I was just a young electrician with a few gaffing credits under my belt when electronic ballast HMI fixtures started to tip the balance over the old-school magnetic ballasts. These fixtures were the high-end technology that would make lighting easier and more flexible. Now, a decade and a half later, it’s hard to find magnetic HMI ballast, and electronic ballasts are as ubiquitous as clothespins. The new technological flavor of the day is the LED fixture. Once LED technology advanced to the point of increased brightness and controlled color output, it became viable for more than just information displays and could be used in clusters as creative lighting fixtures.
The benefits of the LED are well touted: low energy usage, long bulb life, dimmable without color loss, minimal heat output and relatively low manufacturing cost. The downsides: weak color fidelity and, due to the spot nature of the small diodes, a fairly unattractive bare source that requires diffusion. I’ve had a chance to work with a number of LED fixtures since they started to hit the market, and most of them fall into the same category for me: a specialty fixture that is appropriate in specialty situations.
The latest LED fixture to cross my light meter is the FloLight LED 500 from Prompter People. It’s a 14” x 7.5” fixture with 20 lines of ultra-bright LEDs embedded in a flat, rectangular, highly polished mirror reflector.
The official Prompter People spec sheet on their Web site has two wattage ratings for the fixture. The first, in the overview box, states that the fixture draws just 40W. Then, immediately below that in the technical specifications, it states that the power draw (an incorrect term, actually) is 50W. In my testing, at 121.6 volts the LED 500 drew .37 amps, which falls right between the two posted specs at 45W.
The specs also state that the fixture puts out light equal to a 500W incandescent source, but, with no further elaboration, it’s difficult to determine where they came up with that number. Comparing my measured photometrics to the American Cinematographer Manual’s published photometrics for many standard industry sources, the LED 500 is more equivalent to a 250W Fresnel at full flood than a 500W source. Still, at only 45W, you’re looking at roughly 25 percent power consumption for an equal punch–not to mention the heat savings.
LED fixtures are often compared to fluorescent fixtures, but the light quality isn’t quite the same. As LED fixtures are composed of a large cluster of many small diodes, you tend to get a ”punchy” semi-soft source. You may get a further throw from the light than you would with a fluorescent fixture, but the quality is less pleasing on talent and will generally require diffusion.
The published specs put the color temperature of the LED 500 at 5,400 K (+/-5 percent) with a CRI of 90. For photographic tools, the CRI of 90 is relatively low and will require compensation either with filtration on the lamp or through careful white balance or post color correction.
The undiffused light straight from the LED 500 is not unpleasing to the eye, but because the reflector is a polished mirror and not a reflective white surface, the light is more direct, and there are multiple shadows up until about 7 ft. from the fixture, when the light starts to blend more aesthetically.
The fixture is lightweight, about 5.5 lb., and has two mounting points with 5/8-inch (Baby) receptacles for hanging or placing on a stand with a Baby spud in a horizontal or vertical position. The vertical mounting bracket has some odd obstruction inside it that prevents the 5/8-inch spud from seating properly. As a result, the clamp must tighten on the smooth upper portion of a standard spud, as opposed to locking into the ”safety” recess, and I would be wary about hanging this fixture overhead from that point. The horizontal mounting point doesn’t have the same issue and mounts correctly on a standard spud.
There is no dimmer incorporated in the fixture; instead, the LED 500 has one master power switch and four sub-switches, each powering five lines of LEDs throughout the fixture. The result is the ability to switch the fixture at 25, 50, 75 and 100 percent output.
The fixture features four folding barn doors, which I was curious about from the outset. With so many individual light sources within the fixture, I presumed the barn doors would be useless at cutting the light, and I was correct about that, but what they do accomplish is a kind of old-school dimming. With one side door (small) completely ”closed,” the fixture’s output dropped 29 percent. With both side doors closed, the output dropped 54 percent. With one top door (large) closed, it dropped 57 percent, and it dropped nearly completely with both top and bottom closed. As the doors don’t provide a visible cut to the light, they act as a very effective dimmer to more precisely control the fixture’s output beyond the capability of the switches.
The fixture also comes with four polished aluminum stippled reflector panels that attach to the barn doors with Velcro. Although the concept here is for the reflectors to focus the beam and accentuate the output, I noted almost no difference between the photometrics of the fixture with and without the reflectors attached. At most, there was a 7 percent increase in output if the barn door reflectors were positioned precisely. The doors are attached with simple screws and locking nuts, but they come loose very easily and will require tightening on a fairly constant basis.
The fixture’s most impressive feature is its price point: $499. That’s less than one-quarter the price of the Litepanels 1×1. Although the construction of the FloLight and the fixture’s output doesn’t match that of the competitor, the price point makes this a very desirable entry-level fixture that, if carefully cared for, will amortize its value over many, many shoots.