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Projector lenses for your outdoor movie theater

In about 80% of use scenarios, normal-lens projectors are applied. Normal lens means that the image is projected with a minimum amount of optical changes inside the lens. The term 'normal-throw' or 'normal lens' comes from photography, where 'normal lens' stands for a 50 mm focal lens and is the closest viewing angle to what a human eye sees.

There are three more categories of projector lenses according to their throw: ultra short-throw, short throw and long-throw lens. The first category (ultra short-throw) are almost never applied during the outdoor movie screenings because of the limited image size that can be projected using these lenses. Typical screen sizes covered by the ultra short-throw lenses are 80'', 100'', 150".
Optoma EH340UST
Optoma EH340UST. Maximum Screen size is up to 100" in diagonal.

The projection distance of these lenses is impressive. They can project a maximum image size from just 3" or 5" away from the projector screen. This is especially handy for small living rooms or when you want to swap an LED TV to an ultra short-throw projector. Ultra short-throw projector lenses never come with a Zoom feature. So you have to know the exact place where the projector needs to be placed in relation to your projection screen.

Short-throw projector lenses or projectors with a built-in short-throw projector lens are commonly used in outdoor movie systems. These projectors are more expensive compared to normal lens projectors. Many models do not have zoom. And the projected image is typically limited to 16'-25' screen width. Short-throw projectors come handy when an outdoor movie event is limited by the venue dimensions. Think of a small backyard or a concert stage.

Long-throw projector lenses are available exclusively as an interchangeable lens for a projector. As to our knowledge, there are no projector models with a built-in long-throw lens. Long-throw lenses are the most expensive models because of the complicated optical elements design.
Long throw projector lens by Optoma (BX-CTA13)
Long throw projector lens by Optoma (BX-CTA13)

The Big Screen Pro rental division had several situations where only a long-throw lens could be used during an open air cinema event. For example, a 20' outdoor movie screen needed to be placed close to a wall. So no short-throw lens could solve the situation. The placement of the projector behind the screen was limited because of a large artificial pond at the centre of the venue. So the only option was to place the outdoor projector 100' away from the inflatable screen. This is where a long-throw lens saved us.

If you are shopping for your first outdoor movie system whether for your backyard or a rental business, a normal-throw projector is your best option. But if you are looking to now expand your outdoor projector fleet — consider a short-throw projector with zoom, or invest in a projector with interchangeable lenses.

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