Why You Should Replace Your Old Lights with LED Fixtures

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If you look on the B&H website under Lighting, you will notice the category Continuous lighting, which is separate from strobe or flash lighting, which is most commonly used with still photography. Continuous here refers to lighting units that are not strobe units, and these are mostly used in film and video, as well as theater. Once, this type of lighting was dominated by tungsten and HMI fixtures for power and utility, and then fluorescents became popular for creating soft light. However, LED lighting has made tremendous inroads for all manner of productions, and it is no longer limited to just soft light.

Tungsten light is a full-spectrum light source, much like daylight, which makes them both unquestionably the best choices for filming, so why use any other sources? Daylight is powered by the sun, and that provides few options when shooting under bridges, or indoors, or at night, and tungsten lighting (also known as Quartz-Halogen) is inefficient and generates a great deal of heat. HMI and fluorescent lighting are “discontinuous” sources and are technically known as “correlated” light sources because they deliver an approximation of daylight or tungsten color temperature light. What this means is that unlike daylight and tungsten, which have a full spectrum of the wavelengths of visible light, HMI and Fluorescent lighting is missing frequencies from the spectrum from their output. A full spectrum is important for the proper rendition of skin tones, as well as colors. CRI (Color Rendering Index) was adopted from architecture and provides a rough guide as to how well a light source will render colors. The higher CRI rating, the more accurately a light source will render colors. Daylight and tungsten are both 100 CRI. LEDs are also correlated color temperature sources. However, LED technology is advancing rapidly, and the spectrum of light that LEDs can reproduce is becoming closer and closer to full spectrum.

On-Camera Lighting

LED fixtures, with their efficient power use, variable color capabilities, and small size have really come to dominate the On-Camera category. If you are looking for an LED light, you can find fixtures that range from simple bi-color arrays that use AA batteries or DV batteries for power, and feature exposed LED emitters with dimming and variable color capabilities, to units with such as the Luxli Viola² 5" On-Camera RGBAW LED Light, which utilizes RGBAW emitters, has a mobile app, and supports numerous effects modes. If you are still partial to tungsten for on-camera lighting, then you might want to check out the Cool-Lux SL-3000 Broad/Soft On-Camera Light, this Frezzi HHI dimmable package, or this Flood/Spot ID Light, from Lowel. The Bower Twin Video / Flash Kit is a tungsten unit that runs on AA batteries, but you may be hard pressed to find another tungsten light that runs on AA batteries. For on-camera lights, LEDs really do rule the roost.

Luxli Viola² 5" On-Camera RGBAW LED Light
Luxli Viola² 5" On-Camera RGBAW LED Light

Interview Lighting Kit

If you have been around the biz as long as I have, you will undoubtedly remember open-face tungsten lights, especially ARRI’s ubiquitous four-light kit, variations of which are still available. Relatively easy to haul around town in the wheeled case, just put the softbox on the open face light for the key light, set up the small Fresnels for fill, back, and set lights, and you were all set for an intimate interview. In addition, you could always use the kit as part of a larger package for narrative shooting. At some point Kino Flo, with its flicker-free fluorescent lighting and other fluorescent light options, began to dominate the small interview market. With almost shadowless output, lower power requirements, and cooler fixture temperatures for less heat on location or set, fluorescent lighting became very popular, and it is still popular. However, LED lighting does have several advantages over fluorescent lighting.

ARRI Softbank III Plus 4-Light Kit
ARRI Softbank III Plus 4-Light Kit

LED Advantages Over Fluorescents

Greater Color Control: High-end LED fixtures that are comparable to 4-foot-long fluorescent tubes are almost all some variation of RGB or RGBAW, this provides for greater color control. The RGBAW LEDs provide variable daylight to tungsten balanced output, as well as RGB output, which helps fill in the fixtures spectrum, providing better color rendition without a green spike, as well as providing RGB functions such as effects and precise color matching.

Easier Effects: Compared to fluorescent lights that require you to swap out bulbs or add gels for effects, LEDs are far easier to work with.

Greater Efficiency: LEDs are also more efficient than fluorescent light units and tend to have fewer flicker or color-shift issues than lower-end fluorescent fixtures.

Battery Power: Most LEDs can be battery powered, in addition to running off AC power.

DMX Control: Worth noting is that although some fluorescent fixtures could be controlled by DMX, that control was extremely limited, while with LED fixtures enabled for DMX, you can control far more functions, and many fixtures support Wired and wireless DMX, as well as mobile apps. Kino Flo now makes LED fixtures, both versions of their fluorescent fixtures, as well as coming out with entirely new fixtures. Kino Flow has recently come up with a color-tuning science that allows you to adjust its LED lights in the field, for select camera sensors, to further minimize color issues.

