Comparison of LED Fresnel, Spot and Open Face Lights 2016

The number of options available for LED lights has exploded into unmanageable proportions. Everyone’s trying to get into the game. A couple of years ago the big-name brands had the advantage of color-accurate LEDs, and that’s no longer the case.

Why is everyone getting into LED lights? Simple, it’s not for the independent cinematographer! It’s because large installations like TV studios, theaters, sound stages, arenas, nightclubs, stadiums, public places, etc. are lucrative. They want to sell hundreds of lights per order, not one or two.

A good question to ask is: Are the features tailor-made for you, or are the features more in line for large installations? The attitude of the sales rep would be another indicator.

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Bottom line is, stick to the company that needs you. They all pretend like they want you, but they don’t need you.

A few months ago I did a comparison of 15 LED fresnel, spot and open face fixtures against the traditional Arri 650 Plus tungsten fresnel and Arri 750 Plus open face lights, just to see how things stack up. This was for a personal project, and I’m sharing the results as-is, with a bit of commentary.

Important:

Pricing is not accurate, and is just a general indicator. Do your own research and contact the manufacturers for actual pricing.

Just because I’ve only included a specifications doesn’t mean you can compare them directly. The specs are correct as far as I know, and have been taken from the respective manufacturers’ data, websites, brochures, etc. But please don’t assume they are 100% accurate. Do your own research. I am not responsible for errors.

Don’t base any purchasing decision on specifications or the table. You must actually use a light in your preferred situations first. Nothing replaces first-hand experience.

And here’s my giant comparison (click to enlarge):

led-comparison

Notes:

  • The YN900 I’ve reviewed earlier has a strong green color cast. But its power output is unmatched.
  • The Digitek light is just for fun, don’t take it seriously!
  • A ‘-‘ means either I have no information or it’s not applicable.
  • The branded names weigh more, but that’s because they are built of durable materials and should withstand rental-abuse better.
  • You could buy almost 10 CN-60F fresnels for the price of an Arri L7, for daylight only! That’s just crazy.
  • The CRI rating of most Chinese lights have improved considerably in just a year, and in a couple more years every light will have a CRI/TLCI greater than 95. It’s not going to be an issue anymore except for the most color critical applications (not cinema or broadcast).
  • Many of the Chinese lights can be wirelessly controlled. Imagine a wireless system to control your entire set with a remote in your hands. For large and permanent installations DMX is still preferable due to its robustness. But for film sets wireless is the future.

What should you look for?

If I’ve included it, it is an important specification. I’ll explain the specification, and let you decide how important it is to you:

Photometrics This is the light output in spot, flood or medium position. The numbers listed are in Lux.
Beam Angle The beam angle is important because you get different effects. The wider the beam, the larger the area covered. And finally, it also decides how well you can use a certain modifier, like a soft box, e.g.
Weight (kg) Important if you want to haul it (or a whole kit of “it”)
Size Important if you have luggage constraints
Color Range This tells you how much color temperature variance is possible. The larger the better, in theory.
GreenMagenta Some LEDs like the Yongnuo YN900 have green color casts, and if you had a green-magenta slider in the light itself, you can get rid of it without using filters.
Dimming Self-explanatory.
Other For other I’ve just listed some notes that caught my eye, either advantages or disadvantages. Nothing comprehensive.
Fan A fan makes noise, and is something that can fail. No fan is best, but only if there’s sufficient passive cooling.
CRI Better the CRI, better the color response. This is one area where LEDs have improved tremendously in the last couple of years.
Power draw Important if you’re running on batteries.
IP The IP rating determines how dust and waterproof the fixture is. The higher the rating the better.
Flicker If you want to shoot at a high frame rate, you need LEDs that don’t flicker. I’m not sure there are any decent fixtures that flicker up to 120 fps anymore.
AC AC power is definitely the best way to power LED lights. The LEDs output consistent lights.
DC DC power is all about convenience and travel.
Ballast/Power Some LEDs need a separate ballast that is almost as heavy as a second light. I hate ballasts.
Price Not important to you?

Which one should you choose?

I don’t have an answer. You could look at the brand, but that’s not really relevant any more. In a couple more years, things will get even better and cheaper.

The day is not far off when you can have a full kit for less than $1,000. I’m talking about a useful professional kit, not the crap that passes off as kits nowadays.

What I did

I came close to pulling the trigger many ‘name-brands’ over the last few months. But every time I played with a Chinese light, I became convinced the name-brands were not designing products for me. Like a Caterpillar truck. Beautiful machinery, but I have no place to park it.

Over the last few months I’ve reviewed two lights, both from NanGuang – the CN-60F and the CN-ST288Cx2, that I’m extremely happy with. It’s not long before these cost benefits trickle down to the other ‘manufacturers’. I put manufacturers in quotes because most of the names just white-label other Chinese lights and pass them off as their own.

I predict most of the players we see now won’t be around in a few years. Ultimately, competition should weed out the pretenders from the real manufacturers, or so we hope.

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