. ‘If a HOW has the budget for it, then they will certainly be purchased,’ chimes in Rico Yong, sales engineer for Concept Audio’s’ sister company, Audio Solutions.
Agreeing wholeheartedly is Phil Sargent, Asia market manager for Philips Selecon. ‘They are absolutely an affordable option. A basic followspot will have a price tag similar to a medium sized moving light. They can be a useful and important tool in a congregation’s lighting inventory. Plus, they are much more versatile than a single moving light instrument.’
‘I agree,’ says Zandy Jong, PT Monalisa Tunggal Jaya, Indonesia. ‘Followspots are one of the most common options for basic lighting in church. They are easy to use, affordable and are efficient lighting fixtures.’
The appeal of the followspot
A followspot is a failsafe way to get the parish to focus on something. If they see a brighter area in the space, it naturally draws the eye. ‘It’s generally not subtle,’ points out Mr Neis. ‘People will know that’s what they are supposed to be focused on.’
‘These days churches are quite large and need to light up the pastor as they walk around on stage,’ concurs Mr Runko. ‘Not everyone can see them, and it also helps for the camera for live feeds.’
Mr Sargent adds that ‘it’s hard to be unaffected by the impact of a properly used followspot during a service. It’s a great way to ensure the message is delivered!’
As with all performance luminaries, followspots are of limited use if there is a lack of space. A followspot and the operator will take up approximately a 2m circle, which can be a challenge. Similarly, if the lighting angle is too flat, there will be too much flare from any spill light upstage, and this will have the effect of making the subject harder to perceive.
‘If a followspot has to be placed in the same space as the congregation, a silent convection cooled model is preferable to a noisy force-fan cooled model,’ advises Mr Sargent. ‘With this in mind, a properly designed followspot is better than an automated luminaire modified to use as a followspot.’
‘Worship teams just need to remember that the first time they use them there may be some pushback, as the use of these generally is not subtle,’ confirms Mr Neis.
If a HOW has it in their budget to afford the use of followspots, the church’s A/V manager may want to consider whether they are likely to have a long lifespan, providing overall value for money.
‘If correctly maintained, a followspot can deliver many years of faithful service,’ Mr Sargent clarifies. ‘We have followspots approaching 20 years of service in many places of worship, and there are a wide range of tasks a followspot can perform. They can be used for highlighting a pastor at a key moment in a service, subtly moving as they walk into the congregation, picking out a soloist during a passage in a musical service and combining light with human operated movement.’
Compared to an automated luminaire, smaller followspots can have a lower price, and a followspot that is suitable for a stadium concert will be the most expensive luminaire in an inventory given its specialised and unique capabilities.
Usually running on CSR or MSR bulbs, Mr Jong confirms that followspots ‘have quite a reasonable lifetime – roughly between 750-800 hours.’
‘They have proven to be very reliable and a great price for the amount of features included,’ agrees Mr Runko. ‘The followspot is expensive, but the material quality will be better.’
Echoing his sentiment, Mr Nies advises that ‘if properly cared for, I’ve seen followspots last decades. But with anything, you get what you pay for. They come in a wide range of prices generally staring at around US$1,000 for a short-throw halogen-quartz light source to upwards of US$20,000 for the stadium long-throw units.’
‘They are certainly good value, but I find that the life span is subjective,’ points out Mr Yong. ‘Followspot mechanism parts last a long time. But with the followspot bulb, this is dependant on equipment usage.’
Erring towards the expensive side of worship lighting, there has been a decline in smaller HOWs investing in followspots over the years. Now the followspot, once known for its place in theatre, is becoming synonymous with large sanctuaries to aid their slickly produced sermons.
‘Followspots will always be the easiest way to follow someone on stage,’ states Mr Runko. ‘HOWs seem to be investing more and more into moving lights.’
‘Large scale churches will invest in them, but not small scale HOWS,’ nods Ms Liew. ‘Followspot sales are a little slow in the smaller church market, most tend to use profiles, LED Pars and moving heads.’
‘I actually think the demand is so-so,’ interjects Mr Jong. ‘There is still a fair demand for followspots in the market, it all depends on the HOWs’ concept and usage.’
While a great tool to assist the designer, a followspot is not a luminaire that is supplied in great numbers. Even a large professional performing arts centre will have two, or at most four followspots in their main auditorium, compared to hundreds of other luminaries.
‘Despite significant developments with LEDs for performance lighting, we are unlikely to see an LED followspot, so there is not a driver to replace traditional followspots,’ offers Mr Sargent. ‘There are more benefits in investing in replacing other types of luminaries.’
‘We tend to see them more in contemporary worship situations,’ reflects Mr Nies.
‘What we are seeing more and more of is the use of LED colour changing wash units to help the worship team convey a mood.’
There are many different types of followspots available based on the throw distances needed. Some have very easy lamp changes, not unlike a traditional lighting fixture, while some of the larger units use Xenon lamps that need to be carefully handled and installed by a trained operator.
Just like any other lighting product, they need to be cleaned and looked after.
The more sophisticated and powerful models understandably require more regular maintenance to remain in top condition, but this is by no means unique in modern houses of worship, where other equipment such as projectors have similar requirements.
Ease of operation
It is common in smaller-to-medium HOWs, and even in some larger churches, that its A/V operators are volunteers. If a church has the budget for followspots, are they easy for non-professionals to operate?
‘Volunteers should be able to operate a spotlight with minimal training, the one caveat is that the longer the throw the more practice they will need,’ explains Mr Nies. ‘There’s a shutter that acts as a dimmer, an iris that controls the size of the beam, focus adjustment, and lastly there are colour “boomerangs” that flip up in the path of the light to change the colour. With a little practice, coordinating this is pretty easy, and fun!’
Agreeing, Mr Runko insists that ‘it’s extremely easy to use as it is all laid out very well on the control panel.’
‘We have some projects that are run by volunteers, but some of them employ a full time operator,’ adds Mr Jong. ‘Knowing about followspot operation is basic lighting knowledge for them.’
Mr Sargent agrees that followspots are easy to operate, but that it takes some application from the user to ensure that they are operated well. ‘It can be a challenge to smoothly operate a followspot,’ he states. ‘As well as continuous pan and tilt, the operator is also adjusting the size of the beam and possibly the colour. They must also be able to accurately aim the followspot when the spot is “out”, and then turn on, illuminating the required person with a full body, half body, or a head and shoulders sized beam. Often this is done when the other lights are out. It can be demanding! Even a professional followspot operator must dedicate themselves to achieve this.’
However, it is far easier to obtain a professional result with a correctly balanced and set-up followspot. As an analogy, consider your seating posture at work, where screens and chairs should be in the correct position to avoid strain.
‘We hear reports of professional followspot operators requiring physiotherapy after operating followspots that are not set up for them,’ Mr Sargent warns. ‘But your dealer can provide further assistance to ensure that your followspot is safely configured.’
‘My recommendation is that if you are considering to invest in a followspot, contact a reputable dealer or distributor and tell them your situation and budget,’ Mr Niles advises. ‘They can help you determine the best unit for your situation.’