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Types of Lantern

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There are five main categories of lantern in the world of stage lighting:

1) Flood

Strand Patt.137 Flood


Symbol for a flood on a lighting plan

This is the simplest type of lantern, consisting of a lamp and a reflector in a box, with no lens. The reflector concentrates the light towards the opening in the box. There is no control over the focussing of a flood, other than its general direction. Some floods have an asymmetric / directional reflector and are designed to light cycloramas. Older type symmetrical floods use standard ES (Edison Screw) or GES (Giant Edison Screw) filament lamps. The newer asymmetrical reflector floods (often called Cyc Floods) use linear lamps (to ensure an even cover across the reflector). Floods are often available in battens (a number of individually-controllable floods in a single box) which can take different gels, so that colour mixing is easier. Coda 4 Batten (Strand Lighting)Floods such as the Coda 4 Batten (4 x 500W linear floods) shown on the right have four separate cables and units can be daisy-chained together up to the maximum load each dimmer circuit can take. 
See also Lighting with LEDs.

Symmetrical reflector

Asymmetrical reflector
2) Fresnel

Strand Cadenza Fresnel

Symbol for a Fresnel on a lighting plan

The Fresnel (pronounced "Frennel") is a soft-edged spotlight with more control over beam angle than floods, but less control than profiles.
The lens is a series of stepped concentric circles on the front and pebbled on the back and is named after its French inventor, Augustin-Jean Fresnel (1788-1827). He developed the lens for French lighthouses so that they could be seen further out to sea and could achieve a longer focal length with a lot less glass than a standard plano-convex lens. It was first used in stage lighting in the late 1920s.
The size of the beam can be adjusted by moving the lamp and reflector closer to or farther from the lens, either by a screw mechanism or a simple slide. The beam can be shaped by the four barndoors attached to the front of the lantern.

Fresnel "spotted down"

Fresnel "flooded"
3) PC (Pebble Convex)

Strand Cantata PC

Symbol for a PC on a lighting plan

The PC is common in Europe, but is rarely seen in the US. The basic design of this lantern dates back to the first days of stage lighting, but the modern version has one important difference. This lantern uses a modified plano-convex lens with a pebbled effect on the plano (flat) side. The pebbled effect gives the beam its characteristic soft edge. The edge of the beam is slightly harder than a Fresnel, but is not hard edged. The pebble convex lens uses the efficiency of the plano convex lens and gives the light a softer edge. Like a Fresnel, there is one focussing knob to change the beam angle.

PC "spotted down"

PC "flooded"
4) Profile

Strand Pattern 23
Strand Pattern 23 (1951)

Strand Prelude 16/30

Strand Leko 40

Super Trouper followspot

Far from the Madding Crowd at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter UK. Lighting Design: Jon Primrose.
Glass Moon gobo used on the rear cyclorama.

Symbol for a profile on a lighting plan
(derived from the shape of early profiles, like the Pattern 23 above)

Profile lanterns produce clearly defined spots of light and are the most focussable and versatile of the lanterns. They have a lens (some have two lenses), a lamp and a reflector, and they also have shutters and a gate.
Gobos are available in many designsProfiles get their name from their ability to project the shape of anything placed in the gate of the lantern between the lamp and the lens. These shapes may be formed by the shutters, or they may be cut out of thin metal (a "gobo" - see diagram right).
Some profiles with only one lens have two sets of shutters, one of which gives a hard edge to the beam, and one which gives a softer edge. These are known as bifocal profiles.
Profiles with two lenses (zoom profiles) are best for projecting gobos and other shapes, as the size and sharpness of the beam is fully adjustable throughout the beam angle range of the lantern.
A zoom profile lantern is known by the range of its beam angle (e.g. Prelude 16/30, Cantata 18/32 are both zoom profiles from Strand Lighting's range).

A Leko is an ellipsoidal profile spot. Lekos are much more common in the US than the Zoom Profiles we tend to prefer in the UK. They are of fixed beam angle. The name Leko is a contraction of the original manufacturer's names (Joseph Levy and Edward F. Kook - founders of Century Lighting). Leko's were originally patented in 1933, and is still manufactured today by Strand Lighting (which now owns Century Lighting).
Ellipsoidal profile spots are sometimes known as ERS (Ellipsoidal Reflector Spots).

