If you’re looking for an outdoor projector for a backyard movie night or something for a larger outdoor event or a commercial, you’ve probably come across the word lumens.

What is a lumen?

Lumens are a unit of measurement for the intensity of light emitted by a source. Of course, that source could be a light bulb, but for this article, it is all about how powerfully your outdoor movie projector can project and how sharp and crisp the image will be.

The lumen rating of your outdoor movie projector will determine how large a screen you can project onto, how in contrast and sharp the movie will be, and whether you can start watching before it gets completely dark outside.

Check out the bullet points below for the best lumens for an outdoor projector.

Outdoor projector lumens

Are you unsure how many lumens you’ll require for your outdoor movie projector? This should give you a good idea of what you’ll need to buy based on your screen size.

  • 9×5 foot screen: 1,500 lumens minimum, ideally 2,300 lumens
  • 12×7 foot screen: 2,300 lumens minimum, ideally 3,000 lumens
  • 16×9 foot screen: 3,000 lumens minimum, ideally 4,500 lumens
  • 20×11 foot screen: 4,500 lumens minimum, ideally 7,500 lumens
  • 25×14.5 foot screen: 5,000 lumens minimum, ideally 10,000 lumens
  • 40×22.5 foot. Screen: 5,500 lumens minimum, ideally 12,000 lumens

If you want to move things around and compare the data more effectively, I’ve also presented this information in a table (sortable by columns) further down the page.

As a buyer, you’ll first need to determine the size of your outdoor movie screen. If you already have it and can measure it, do so. Then you can use the data above to figure out how many lumens you’ll need for an outdoor projector – and thus what spec you’ll need to buy.

If you already have an outdoor projector and know its lumen rating, it will also help you determine how big your screen can be.

Numerous factors influence how many lumens you require in an outdoor projector. Here are some things to think about:

Ambient light

You’ll need a very bright projector to watch movies outside on a bright, sunny day. However, remember that your outdoor space may have a lot of ambient light even at night. Ambient light levels created by street lights, sky glow, security lights, and even the moon can compete with your projector.

Screen size

The more lumens your projector requires to fill the entire area, the larger your screen. Therefore, a larger, more powerful projector is required if you have a large outdoor projector screen.

Image and content quality

The truth is that you will rarely use your projector at its maximum brightness. Turning the projector to 100% while watching a movie or playing a game will wash out the image and decrease contrast and quality. As a result, you will often be viewing content at a much lower brightness than the projector’s maximum capability.

Screen ‘gain’

Gain is a measurement of how much light a screen can reflect. A screen with a gain of 1.0 reflects light in all directions equally. A screen with a higher gain increases brightness while remaining within a specific viewing angle. If you want more brightness in your outdoor movies, consider getting a higher gain screen, as long as you’ll be sitting at a good viewing angle.

Because of these variables, you must select an outdoor projector appropriate for your screen, content, and lighting conditions. Here are some general guidelines to get you started:

  • Most experts recommend 2,500-3,000 lumens for outdoor projectors to be used during the day, though more is better on bright, sunny days. However, 5000 lumens or more may be required to project on a large screen or wall.
  • If you’re watching outdoor movies on a small screen in the dark, 500-800 lumens may suffice.

Why buy a higher lumen rating projector?

In my opinion, the more lumens you can afford to buy, the better.

It will protect you in the future if you decide to go larger with your outdoor movie screen, but it also means you have a much stronger light source from your projector.

This means you can begin watching backyard or outdoor movies while it is light outside.

An outdoor movie projector with a lumen rating of 3,000 or higher should project an image visible before sunset.

Ideally, you should purchase a bright model to display crisp and clear images in normal ambient light.

That is just one advantage of using a projector with a high lumen output for outdoor use.

There’s also the issue of wanting to keep some outside lighting on while showing a movie.

Best lumens for outdoor projector – sortable data table

Here’s the table I promised you, which allows you to sort the data in a columnar format if that helps you figure out what lumen rating you’ll need to buy for showing outdoor movies.

