Gear & Now: LEDs and Fluorescent Lighting Bring New Options
Posted Mar 5, 2009

The creative options for in-studio or fixed-location lighting for professional videographers will expand tremendously this year, as new LED and fluorescent fixtures become available. We will see new and enhanced products that offer extra control mechanisms and advanced color matching and correction tools, as well as more economical operation overall based on lower-energy requirements and longer-expected lamp life. Advances in both technologies will bring some higher-end prices down and allow others to deliver useful products at still lower prices than today. With all the new features, however, come some important decision-making moments. The new fluorescents, for example, come in a wide range of configurations-total output strength as lux or watts; housing options for two, four, or more bulbs; dimmers or not; reflective coatings; and more.

Having a good handle on the kind of production you do, and anticipate doing, will help you make any usage or purchase decisions. I do some work in a small greenscreen-outfitted studio, for example, where a nice, flat wash of even lighting is our starting point for one person on camera. That comes from a couple of basic four-tube fluorescent lights. A low-output focusing spot or two act as kickers or highlights; the total output is barely 1,400 lumens in total! There are single lamps that do that, but each one is almost twice the price of our full-lighting setup.

Here's a look at the newest options for creating similar and other types of fluorescent- and LED-based lighting setups.

Existing and new fluorescent products from Balcar are known for putting out a quality light, with even dispersal and a very slow fall-off. With model names such as Duolite, Quadlite, and Octalite, you can begin to see the differences in the number of actual bulbs in the housing.

The Duo unit (below) has two 55W bulbs, for example, with a rated output of about 950 lux at around 6'. Good lights will provide good light-controlling features, such as Balcar's four rectangular and removable mirrored flaps, helping to spread or direct the light output as necessary.

Balcar Duolite

Wide-dispersal fill, flood, or cyc lights like these are often used alongside more directional spot or focused lights, which bring shadow, depth, and contrast to the scene. Balcar's unique Spotflux is a focusable fluorescent fixture that pumps out a beam that is narrower than normal fluorescents.

Kino Flo
Kino Flo has long been known for its fluorescents and for the BarFly lineup of super-thin fixtures in which the bulb itself can be swapped for daylight and tungsten color balances. Again, model names such as 100, 200, and 400 indicate the number of bulbs in the housing (one, two, or four, that is-not hundreds!).

The units put out a soft, cool, even light that HD cameras love. Using Kino Flo's new True Match 55W daylight and tungsten lamps, you can have the best of color reproduction and light-matching capabilities, as well as brightness equivalent to a 1,000W tungsten, on just four amps at 120VAC. 

Kino Flo's BarFly 400 system (below; it is a system, with lamp fixture, mounting plate, ballast, and cable included) is priced at about $1,200. Up to 75' (3 x 25' extensions) of cable can be run between the fixture and the ballast, so most studios and fixed locations are easily accommodated. What's more, four lights can be driven from the ballast.

Kino Flo BarFly

Like many broad-fill or wide-dispersal lights, the BarFly family is often used in a small two- or three-point light kit along with a more directional spotlight; from this manufacturer, that could be a Kino Flo Diva light.

Lowel, having well-established its range of tungsten-halogen lights, is also playing in the fluorescent space. The company has recently added its new TRIO and SoftCore lineup to existing location solutions such as the Caselight system. The Caselight 2, with its two-lamp housing, is list priced at $1,295 with case, stand, and light.

TRIO (below) is a location or studio fluorescent fixture, available in one- or three-lamp kits. As will become more common with such units, daylight or tungsten 55W lamps will be available so that the TRIO can be matched well with other, existing lighting sources you may use.

Lowel TRIO

Barndoors and egg-crate light control tools are included with the TRIO, as is the auto voltage ballast, which is compatible with 120-240V power supply.

Lowel, as you may have heard, recently signed a deal with Tiffen, which will take over the manufacturing, distribution, and marketing of all Lowel products. Combining these two powerhouses will certainly have an effect on the products they provide.

Litepanels will introduce new LED lights for DV applications later in the year, the company has already confirmed. But for now, its existing lineup of very cool LED lights has been supplemented by the new 1x1 Bi-Color. Addressing that common issue of changing lighting conditions and shooting scenarios, Litepanels' Bi-Color provides a single fixture able to generate either 3,200°K tungsten or 5,600°K daylight-or an infinite range of color temperatures in between. Maybe it should be called Multi-Color, as color temps can be dialed in, using onboard dial or digital color temperature settings or via a built-in DMX lighting controller. 

Like the standard "white" 1x1 unit, the Bi-Color is very power-efficient, using much less electricity than standard lights and, therefore, generating much less heat as well. The Bi-Color can be powered from a variety of 12V-30V sources, including an optional battery, a car battery, or an AC adapter. There is an optional, onboard 1.75 hour Lithium-ion battery pack for mobile use as well as for fixed use. Prices start at about the $2,000 mark.

Some wedding and event videographers find that kind of pricing understandably high, and there are nice LED and fluorescent solutions at lower prices. Check out the fluorescents from Studio Lighting Systems (SLS). SLS has two- and four-lamp light banks, as well as the small circular Macrolite. Designed to wrap around the lens of digital still cameras, the Macrolite can be used in video settings too. SLS banks are priced in the $300-$800 neighborhood, and the Macrolite costs about $100.

The SLS four-lamp bank offers 5,200K high-frequency, flicker-free light and digital control over brightness, which can be dialed in at significantly more than 200 different levels. Digital mode accommodates up to 512 addresses, while the brightness can be adjusted in 256 steps. Full output is rated at 1,400 lumens at about 12'.

Also new this year will be additions to the Zylight lineup of well-regarded LED lights for on-camera use, which currently includes the Z50 and Z90.

The new product, to be shown at NAB next month, is much larger than the company's current offerings, measuring about 18" x 12" but only 1.5" thick. With those dimensions, it should have studio as well as location uses, and it will provide a nice, broad base light to support any other creative lighting ideas you want to apply. But it will also have spotlight-type control and functions. No output specs were available at presstime, but the company says it will be "four times brighter than our closest competitor."

The details, though, prove just as promising: The new Zylight will have adjustable color temperature and adjustable color correction control (plus or minus on the "green" side). Such creative and operational flexibility holds terrific promise for video shooters, as they can keep using older equipment as necessary while still having the best of the newest features at hand-literally. Zylight was showing its remote control units last year, and the company is now shipping those in volume. These handy, palm-sized devices bring wireless control over important lighting parameters and can bring extra control to the one-person band. The new light will be AC- and/or battery-powered; no pricing information available just yet.

Finally, there is word of another new source for lighting sources: Philips. Known widely for any number of consumer and professional electronic products (such as the Compact Disc), Philips also sports a Color Kinetics division, which is a leader in LED lighting technology.

Color Kinetics recently introduced IntelliWhite LED technology, Color Blast LED lights, and other lighting systems to its underlying Chromacore LED lighting technology. Chromacore provides control of warm white and cool white LEDs to produce output of color temperatures within the range of 3,000K-6,500K from within a single fixture. These products allow independent adjustment of brightness, color temperature, or both. Color Kinetics technology is said to deliver high-intensity, low-voltage light sources that will provide fully dimmable control over intensity and consistency at various color temperatures-and, dare we say, at various shades of "green."

Lee Rickwood (lrickwood at is a media consultant and freelance writer.