A followspot is a special type of profile lantern with addional controls, extra handles, sights, built-in colour changer and iris, and is usually of much higher power.
Page about Super Trouper followspots

With the lenses far apart, the beam is narrow

With the lenses close together, the beam is wider.
5) Parcan

Strand Parblazer 4

Parcans were first used c.1976

Click on image to enlarge
Seneca's Oedipus at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter UK, 1998.
Lighting Design: Jon Primrose.
A single narrow Parcan used as a backlight through atmospheric haze. A birdie uplight adds fill from the front.

parcan symbol
Symbol for a parcan on a lighting plan

A Birdie made by James Thomas Engineering


MR16 lamp
MR16 lamp (GE Lighting)





Thanks to Cris Dopher
for additional information

This lantern first came into use in the 1970's in the Rock and Roll industry. It quickly found favour due to the relative cheapness of the lantern, the weight and the ease of focussing. The lantern itself is simply a "can" in which the PAR lamp is contained (hence "Parcan"). The PAR (Parabolic Aluminised Reflector) lamps are available in a range of beam angles (see table below), depending on the amount of diffusion on the front lens of the lamp. The lamp is a sealed beam unit consisting of a lamp, reflector and lens in one.
Because the light produced can be very intense, Parcans are especially suited to strong colours or for special effect. Be aware that deep colours can burn out quickly at full intensity.
The beam produced by a Parcan is an projection of the filament of the lamp, and this can sometimes be seen (as shadowed lines across the beam) in the Narrow lamps. The beam is an elliptical shape because of the shape of the filament, and can be rotated simply by rotating the lamp. Access to the lamp is via the rear of the lantern.
Although they're not widely used, barndoor accessories are available for Parcans. They're not as effective at cutting off the beam than they are on a Fresnel or a PC, but can still help tidy the edge of the beam.

Many venues are replacing Parcans with LED units as they are far more energy efficient, and enable an (almost) infinite variety of colours to be produced. 
See Lighting with LEDs for more information. 

The size of the parcan is given by a number which relates to the diameter of the lens in eighths of an inch. The most common is the Par64 1000W. Other sizes are the Par 16 (used in Birdies, and now superceded by the MR 16 dichroic lamp), Par 36, Par 38 (150W), Par 56 (300W). There are many variations of lens and wattage within a given size bracket.


Name 1000W 500W Volts Beam Angle
Extra Wide Flood
(Often known as EXG)
??   120 70°
Extra Wide Flood
(Often known as EXG)
CP95 CP?? 240 70 x 70°
Wide Flood FFS/No.6   120 ??°
Medium Flood FFR/No.5   120 24°
Medium Flood CP62 CP88 240 11 x 24°
Narrow Spot FFP/No.2   120 14°
Narrow Spot CP61 CP87 240 10 x 14°
Very Narrow Spot FFN/No.1   120 10°
Very Narrow Spot CP60 CP86 240 9 x 12°

Although the 240V lamps are most often used in the UK, 110V PAR lamps are often used in large UK venues or for touring due to the increased light output. Because the current is greater, the lower voltage lamps have smaller thicker filaments which give a more focussed beam than the thinner 240V filaments. A 'series splitter' is used to connect two 110V Parcans into a 240V supply.

Standard parcan lamps have a GX16d cap.

PAR 36 (pin spots) - beam angle around 5°
PAR 46
PAR 56


A birdie is a miniature lantern that's ideal for hiding in small parts of a set or along the downstage edge of the stage. It provides a surprisingly bright soft-edged pool of light. Although the beam is sometimes unevenly spread, the benefits of having a punch of light where no normal lantern can go are massive.

Where does the name come from? Well, you see the birdie looks a little like a parcan, but is a lot smaller? You could say, it's "One under Par" - which, as every golfer knows, is called a "birdie".

The birdie is a uses a PAR16 lamp (i.e. the lamp is a reflector lamp which is 16 eighths of an inch across = 2 inches or 50mm).
In the UK, Birdies usually take MR16 lamps, which are 12 volts. Each birdie then has a transformer connected to it to feed it with the correct voltage.
In the USA, Birdies usually take 120 volt lamps.

The MR16 lamp has a dichroic reflector which does not reflect heat along with light - the heat dissipates through the reflector and out of the rear of the light fitting. This means the beam from a birdie is much cooler than that from a standard theatre lantern, making it much more suitable for sensitive areas (e.g. museums, old buildings).


Name Wattage Volts Beam Angle
FMT 35W 12 15°
FMW 35W 12 38°
EXT 50W 12 10°
EXZ 50W 12 24°
EXN 50W 12 38°
FNV 50W 12 60°
EYF 75W 12 14°
EYC 75W 12 38°
EZK (USA) 150W 120 32°

There are a massive range of MR16 lamps available due to their widespread use in a lot of industries. Check manufacturers websites for more information.

© Copyright Jon Primrose / University of Exeter 2001-15


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