Screen SizeMinimum Lumen NeededIdeal Lumens Needed
9×5 foot1,5002,300
12×7 foot2,3003,000
16×9 foot3,0004,500
20×11 foot4,5007,500
25×14.5 foot5,00010,000
40×22.5 foot5,50012,000

Best lumens for backyard movie projectors

I recommend purchasing a projector with at least 2,000 lumens for backyard movie night. See the explanation a little further down the page for larger events.

However, because of this rating, you will need to watch movies outside in complete darkness. You will also need to minimize any interference from different light sources, such as those coming from your house or outside lighting. If you don’t, the contrast may be less than ideal.

I advise you to spend as much money as possible to get the best lumens for your outdoor projector.

If you need a quick product recommendation and one that will work best for backyard movie nights, I recommend the BenQ HT2050.

Because of the lumens on offer with this product, it works best in complete darkness, but once it’s up and running, I’ve been able to cast an HD image up to 180 inches wide (15 feet) – making it an excellent backyard movie projector with large screen size.

Best lumens for projectors at larger outdoor events

My recommendation is to get a projector with more than 4,000 lumens. This is powerful enough for most corporate or commercial outdoor events that use 16-foot-wide screens.

You’ll need the power that comes with a more expensive outdoor movie projector and something dependable that won’t break down on you.

However, if you are looking for something even larger, refer to the table further up the page, which shows the best lumens for your screen size.

The Optoma EH500 is my recommended product. It’s a 1080p high-definition projector with a massive 4,700 lumens, which means it can clearly and crisply project onto a screen at least 20 feet wide – ideal for use in large-screen applications.

A contrast ratio of 10,000:1 produces a stunning image and is frequently used for DIY drive-in movie nights and corporate or public outdoor events.

Do you want to know how many lumens are required for an outdoor projector?

Here’s how to determine how many lumens an outdoor projector should have. The nirvana of backyard movie nights has a bright and clean picture on your outdoor movie screen. But is your projector bright enough? This could be a worry, and one technique to find out is; looking at it or determining the number of lumens required.

Lumens as a measurement

In the past, lumens were referred to as candlepower, with the measurement unit candelas. Candelas were previously calculated by observing how quickly whale blubber candles burned.

We can now measure things much more precisely in modern times. For example, one candela is now equivalent to the luminous intensity of monochromatic radiation emitted by a preset source at a frequency of 540THz with a luminous intensity of 0.001464128 W/sr.

Is it still not clear? You probably need a scientific background.

But don’t worry, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has standardized how we measure light sources.

Outdoor movie projector manufacturers list their ANSI lumen rating on all their products. All we have to do as customers are read the box or technical specifications.

Simply put, lumens refer to how bright something is. While brightness isn’t exactly what a lumen rating describes, it’s close enough for the average consumer to understand and recognize.

Essentially, a movie projected through a high lumen outdoor projector will appear much brighter and clearer than one projected through a lower lumen-rating projector.

What are Foot-Lumens?

These measurable units have become a standard in the movie business to describe how much light should be reflected off the screen at an 11-foot area. They are also known as foot-lamberts.

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) recommends 16 foot-lamberts in a dark movie theater. Generally, acceptable values range from 12 to 22 foot-lamberts (for projected images).

When it comes to shooting your backyard movie, lower values may suffice and may be just sufficient for what you want to achieve in terms of image quality.

Other criteria will be considered when determining how bright your screen is.

Other considerations will be:

  • Ambient light sources are present in the material your screen is constructed of.
  • What is the age of your projector bulb or lamp?
  • Your outdoor projector’s settings

Here I calculate how many lumens you’ll need to light up your screen size in ideal conditions when watching movies.

The Formula for Calculation

Foot-lamberts must be calculated. I assume your projector has the same aspect ratio as the outdoor screen you’re projecting the movie onto.

Foot-lamberts = Lumens / Screen Area (in square feet)

In practice, this might look something like this:

Your screen measures 16 feet wide by 9 feet high. To get your screen area, multiply 16 by 9, 144 square feet.

If you’re utilizing a 2000-lumen outdoor projector, you’ll want to do the following:

2,000 (your projector lumens) / 144 (your screen area) = 13.9 foot-lamberts

The final value of 13.9 foot-lamberts falls within the desired range of 12 to 22 foot-lamberts, indicating that everything is in order!

