ARRI Ceramic Studio Lights

Sweating under the lights is a cliché of television studio production. To create color images that look lifelike and true on camera, you have to use heat-pumping overhead spots and fills that turn your studio into an oversized Easy-Bake Oven. Or you could use fluorescent lights, but then you trade some lighting throw control for a lower operating temperature.

At least, that's the way it used to be. At NAB 2006, ARRI introduced the 250-watt Studio Ceramic 250 and X Ceramic 250, both of which can be deployed for overhead or portable lighting. By using Philips Ceramic ST 250 HR discharge lamps, these ceramic spots run far cooler than conventional tungsten-halogen spots and provide a 3200K light source that resembles the warm look of halogen illumination. The lamps may also be fitted with a Philips MSR 250 HR daylight lamp to provide 5600K light.

"They are sufficiently cool-running that the spots' handling points stay at room temperature," says John Gresch, vice president of ARRI's lighting division. "Should you briefly touch the spot housing by accident, you will feel intense heat, but you won't burn yourself like you would on a conventional halogen source light."

More importantly, ARRI's 250-watt ceramic spots provide as much brightness as a conventional 1,000-watt tungsten-halogen light source. For penny-pinching operations and facility managers, this means you can get the same light intensity at a quarter of the power cost.

What about downsides? ARRI's ceramic lights cost more than their halogen equivalents. "A 1K tungsten light source with lamp costs $650 for a Fresnel studio version," Gresch says. "A comparable 250-watt ceramic fixture costs $3,250 for the Fresnel studio version." When you factor in reduced power costs, safer handling and the fact that ceramic lamps last eight times longer than tungsten-halogen lamps, ceramic lighting appears to be an idea whose time has come.

What exactly is a ceramic lamp? First things first: the term "ceramic lamp" doesn't mean that the lamp is made of pottery.

Instead, Gresch explains, the Philips Ceramic ST 250 HR discharge lamp uses a ceramic material to coat the inside of the fixture. "This, plus the use of an arc light source-with a continuous spark traveling from a cathode to an anode within the lamp-is what provides cool yet intense illumination."

In contrast, a tungsten-halogen lamp uses an incandescent tungsten filament within a sealed quartz bulb that contains a trace of halogen vapor. The light is produced by electricity flowing through the tungsten filament, which glows fiercely due to molecular friction. The halogen serves to slow down the evaporation of tungsten from the filament, thus resulting in longer lamp life.

The upside of a tungsten-halogen lamp is cheap, bright light, but those benefits come with the cost of intense heat generation. The excess heat is essentially wasted energy, unless you want to warm a studio using its lighting grid. This waste results in higher direct power costs for running halogen lights and higher indirect power costs for air conditioning.

The monetary advantages of going ceramic will increase as electricity rates continue to climb. As well, the fact that a $350 ceramic lamp lasts eight times as long as a $25 tungsten-halogen lamp means that the real price comparison between the two works out to $350 versus $200, not $350 versus $25.

In addition, the fact that ceramic spots run far cooler than halogen matters to anyone who has accidentally been burned by a lighting instrument. (By the way, gels last longer on ceramic spots because they don't get as hot.)

Other advantages of ceramic lighting may be less obvious but no less important. For new studios, the reduced power demands of ceramic lighting means that smaller production spaces can be lit using a standard 120-volt circuit. With ceramic lighting, there's no heavy-duty wiring to install and maintain, no special dimming equipment to control a high-wattage lighting grid and no serious risk of fire. This last point is especially important because U.S. broadcasters are legally required to have specially trained staff to oversee conventional halogen-lit studios for safety reasons. If a small studio can be lit adequately using 120V ceramic lighting, "anyone can walk in and flip a switch to bring it to life," Gresch says.

One last benefit is that longer bulb life means less crew time spent replacing burned out lamps.