Monkey Business: Budget-Friendly LEDs

Article by Seth Scott, Monkey Wrench Productions

Many of us in the theater world turn-up our noises up at fixtures that contain the word “DJ” in their names.  In the past that may have been the correct response with their flash and trash attitude and sound activated modes. However in recent years many of the DJ companies have started to cater to a new clientele, crossing over into the theater world by adding smooth dimming and broader color ranges. This new sub category is “up lighting.” Up lighting has become big business for small wedding DJ’s and large scale event companies alike. Because as theater folk know that nothing makes an old dingy barn look better than columns of light on a textured wood wall or makes a boring ball room pop more than some color. Up lighting has opened doors and made the products we’ve been wishing for more affordable and easily accessible.  I’m not going to touch on the army of LED par cans that are out there, but rather on some other more specialized products.  Some great off brands have also been created that many might not know about, so let’s explore some budget and theatrer-friendly LED options.


Mega is a small, family-owned lighting company based in Houston, TX that offers great products and services, and really listens to what customers ask for.

Baby Q70 - This is a crazy small (5in cubed) and bright Multi-CHIP RGBW LED fixture that offers the best bang for its buck in its class. With a street price of $200, I have had theaters and churches alike buying these by the dozen to add punch in small places or replace conventional rigs all together.

The Vatz series from Mega offers a COB (Chip on Board) LED that offers an amazing dimmer curve, the ability to use barn doors, and the look of a single source. Not to mention great colors due to its RGBAW.


Years ago Elation was known as the professional line of American DJ. While the lines are still connected, Elation has gone on to become a brand name to be reckoned with in the professional moving light industry. They have been featured on everything from national tours to the Super Bowl. Elation has a wide range of fixtures that are a little more budget-friendly than what many would consider from professional brands. In my experience the savings and features more than make up for the few and far between shortcomings.  They offer a LED Leko and a long list of pars, but here are my favorites:  

Arena Par Zoom Q7 is the smaller of 2 in a range of fixtures that offer impressive output and a zoom range of 10-60degree’s, making them great for a down light special or for full on washes effects when zoomed out.  With a street price of around $650.00, this is may not be for everyone but does have more to offer than simply another LED par.

The Zoom Q7's Bigger Brother is also worth a look.

To complement its vast array of LED Pars, Elation has recently released the ColourChours line. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Chroma-q should be red with envy. These units are about ½ the price of their name brand pioneers and offer all of the features including some improvements.  $1600 for a 4ft unit is pretty great.

American DJ

ADJ has an impressive line of LED fixtures that might be worth putting in your space. They offer a complete line of COB LEDS. Although they don’t currently have barn doors, I am told they are in the works and with 3 models to choose from (50, 100. or 150W), there is something for everyone and every electric height. Prices range from  $150-350

COB Wash Units

The COB Cannon Wash 

The ADJ Dotz Par 100 

The ADJ Dotz Par 

American DJ also has a wildfire killer on its hands, The UV CON Cannon, an inexpensive UV LED COB fixture that is bright and dmx controllable. No more need to put a dowser on a UV fixture to deal with 4ft tubes or very expensive discharge lamps. With a price of $400, it’s worth a look.

ADJ also has a line of moving and zooming fixtures that are so well designed that the professional line Elation decided not to make something in the same size factor - since they knew it would only be a new sticker not a new product. Coming in at $850 and $1150 for the larger unit. And it’s bigger brother.


Chauvet has recently split into two distinct production lines, Chauvet DJ and Chauvet Professional. While the professional line has more of the crossover products aimed specifically at the theater market, the DJ line has one or 2 to offer as well.

Chauvet Professional has its sights firmly set on the theater market with a line of Fresnels and Lekos that are not as budget-friendly, but should be considered if you are going that route. In the cyc arena, they do have an offering that has impressive colors, punch, and a price tag that will shock you (in the good way).  $1100.00 for an LED cyc is a steal. 

Need a flame, but don’t have a big budget for an expensive flame effect? Give these a shot!

Chauvet DJ also offers a small frame zooming and moving LED head.

Something that Chauvet beat a lot of others to market with was a small LED image projector. These even offer framing shutters!  I’m not saying they will beat out a S4, but if you have a short throw or need a custom gobo you can print at home, they might make a lot of sense. Chauvet has a couple good options, the LFS-75DMX and the LFS-5D.

While none of these products are the perfect replacement for everything in your traditional rig, there are some very budget-friendly options out there that can not only improve your show, but hopefully make your life a little bit easier.