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Building your own fluorescents

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Ian MacLean
Building your own fluorescents
on Jun 4, 2009 at 12:46:56 am

I just ordered a cheap two light kit with stands and screw-in bulbs, made by Impact, but didn't quite get this basic lighting rule through my head in time to seriously consider building my own set of long tube fluorescents: "The bigger the surface area of the key, the softer the results will be"

Michael Palmer (on Jun 2, 2009 at 9:52:37 pm) posted the following, and I'm very interested in his solution should I be unable to get my Impact kit to do what's needed - smoothly light a paper green chroma backdrop:


...I too like T-12 and T-8 tubes if I want a florescent light.

You may be better off with a few T-8 shop light fixtures from a good electrical supplier and find some Advance Mark-5 T-8 ballast (Dimmable) and some Philips TL950 or TL930 T-8 tubes to install into these cheap fixture. The 9 stands for 90 plus CRI and the 50 and 30 refer to 5000K and 3000K. I built my T-8 system more than 10 years ago and all of them are still working. I used Kino housings and made remote ballast cases and built my own head feeders using the Amp connectors just like Kino Flo. The reason I made them is I hated renting Kinos because at that time they weren't like they are today and didn't burn as color constant as the Philips/Advance system.

If you go the DIY route you should still try and contain the back grounnd light from ever spilling onto your subject.


Michael, I'd like to get more specific on your solution as I really like it's potential, and am guessing there will be more than a few others who will also be interested. I'm not the only one without the budget for Kinos.

As I'm not familiar with tube fluorescents, I'll share info as I find it.

-Bulbs are called lamps in the pro world.
-It's very cool (no pun intended) to me that you can now buy fluorescent bulbs/lamps in 3000K and high CRI. Reasonably priced, too.
-T8 is a standard dealing with connectors, but more obviously with bulb diameter. T8's and only T8's are 1 inch in diameter (The number following the "T" usually represents the diameter of the lamp in eighths of an inch).
-I don't understand the difference between ballast and fixture. The bulbs go in the ballast, and the ballast goes in a fixture? The pics of the ballast only show it from the top. Could you post a link to a worthy fixture or two? Many thanks.
-The ballast that Michael recommends comes in the following Catalog numbers: new Mark 5 ballasts include IIC-1S32-SC (one-lamp), IIC-2S32-SC (two-lamp), and IIC-3S32-SC (three-lamp). This will help when you're trying to find it on a dealer's web page.
-When we find out more about the fixtures, we'll need to find out how to mount them to a stand. What's your solution?
-I'm hoping that local distributers will have the specialty bulbs/lamps for sale individually so I don't need to order a case (depending on area of course).
-I assume that if one is shooting with Tungsten key and backlights in a studio without windows, and the backdrop is green, warmer 3000k lamps are more desirable than 5000K lamps. I'm guessing they put out a little less light, but that in my situation, I should still go with 3000K.
-You say the Mark 5's are dimmable. Can you tell us a little more about how dimming affects the light (and/or noise) on these systems?
-I think my perception that inexpensive fluoro fixtures are noisy (enough to be prohibitive) is out of date. What does cause the noise from old fluorescents? The bulbs? The fixtures? Will this be an issue in a DIY project?

I hope this topic continues.

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Michael Palmer
Re: Building your own fluorescents
on Jun 5, 2009 at 5:36:19 pm

This quote I made was in response to your post where it seemed you where looking for an affordable lighting solution and you found some lighting that fit your budget for illuminating a green screen.

IMO There are only 2 reasons to build your own light figtures,
1. you want something that isn't offered.
2. you have a limited budget and you can build it for less than the retail price that meets your needs.

I built my Florescent units because at the time Kino Flo units weren't as color constant from unit to unit and you couldn't purchase the dimmable models, these units were only rented and again they didn't really work to well.

I found that the Philips TL9(hundred) T-8's were a pleasing architectural Florescent tube series that offered a nice warm 3000K to work with tungsten lights and a slightly warmer daylight (5000K) solution for working with HMI's, and you could dim them down to about 20% output with a major color shift.

If you are looking for a dedicated lighting fixtures to only light a green screen you have many options and T-12 / T-8 Florescent light is a solid solution for this purpose, and it really doesn't matter what color temperature they are as long as they are all the same brand/model/series, however you will need to contain .

In 1983 I was working on promos for the leading news station in Sacramento (KCRA) with a small production company. I was asked to purchase some florescent lights that we could attach to our C-stands to use in the offices so our lights matched the color of the fixtures in the ceiling and it work very well. However it was limited to just the offices that had these fixtures in the ceiling. My point is you can get the light you need but it may be limited to just this task.

It wouldn't pay to build the type of units I made but you could build some units specifically for your studio using florescent light and if you used the Philips T-8 tubes using the designed Advance Mark-5 electronic ballasts they would work very well with tungsten or HMI lighting.

I hope this answered your question.

Good Luck
Michael Palmer

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