I remember attending LDI, the big lighting trade show in Vegas, a few years back. We re-named it LEDI because there were LED lights everywhere. That was probably 3 years ago. Back then, LEDs were still either good and really expensive or not good and cheap. Back then, most of the fixtures were simple RGB fixtures that had questionable color mixing, and middling output. White light was typically mixed from RGB and didn’t look good at all. My how things have changed.
Enter Tri- and Quad-Color LEDs
One of the biggest improvements in LED fixtures is the advent of Tri-Color and Quad-Color LEDs. These fixtures mix the color before it leaves the lens so you don’t get the “dots of color” look from older fixtures. The wattage of LEDs has also gone up. A few years ago, .5-1 Watt LEDs were common, and they got more brightness by putting a lot of them in a fixture. Today, we see higher power quad LEDs; 5W, 10W, 15W and higher are pretty standard.
The prices have also come down. As production has ramped up, costs have dropped. Competition is also up. While there are dozens of cheap, Chinese knockoff brands (most of which I’d stay away from…), all the major manufacturers have been developing their LED lineup. That means there are almost always many options for a particular situation, which is good news.
Moving Head LEDs
Three years ago, VariLite introduced an LED-powered VL fixture. At the time, it was really expensive, and while it looked good, it wasn’t nearly as bright as their arc-sourced fixtures. All that’s changed. Every major manufacturer now has LED sourced moving heads that are almost as good, and in some cases better than their arc-sourced versions. Because the power and heat loads are lower, the heads are smaller and lighter, which means their faster than ever. And again, costs are coming down to the point where they’re very reasonable.
That all applies to profile-type fixtures, but there are also a ton of simpler moving head LED wash fixtures out there that are really cool. Again, we’re seeing brightness, speed, color mixing and costs that were unheard of just a few years ago. I love putting these into lighting rigs now; they add so much visually, but so little from a budget standpoint.
And Now, White LEDs
Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have thought we would be moving away from tungsten-sourced ellipsoidal and Fresnel fixtures. But again, here we are. Chauvet, Strand, ETC, Altman and others all have really good white ellipsoidal spots now. So good, in fact, that we haven’t put a single tungsten fixture in a church in over a year. Some of these use a single, custom warm white LED, others mix as many as seven colors to get a nice white. I was unprepared to be impressed with them, but after installing quite a few, I’m pretty much done with changing bulbs.
These are about the only fixtures that still carry a price premium. While LED ellipsoidal fixtures are still more expensive, they offer great benefits such as not having to change bulbs, lower power consumption, less heat output and a more consistent light field.
We are in the process of setting up our new warehouse, and when we’re done, we will be bringing in as many white LED fixtures as we can find and shooting them out. Stay tuned for that report. We also plan on doing the same thing for various PAR and wash LED fixtures. I hope to be able to get a bunch of those tests done this spring.
Now, I’m sure there are some lighting purists out there who will argue that LED fixtures don’t yet have the dimming curve down, or red shift, or some other highly technical parameter that they long for. That may be true. But for the vast majority of applications, LED lights are good enough; more than good enough in most cases. They offer an excellent value proposition and often outperform non-LED fixtures. At long last, I think we can safely say the LED revolution we’ve been waiting for is here.