If you wish to calculate how many lumens you need to get the appropriate SMPTE brightness for your screen, modify the above example using the following calculation:

144 (sq. ft. of your screen) x 16 (ideal SMPTE foot-lamberts) = 2,304 lumens

As a result, 2,304 lumens are an ideal figure for a 16′ x 9′ screen (in the dark and outdoors).

What if the lumens on an outdoor movie projector aren’t listed?

Unfortunately, not all outdoor movie projector lists their lumens, making comparison difficult. However, here are some other brightness measurements that projectors can employ and how to compare them.


The term lux refers to the ratio of lumens to volume. Put another way; it is how much visible light can be seen per square meter. You can get the desired lux measurement by entering the desired lumens and screen surface area into an online calculator.


Watts are units of measurement for how much energy a light bulb consumes. It is not a metric for brightness, but it can be converted to lumens. For example, a 13W LED bulb, a 53W halogen bulb, a 19W CFL bulb, and a 75W incandescent bulb all produce around 1100 lumens.

Is a permanent setup necessary?

Every projector decision you make stems from a single choice: do you want a permanent installation or an ad hoc setup? On the one hand, you can install all your projection equipment outdoors, fixed in place, and weatherproofed: video source, projector, screen, ancillary sound system, and power equipment. On the other hand, you can haul everything out and set it up only when necessary. In the interim, you could install an outdoor screen and speakers and transport the rest of the equipment out and back as needed.

Only the projector, video source, and additional audio components must be protected from the elements in permanent setups, which can be simple if you have a confined Florida room with a sliding door outside. When everything is in place, open the door to allow the projector to illuminate the screen. However, remember that you may want to bring even outdoor screens inside for the winter or before a storm.

Weight of an outdoor projector

Projectors have come a very long way since their inception. Ten years ago, a 5000-lumen projector weighed nearly 90 pounds without the case! Moving the outdoor projector from location to location required two to three people. Projectors with the same brightness can now weigh less than ten pounds.

This is a huge help to all who organize outdoor movie events. Now, a single person can easily transport a bright projector to accommodate thousands of people. This is useful for outdoor cinema rental companies or events in various settings. A lighter projector means greater mobility and fewer headaches.

How to calculate throw distance

The “throw distance” is between the projector lens and your screen. Throw distance for projector lenses is classified into four categories.

As the name implies, a standard throw is the most common, requiring roughly 10 feet to the screen for a 90-inch image (measured diagonally), give or take a couple of feet depending on the lens. On the other hand, a long throw lets you place the projector farther away while maintaining the same screen and projected-image size.

A short throw allows you to position the projector closer than usual, which is essential in a small space and beneficial for any backyard movie night. That may seem counterintuitive but consider this: If everyone is seated behind the projector rather than between the projector and the screen, no one can cast shadows when they stand up in the middle of the movie to get another skewer of shrimp from the grill.

Finally, ultra-short throws, or USTs, allow you to place the projector just inches away while maintaining the same image size. These, however, are best avoided for use outside because they are fussy about being positioned “just so” relative to the screen, which adds to setup time.

Filters on your outdoor projector

Your outdoor projector is a significant financial investment. To keep it running smoothly, all manufacturers recommend changing the air filter regularly. However, the interval between replacements/air filter cleanings can differ depending on the model of your projector and the environment.

Suppose you frequently use your projector on a baseball diamond or near a backyard barbecue in dusty outdoor conditions. In that case, the air filter can mean the difference between your projector lasting a few months or years. Clean filters ensure good airflow. However, your outdoor projector’s housing and hot bulb must constantly cool. Nothing shortens the life of your outdoor projector faster than a clogged filter or obstructed air intake.

It is simple to change or clean your filter. With most models, you can slide the filter out with your thumbnail. Depending on how dirty it is, you can either blow it off or wash it off. Before replacing your filter, make sure it is completely dry. Never remove a filter from an active projector. Your outdoor projection conditions may include large crowds that kick up dust. Check it every time before you start your outdoor movie event.

Last update on 2024-06-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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