Kino Flo Diva-Lite LED 20 DMX 2-Light Kit with Flight Case
Kino Flo Diva-Lite LED 20 DMX 2-Light Kit with Flight Case

Other LED lights well suited to interview, as well as narrative productions, include the Luxli Conductor series—the Viola, the Cello, the Timpani, and the Taiko (here is a review of the Taiko). Fiilex is a popular Fresnel unit, and Light & Motion has an interesting take on LED-lensed lighting, and its daylight-balanced Stella 2000 light is battery powered and can be used on dry land, as well as being waterproof down to 328 feet.

Light & Motion Stella 2000 5600K LED Light
Light & Motion Stella 2000 5600K LED Light

Field and Studio Productions

So, great for interviews, but what about productions in the field or in the studio, such as: Narrative, Un-scripted, News, VFX, and High-Speed shooting? The answer there is that LED lighting is well suited to all these types of productions. Please note that High-speed shooting above 120 fps carries its own special issues that affect even tungsten lighting, so you really need to test the fixtures you are using, as well as your camera, shutter speed, and fps settings before doing the final shot.

Aputure Light Storm C300d Mark II LED Light
Aputure Light Storm C300d Mark II LED Light

Production Soft Lights

While you can easily use the above-mentioned lights in productions other than just interview setups, ARRI has its own “RGB+” LED soft lights, the SkyPanels, well suited for use in grids, as well as in the field with standard yokes. Litepanels, who pioneered LED fixtures for production with early LED bulb array lighting, has not only its Bi-Color / Daylight LED Astra lineup, but also its RGBWW Gemini series of light fixtures. All the above soft lights, depending on their mounting configuration, can be used for interviews in the field, on narrative productions, on location, as well in the studio.

Litepanels Gemini 2x1 RGBWW LED Soft Panel
Litepanels Gemini 2x1 RGBWW LED Soft Panel

Hard Lights

A variety of hard lights are available that utilize LED technology. LED Fresnel lights and PARs have been slowly gaining momentum, bringing with them the improved power efficiency, although HMI lights are still the kings in that area, with cooler running temperatures and flexibility in use—no gels required, programmable, and easily controllable.

Litepanels “led” the way here, with its Sola series of lights. Providing that long sought-after Fresnel quality in an efficient and controllable fixture. Other manufacturers have followed suit, such as iKan, with its Helia series of light fixtures. K 5600, known for its Joker and “Bug” HMI lights, is also getting into the LED act, with its Joker 300 LED fixture. It features interchangeable light-modification accessories that turn the fixture into a PAR or a Fresnel. The accessories also allow you to use it with a variety of third-party and pre-existing accessories, such as soft boxes. These are available in the Joker 300 LED Kit. Hollywood lighting staple Mole Richardson has created LED Fresnel versions of its well-established line of tungsten Fresnel lights, ranging from the equivalent of 100W all the way up to the LED Tener in tungsten and daylight. The tungsten version is comparable to a 10,000W tungsten Fresnel light, and the daylight version is comparable to a 2500W HMI solar spot, but both fixtures only draw 1600W each. ARRI has been making LED Fresnel lighting fixtures for a while, with its L5-C, L7-C, and L10-C series of fixtures but, more recently, ARRI released the Orbiter system, an open-face, weatherproof RGB LED fixture with a 98 CRI that is designed to mount accessories on the light. You can mount a soft dome and make it a soft light, or add a 15, 30, or 60° lens, the fixture has a native 80° beam spread without any additional optics, for a hard light. For more info on the Orbiter, check out our announcement.

ARRI Orbiter LED Light with Large Dome Optics
ARRI Orbiter LED Light with Large Dome Optics

Conclusion

Why upgrade from your old lighting kit to the ever-expanding lineup of LED light fixtures? Color rendition, portability, power efficiency, and battery power options are just a few of the reasons. All these capabilities in new lighting fixtures are in the favor of LED lighting, and away from the traditional or legacy lighting sources of tungsten, HMI, and even fluorescent. Plus, there are now fixtures suitable for a variety of lighting needs as LED lighting has grown far beyond just the camera-mounted array that quickly claimed the on-camera light market. So, check out the links, search our site, or come into our store to see the LED fixtures on display, because LED fixtures are fast becoming the obvious choice when the time has come to replace your existing lights, and that time may just be now.

For more information on LED Lighting, visit the B&H Photo Website or if you're in New York City, visit us at the B&H Photo SuperStore.

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