In 2009 it will 10 years since the award winning ETC Source Four PARNel was launched. A interesting “wavy” lens was added to the original S4 PAR casing to produce a hybrid of the traditional PAR can and a stage lighting fresnel. Since then, the PARnel has been popular but hasn’t sent all it’s older relatives to stage lighting heaven (or hell – in the case of the Strand Patt 45).
What is the S4 PARnel?
If you didnâ€™t know, the PARnel is like a S4 PAR but with an adjustable beam that fires from the front of a small and attractive metal casing. It can provide a tight spot, similar to a PC, and can flood out to a wider angle than many stage lighting fresnels. The Parnel uses a lot of the same technology as the original Source Four PAR that ETC pioneered (and many copied) using the patent HPL (High Performance Lamp) compact filament lamp, capable of producing a cool bright light very efficiently. The Source Four PAR brought technology to the humble PAR 64, the 575w lamp version was supposed to be as bright as 1000w PAR (theoretically – at least).
In a standard fresnel, the beam is adjusted by moving the lamp/reflector forwards and backwards in relation to the lens. The ETC Source Four PARnel uses a bizarre wavy lens that controls the light beam by lens rotation in the front of the lantern casing. Barndoors are available for that all important beam shaping.
Should I buy the Source Four PARnel?
If you forget about the mind boggling innovation of the wavy lens the PARnel is just a light source. Although maybe not intended to directly replace the fresnel, many buyers of stage lighting equipment look to the S4 PARnel as an alternative – providing an adjustable, soft edged light.
But there are differences in light quality that you should know about.
At it’s narrowest, the PARnel chucks out a tight pin-splodge of light ideal for highlighting small pieces of set or decorations. The widest beam of the PARnel is wider than most fresnels but suffers from “hole in the middle” syndrome (like a PC spotlight). Medium beam width is useful for general stage lighting or colour washes.
The light quality and consistency (work that one out, Physics grads) is more like a Source Four PAR than a fresnel. Trying to focus an evenly distributed general cover with PARnels is hard work as the intensity seems to vary considerably across the beam width. Maybe it’s that wavy lens…
The PAR like quality of the PARnel pops up again when using barndoors to shutter off light spill. Many fresnels barndoor off to a nice even soft line but the PARnel beam edge behaves more like that of a PAR64 with 1KW fresnel jammed in the runners. The light is “kind of” cut off but is not as neat or tightly controllable.
So if you are looking to buy the ETC Sour Four PARnel to replace your fresnels, bear in mind that they are not a straight swap. The PARnel is very versatile, efficient and nice to look at but the payoff for this is some light quality.
ETC revolutionised the stage lighting market with their innovations such at the Source Four profile and there is no doubt that the PARnel is a clever little lantern. But make sure that you try before your buy.
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Rob is a Lighting Designer and Moving Light Programmer and currently Senior Lecturer in Technical Theatre Production at Bath Spa University in the UK. He is also the Editor of On Stage Lighting and runs workshops in stage lighting practice.
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