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The arc of history: Rise of LED, decline of tungsten and HMI?

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Rick Wise
The arc of history: Rise of LED, decline of tungsten and HMI?
on Aug 5, 2013 at 5:12:14 pm

For an online class I am authoring, I've just finished researching and writing a short history of early film lighting. Two things strike me: how students trace the pioneers, starting out shooting in available light, then using lights mainly to get an exposure, and only much later using lights to design the look. The other "lesson" for me is the curve of technology. For a while those amazing new 1904 Cooper-Hewitt mercury vapor lamps were everywhere. By the early 1930s you probably couldn't give them away.

I think I see another such change occurring now: LEDs will increasingly replace tungsten and HMI lights. They draw much less current/output, weigh less, and many can be run off batteries. Just as the invention of Panchromatic film sounded the death knoll for the Cooper-Hewitts, the ability of modern digital cameras to shoot cleanly at very high ISO settings may doom our current high-powered lighting units. I was against LEDs because their color spectrum was so incomplete. It appears that that problem is rapidly being addressed. There is now a proliferation of new units. Lots of them are hugely expensive including the Fresnels, but there is another group that is relatively cheap. I love what we can do with Fresnel units. But especially for small video production, I increasingly think LED is the future. Add some flags, diffusion and C-stands....

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Todd Terry
Re: The arc of history: Rise of LED, decline of tungsten and HMI?
on Aug 5, 2013 at 6:15:28 pm

I think LEDs taking over (at least as the next step) is inevitable.

Now, when you get an LED fixture that is as focusable and controllable/cuttable as a real Fresnel, with HMI-equivalent output, now then you'll have something.

I've given up a fair little bit of control with our move to mostly-LED lighting. But I've learned to deal with it, work around it, and make the sacrifice for the sake of ease and portability in many cases. When I'm on a project where I'm not willing to sacrifice that, I break out the old fixtures.

Not too long ago the rep from Aadyntech was at our place demoing their big LED fresnel head (well, they call it a fresnel but that's a misnomer... there's no fresnel lens in it, the head is just shaped like a fresnel). As bright as a 1200w HMI, absolutely... I put one of my HMI heads up side by side and the output was perfectly equal. But controllable, it's not nearly the same. They offer barndoors for the head, but the rep admitted no one buys them... because they don't do any good... they sort of move the light around a little, but certainly don't truly cut it because there's no one true pinpoint light source in the head... but rather scads of little LEDs. Any cutting has to be done with flags a fair distance from the head, and even then the lines aren't clean.

One day someone will figure it out....

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Bill Davis
Re: The arc of history: Rise of LED, decline of tungsten and HMI?
on Aug 12, 2013 at 6:21:55 pm

At some point, you just KNOW that some lamp manufacturer is going to release a big old monolithic LED that looks and works just like an Osram FKW - but consumes a fraction of the power and generates a fraction of the heat- and we'll all see the tungsten lighting world tilt like the deck of the Titanic going down.

At some point lighting with tungsten will seem like shooting on celluloid or listening to music on LPs. There will always be folks who truly prize the unique attributes of burning tungsten - for either aesthetic or nostalgic reasons. But everyone else will just move forward.

Due to how LEDs work today - the first order of business is to learn how they DON'T work - compared to standard professional lighting gear - so you don't get fooled into thinking that all lighting is hampered in the same ways modern LED arrays are. And so, Rick, you're doing important work with your students helping them see both backwards and forwards so they understand the reasons things were - while they get a look at where things are definitely going.

But as you say, the die is cast.

Kurt Vonnegut was right as always...

"And so it goes."

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