From the moment the LED light entered the broadcast, media and entertainment world its key differentiator was its energy efficiency compared to traditional tungsten studio lighting. LEDs use far less energy in the region of 90% less than tungsten lights and produce less heat. In addition, they are far more portable and generally have a longer lifespan; all benefits that are all now well recognised.
Initially met with caution by DoPs, gaffers, photographers and the like, LEDs have proved themselves to the market in numerous applications and are no longer considered the newcomers they once were. After all, lighting in film, photography and documentary making is an art form, and the most critical component of creating the right atmosphere, portraying the mood of a scene and drawing audiences in to the story.
The LED market is incredibly fast paced and has changed dramatically in just the last few years. So what is driving this change? It all comes down to customer demand. As more users recognise the benefits of using LED fixtures on set and on location, the need for better performing lights, with consistently high colour accuracy and increased functionality has become clear.
One common misconception is that all LEDs deliver the same level of energy efficiency saving. Instead, as with most technologies, there are in fact significant differences between brands with respect to their power consumption. Some LED fixtures outperform their competitors by as much as 300% in terms of efficiency and run-time on batteries.
Energy efficiency matters because a DoP doesn't want to worry about how long the battery will last or whether he has enough replacements for an entire shoot. Rather, he needs to focus on getting the shots he needs. Importantly, it also means less batteries are needed on shoot, reducing weight and increasing portability and allowing more time for creativity.
Similarly, for TV and news studios a 300% difference in energy consumption can make a significant impact on energy bills and operating costs.
Advances in colour accuracy
One of the most important considerations to take into account when choosing an LED light, is their colour accuracy. Historically the benchmark standard for assessing this has been the Colour Rending Index (CRI). Initially developed for tungsten lighting, CRI is not the most accurate indicator of colour accuracy as it focuses more on how the human eye perceives colour. It is also easily manipulated and therefore difficult to directly compare the relative scores of light sources.
Indeed, many manufacturers only quote a single CRI number known as 'Ra', which is an average of typically 8 colours. But this can mask problems in the colour spectrum in a particular colour band, and importantly does not include Red (known as 'R9'), a particular problem area for many LED light sources, nor does it include skin tone accuracy (R15).
Instead, a new standard of measurement is increasingly being adopted the Television Lighting Consistency Index (TLCI). Developed by colour science expert Alan Roberts (and now adopted by the European Broadcast Union) TLCI has a significant advantage over CRI because it has been developed specifically to focus on the colour gamut of television cameras, and provides specific advice on how much work a colourist would need to do in post production to achieve a suitable standard for television.
The future of LED innovation
While colour accuracy, energy efficiency and performance remain important features that DoPs, gaffers and photographers expect, the future of the LED industry is in delivering products that ultimately save users time, money and effort, while enabling and enhancing their creativity.