"TV Technology"
7 December 2011

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TV Technology

Television Lighting: “Fashion Season”

by Bill Klages

Lighting-Convention Time

Here we are again in the season that presents us with the newest fashions to add to the entertainment lighting industry’s inventory of devices, tools and toys, the fruits of the equipment designers’ imaginations. All entertainment-lighting practitioners (lighting designers, gaffers, directors of photography, lighting directors, and so on) eagerly await the new piece of equipment that will solve all our problems – one that will provide an elegant solution to increase our speed, make things easier, and give our work even greater visual impact. Even if the previous year’s offerings didn’t quite meet expectations, I still expect that a fixture or device will be exhibited in the new season that will expand our horizons.

A Real-Life Example

Just last week, I was invited to see a new fixture at one of the lighting shops in Los Angeles. My very excited host promised that I would be amazed. I was not surprised to discover it was a new LED fixture, designed with a very impressive “state of the art” LED engine. It was packaged in what I thought was a very small, inventive and smart-looking enclosure; it looked professional and business-like. It had a self-contained dimmer. The fixture was turned on. For its compact size, it appeared quite bright. We shined it on a wall. Yes, I was amazed.

The Outcome

The graphic is a representation of the field pattern of the fixture. As you can see, there is a hot spot in the center and then a significant amount of light outside this center area. This unusual pattern gave rise to a vexing question: “What do I use it for?” If I were to define it as a spotlight, would its success not depend on how closely the field angle is equal to the beam angle? To refresh your memory, the field angle is the locus of points in the fixture output pattern where the intensity is equal to 10% of the center beam intensity, while the beam angle is where the intensity is equal to 50% of the center beam intensity. The second graphic illustrates what I would have expected. It was hard for me to guess how I would apply this new fixture. With this pattern, it certainly could not be a substitute for a general purpose spot like a Fresnel. I searched my experience and came up with no applications. Also, if I desired the observed pattern, a conventional spotlight with some diffusion could easily replicate it. What immediately came to mind were thoughts about the subject of new developments and their acceptance.


If we look back at the history of some of the previous innovations in our industry, we can determine the pattern of reasons for success. An interesting example is the introduction of “Baby” film/TV lighting instruments. Fifty years ago, lighting instruments were heavy and clumsy, great steel monsters. This was due to fact that the lamps’ physical sizes were quite large – substantial spherical glass globes that needed volume to dissipate the generated heat. Enter the lamp manufacturers and heat-resistant glass that allowed the lamp to be repackaged with a smaller tubular shape, enabling the entire fixture line to be redesigned in an enclosure at least one-half the size and weight. However, this alone might not have guaranteed success if not for the fact that the functioning of the new instruments was equal to, and, in a few cases, better than the original heavyweight. But more importantly, the price of the smaller, lighter and equivalent fixture was about the same. Over the years, these positive factors contributed greatly to a steady growth of popularity for these “Baby” fixtures for replacement and inventory.


A more dramatic illustration is the enormous success of the moving light in the entertainment industry. What is remarkable is that – even as it was being introduced – the cost was comparatively high; still, because of their astounding capabilities, the units were never considered expensive. There was little hesitation, acceptance was practically immediate and the rush was on. Even the rather high degree of unreliability in the early designs was overlooked because of the moving light’s ability to do things never possible before, with features lighting designers had thought to be unattainable. So, here is another, dissimilar pattern of success for a new development, with a revolutionary broad base of all–new performance features – price tag, no issue!


The two examples illustrate what’s at hand here. We have a new development. Its success is dependent upon user acceptance. The relationship between factors such as performance and cost is always present. Performance features can cover a wide range of topics as efficacy to labor saving. The evaluation of the desirability of the improvement always includes the investment cost. This is always part of the final consideration. If the new development is a lighting fixture, we may see a gain with some specific issue of performance, such as light output, size, weight, spectrum, usefulness and new capabilities, but – as has always been the case – all the factors have to enter the equation. Unfortunately, in the case of a new spotlight, there is little reason to even consider the fixture due to its failure in performance. Revolutionary advances are the easiest. It is the middle ground that is the most difficult to evaluate.

A Plea

Today, in the area of lighting fixture development, the problem really has to do with the over-marketing of the LED fixture. (This statement is actually from the developers in the LED industry.) Not to belittle some of the attractions that an LED fixture may offer, the most notable being the usefulness of the multi- color source, there is one simple cautionary statement that I would like to offer. Be your own judge. Before you buy, do your own test in your facility to determine if it fits the application and performs as you expect. The final judgment of its value, the Rate on Investment if you will, should be with you and based upon your opinion and judgment. You are the user.

Bill Klages would like to extend an invitation to all the lighting people out there to give him your thoughts at billklages@roadrunner.com