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Lighting 101: LEDs

Lighting 101: LED

As recently as a few years ago when people mentioned getting some LEDs, that usually meant getting either PAR or strip-style fixtures with red, green and blue diodes as the source of light instead of a conventional lamp. LED lighting has come far in recent years, and you can find LED versions of nearly any style of fixture now.

Why LED?

LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology has become a very usable source of light in live performance. As this technology has continued to develop, newer, more sophisticated fixtures have been created to meet the needs of lighting designers. With more options then ever before at reasonable prices, LED fixtures are becoming common in most lighting systems.

Let's look at some of the top reasons why you could benefit from LED fixtures:

Low Power Consumption

Because LEDs draw a comparatively small amount of power, they are an efficient way to produce high intensity light without needing as much power as conventional fixtures. While one 20 amp circuit maxes out at four 500-watt PAR cans, you can run 20 to 40 LED PAR cans with the same amount of power.

Color Effects

LED fixtures can create a wide range of colors using anywhere from three to seven colors mixing together to create whatever color or color temperature of white you desire. LED fixtures with more colors available to mix with often can create richer, more accurate color and white light, but even a simple red, green and blue-based fixture can provide more color light than a conventional fixture with a gel.

High Brightness For Colored Light

Conventional tungsten fixtures get color by putting a subtractive gel in front of the light. For example, R27 Medium Red from Rosco has a 4% transmission rate, meaning a red gel in front of a 1,000 watt lamp will spit out roughly 40 watts of light. LEDs give you light by adding intensity/light, therefore LED fixtures tend to produce much brighter color than conventional fixtures.

Longevity/ Low Maintenance

LED fixtures tend to have tens of thousands of hours of use time versus 500-1,000 for most tungsten lamps. In other words, you'll likely outgrow the fixture or have different needs before the fixture no longer produces light. Additionally, LEDs don't burn out so they are more durable and have lower maintenance.

Low Heat

Although LED stage lights do produce some heat (I'd say more like warmth), LED fixtures don't begin to approach the heat of a conventional tungsten fixture. Venues that light stage sets or people from the floor love this feature as they don't have to be concerned about people touching the fixtures and burning themselves.

Small, Lightweight and Portable

LED fixtures tend to be small, so LED fixtures work great where space is tight or you want light without being able to see the fixture. Being small also means most LED fixtures are lightweight and highly portable, a huge feature for churches who have to set up and tear down often.

What Are Some Of The Drawbacks Of LED Fixtures?

LED Ellipsoidal Fixtures Are Still High Cost

Due to the way most LEDs are arrayed together to produce light, LED fixtures have a harder time creating a focusable beam like an ellipsoidal fixture can. Manufacturers are working hard to come up with solutions to this, however, and we've recently seen LED ellipsoidal offerings from ETC and Chauvet.

Color Rendering/Temperature

Some LED fixtures can produce millions of colors, unfortunately they can't always produce the one you want. Due to the way colored LEDs are made, different LED fixtures have colors that they can't quite replicate. The lack of a white light that looks great on human skin is often the number one complaint of LED fixtures, though we are seeing significant improvement as the technology develops. If there are specific colors or color temperatures that you HAVE to have, you'll be best served to test out the LED fixture you're thinking about before you invest in too many of them.

Conventional Fixtures Still Output More White Light Per Dollar

LED lighting fixtures are bright for color, but aren't quite as bright as a comparable conventional white fixture for white. As mentioned above, some lighting manufacturers are making some great strides in producing a bright, controlled white light such as the Chauvet Ovation line, but most still can't compete with a 750 watt lamp in a Source 4 PAR or ellipsoidal.

Dimming Curve Issues

LEDs don't use traditional powered dimming systems so LED lights don't behave the same as traditional lighting equipment when it comes to dimming. Cheaper units can have poor (steppy) dimming curves and there is the real possibility of high frequency flicker with cameras when using cheaper fixtures. With many LED fixtures the light will snap to blackout unlike the cooling down of an incandescent filament. Although high-end LED fixtures can attempt to replicate it, LEDs also don't naturally shift in color like a tungsten source does over it's dimming range.

Quality Matters

With LED fixtures, it's very true that you get what you pay for. Most of the time, the cheaper the LED fixture the more noticeable the flaws of LED are. My general preference is to purchase good to great quality LED fixtures from well-known, established manufacturers with a good track record of support. You'll pay more for LED fixtures from manufacturers like ETC, Wybron and Martin, but can have confidence that they'll be great and be well-supported. Chauvet and Elation/American DJ have also come a long way in the past 5-8 years, really stepping up their quality and support while still providing cost-effective lighting solutions.

The Big Question: Are LED Fixtures Right For You?

Unfortunately, as with most questions, the answer is "it depends." Most of the lighting systems we design these days include a mixture of conventional tungsten and LED fixtures for a variety of reasons, but that is changing. It really does depend on what kind of power and infrastructure you have available, what kind of light you need and what your budget is. Our team would love to help you figure out the right answer for you.

If you're simply looking to add some fixtures to your existing lighting rig, our national sales consultants are available to help you find the right solution to meet your additional needs. If you need to renovate your entire lighting system our Systems Consultants would love the opportunity to do some vision-casting with your team and design a new lighting system to that will meet your needs now and give you flexibility for future growth. Whatever your lighting needs, conventional, LED or otherwise, we've got you covered!

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