An LED Primer

LED0I was shopping (yes, guys do shop) for a Leatherman awhile back. At my local hardware store I was amazed to find over 40 different styles, colors and shapes that were available for me to choose from. These Swiss army knives on steroids have spawned an industry of “Multi-Tool” look-a-likes.  Overwhelmed I finally ended up choosing one that was way too sharp for me, (ask me how I know) that was coated with a Kevlar body (I guess for deflecting bullets) and clipped on like a carabineer. But that’s not the point. The point is that when something works, people flock to it and manufactures rush to create their versions of the product.

The LED industry has taken off and the differences between products are great. Hopefully with some background information you would can decide if you should get purchase now or wait.

How do they work?
When you see an LED light they seem like magic, such a large amount of light from such a small unit with almost no heat and little power draw. Without getting into a lesson in physics, LED’s, unlike ordinary incandescent bulbs, don’ts use a filament to create light. Light is generated solely by the moment of electrons from anode to cathode.  LED’s are constructed to release photon outward and forward. They are housed in a plastic bulb that concentrates the light in a particular direction at a pre-determined angle.  The light emitting diodes are then mounted to a circuit board for use in the light.

Strengths
LED lights have numerous positives. They produce a massive amount of illumination from a relatively small package. They have a long lamp life, produce almost no perceptible heat, light instantly, and can be dimmed, with virtually silent operation. But their biggest strength is that they have such a small power requirement.  When powering up an LED light, roughly 80% of the power is used to generate light, conversely in a typical incandescent bulb 80% of the power only creates heat.  In effect even small AA batteries can power an effective LED light and using a larger camera battery opens even more possibilities for field operations.  I’ve been told of a video shoot in car and all the lights were either powered from batteries or from the cigarette lighter.

Personally I hate waiting for light to cool before you can break them down and put them away, gone. I have burn marks on my hands from adjusting blistering hot barn doors, never again. I’ve been thrown out of a building because I blew a circuit bank and it was one of those old houses that used $300 glass fuses (a much longer story than we have space for here), a thing of the past.  In the studio, air conditioning units will not need to be an industrial size and strength , power consumption will be reduced 70% for the same amount of light.

Weaknesses
For all the great things about LEDs they do have a down side. They have a limited availability, they have a higher cost (initially) and currently the fact that there are no set standards to compare manufacturer’s lights is definitely a negative.  Currently the amount of offerings among manufacturers is limited; it grows every day, it still doesn’t offer a lot in the way of price comparison or features to the end user.  As with any new and unique technology, competition and consumer demand for new products will bring prices down in the long run, but currently the LED market is small so prices will remain high.

Conclusion
The future for LEDs is bright; the technology doubles in light output and efficiency every 36 months (see Moore’s law). I foresee the number of quality manufacturers who produce lights to double with the current big players jumping on the bandwagon.  My recommendation for people on the fence about purchasing an LED light kit right now is to think about purchasing a location kit. Buy something that would be used in the field for probably the next 3-5 years then be replaced. The dollar costs for replacing studio lights just isn’t there yet. Fluorescent lights give a bigger bang for the buck right now. Unless you can justify the added expense being offset by the lower power bills over time, stay with fluorescent lights.  Put the money you save into a Leatherman bandage kit.