Since the introduction of the tungsten-halogen bulb in the early 60s, lighting technology has changed little except in the fixture styles that use the quartz lamp.
Lighting has finally jumped on the bandwagon of change. For many years the HMI enclosed metal arc lamp introduced in the late 60s and the xenon gas-discharge arc introduced in the 80s were the only real changes in light-emitting technology. However, this year’s industry technology convention features a myriad of new lighting equipment technologies. Companies offer not only the standard quartz-powered lighting units, but also the newest technology in fluorescent lighting and LED lighting. LED lighting? Yes, those little light-emitting diodes have grown up. Today, LED lighting is one of the preferred sorts of lighting equipment. In this column, we will take a look at some of the new technologies in the lighting arena, talk about their benefits and provide a few cautionary comments as well.
Lighting Equipment Basics
The quartz-halogen light has been popular through the years because it is consistent in its color temperature rendition and it is a lot of light in a very small package. The one disadvantage of this technology is that it burns very hot, and the life of the lamp is fairly short.
Enter the fluorescent fixture. Most of us think of fluorescents as the lights that drive us crazy when shooting in offices. In the late 80s, companies like Kino-Flo and Videssence introduced fluorescent lighting that was color-corrected for video and film. Unlike their quartz-halogen brothers, these lighting fixtures gave off little to no heat, and the lamp life was extremely long. An added advantage was very little power consumption. While the industry was slow to catch on, fluorescent fixture lighting is now used everywhere in the broadcast and video world.
A new technology that has really swept through the industry lately adds the advantage of working with both AC and DC power. In other words – no electric cords! This technology is LED lighting. Companies like Litepanels offer LED lighting fixtures that not only give you the ability to run on battery but also provide a bright, soft light when you are on location. LED lighting has really come into its own!
Bright, soft panels with fluorescent tubes are lighting television studios throughout the country. This piece of lighting equipment require very little maintenance, because they measure lamp life in thousands of hours, not hundreds like their quartz-halogen brothers. These units consume minimal power.
Lighting equipment panels with fluorescent tubes use both daylight 5200K or 5600k lamps and indoor or 3200K lamps. These fixtures give off very little heat, which is a distinct safety advantage (see sidebar).
These lamps provide soft, flicker-free light. The talent will rave about how this light takes years off the face.
This is all well and good, but what if you wanted a harder light? What if you wanted to show the wrinkles on someone’s face or the texture of an object? In the past few years, companies have developed lighting fixtures that use the spiral fluorescent bulb as their light source. These fixtures have the advantages of the standard fluorescent flat panels with the added advantage of being single-lamp sources, when the scene or shot demands a hard light.
The fluorescent fixtures have the added advantage of letting you easily change the color temperature of the fixture. If you find yourself shooting an interview in an office with a great deal of outdoor light that you want to use, change the lamps in your fluorescent fixture to daylight color-temperature lamps. No longer do you need to worry about adding lighting gels to the lights. Just change the lamps.
Lighting gel does cause a problem for fluorescent fixtures. Do not attempt to use lighting gel on a fluorescent light. If the lamps do not have enough airflow, they will heat up, and the color temperature of the lamp will begin to move towards the ugly blue-green spectrum you usually associate with fluorescents. This can be problematic if you are trying to add color to your set. To do this, mount a lighting gel in a frame that sits in front of the fixture but does not restrict airflow to the lamps. This is the proper solution for using a lighting gel. A little more work perhaps, but the end result makes the hassle with lighting gel worth it.
Fluorescent lighting comes in a variety of shapes and styles. Whatever your lighting needs, think beyond the ugly green fluorescent tubes of the past, and consider adding this low-heat, low-power-consumption soft light technology to your lighting equipment list.
Light-Emitting Diodes, or LEDs, have been around for a while, but usually we think of them as the tiny bright lights that light up the buttons on our remote control switches and other such uses. However, in the past few years, these LEDs have grown up, literally. Today, LEDs can create large panels of light you can use just like any other lighting panel. These panels provide a large amount of light, using very little electricity, give off little to no heat and have a lamp life of years, not months. An added advantage is their ability to run on both DC and AC power, so that the light fixtures can be battery-powered to eliminate the need for power cords. This is a huge advantage when you are shooting on location. The LED lighting fixtures come in 5600K color temperature, so you can use them to supplement outdoor lighting. Even indoors, many HD shooters have found that 5600K light provides better color rendition, so they are beginning to move towards the LED technology.
Another distinct advantage of the LED lighting system is that the lights consist of a series of diodes. You can arrange these small brilliant light emitters in a variety of shapes. One very interesting fixture is the Litepanels Ringlite. This fixture features a ring of LEDs placed around the camera lens. This type of fixture is ideal for macro work and provides a beautiful light for actresses.
LED lighting fixtures are also lightweight and come in a variety of designs. Small fixtures for on-camera lights provide a soft light for the talent, and you can filter them for 3200K compatibility. You can create larger fixtures by combining a series of 1’x 1′ or 4’x4′ panels. Because of their low power consumption and low to no heat, these powerful little lights make for a comfortable and evenly-lit set.
LED technology is also pretty rugged. Documentary producers bouncing around Third World countries find them very reliable. Being battery-powered makes them a great choice for the documentary shooter on the go.
One concern with LED technology is that the lights are manufactured in lots that may vary slightly in color. If you are going to use the LEDs to create large panels of light, you need to make sure that you get the smaller panels at the same time and that they come from the same lot. While this may not be a factor in most lighting situations, it may prove problematic if color temperature is critical for color recreation, as when shooting commercials on HD.
One final distinct advantage of fluorescent and LED technologies over the tungsten-halogen bulb is that you can dim them with little to no color temperature shift. Most of these fixtures actually come dimmable. This is a distinct advantage when you’re trying to create lighting setups that require less light with no room to move the light back.
Understanding lighting setups and lighting theory is very important in creating good lighting. Having good tools is also essential. Adding these new tools to your lighting equipment list may increase your lighting repertoire. Have fun, and enjoy your trek into the world of new lighting technologies.
Contributing editor Robert G. Nulph, Ph.D., is an independent video/film producer/director and teaches video production courses at the college level.
Side Bar: Case Study
In 2000, I shot a video on young-onset Parkinson’s disease. This video featured Parkinson’s patients dealing with the disease in their everyday lives. One of my primary concerns when preparing for the interviews was the heat of my lighting fixtures. Heat is one of the many things that Parkinson’s patients do not handle well. I wanted my clients to be comfortable, so I called a lighting manufacturer to see if they could help with my problem. They sent me a new fluorescent unit that they were beta testing. The result was a fixture that gave a very soft, even light with little to no heat and therefore very comfortable interviewees (except for the fact that they were on camera!).