WAA. WAA. LEDs can't be good until they are over 90 CRI. Oh yeah? We've got that right now.

I know, I know.  You tried a tiny little battery powered LED panel a few years ago and it didn't put out enough light and the light it did put out needed to be color corrected.  That means they'll never, ever change and you'll never have to consider LED lights ever again. Ever.  Cause nothing ever changes.

Sadly, reality is about to intrude into your lighting world view.  I was researching new products from notable manufacturers and I've found that there are a number of new LED lights that are just now hitting the market and they've all crested the 91+ CRI threshold.  That means they are getting close to pure daylight rendering in imaging applications.  One of the companies I watch is Lowel.  They've been making lights for still photographers, movie makers and videographers for decades.  Their founder, Ross Lowel,  wrote a great book on lighting called, Matters of Light and Depth, which I've read through so often the pages are raw. (He was a cinema lighting pro).

Lowell jumped into the LED market with a small panel that blended lights between tungsten and daylight just a couple of years ago.  It's called a Lowel Blender.  It's a small light that mainly used camera mounted by electronic news gathering, ENG (read: video) guys but also, increasingly, by cinematographers.  It's metal, tough as nails and bright for the size.  Turn a dial to go from 3200K to Daylight, or anywhere in between.

The engineers at Lowel bided their time until the LED bulb makers started supplying the markets with higher accuracy bulbs.  Their new Prime(tm) line are all rated at 91 CRI (Color Rendering Index) which is a gold standard for professionals in a number of imaging fields.  Here's the webpage for their Prime(tm) panels: http://www.lowel.com/prime/

In one fell swoop the folks at Lowel have vacated the one niggling problem with the previous generation of under $2,000 panels, the tendency to have color spikes or a color cast that photographers needed to correct for best results.  The lights are available as either tungsten fixtures of daylight fixtures and feature a 50 degree light spread angle.  The chassis are all metal and have a functional yoke system for adjusting them around one axis.

The lights are available as 200 bulb fixtures or 400 bulb fixtures.

The interesting thing to me is how the improvements came about. I don't mean the engineering but the marketing that drove the engineering.  We creative people think that we drive the industries that we buy from but apparently nothing could be further from the truth.  When I spoke to a product manager at Lowel I guessed that movie and video professionals demanded better performance and that led to the development of more color correct LEDs.  The real story comes  from the retail sector.  Apparently major retailers found out that higher CRI lights made products look much, much better than the typical mixed store lighting.  They're the ones who started demanding better and better color performance.  It started in the higher end retailers and it's relentlessly trickling down into the mainstream, big box stores.  It's all about retail sales.

Humans like to see colors clearly and cleanly and marketing tests showed increased wallet response from consumers under improved light sources.  We benefit from the big store's massive retail buying power. But Lowel isn't the only manufacturer who will incorporate the new technology.  I'm sure that current bulbs with lower CRIs will be phased out as economies of scale come into play and the new bulbs will become an industry standard.  Give the science guys five more years and every LED will approach 100 CRI.  Except my own custom LEDs.  They're 110 CRI. (just kidding, the scale only goes to 100).

You can find out more about LED lights and applying LED lighting to still photography, here:  The Ultimate LED book for photographers. 

Need to know more about lights and lighting equipment in general?  You could do worse than to pick up a copy of the Lighting Equipment Book......

To see a wide range of LED product that's pounding and stomping into the general photo market check out B&H's website (no affiliation).  Try here: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/buy/LED-Light-Sources/ci/12248/N/4294551085  Warning, there are many, many pages of LED light/candy to look at...

1 comment:

Ron Zack said...

I'm not the least bit surprised that retailers are driving demand for this, lighting is just as important, if not more so, to good display practices than one realizes, and it certainly does drive sales when your customers can actually see what you are trying to sell them. The new big, box super Wal-Marts nearby have even gone to the extent of installing a massive number of skylights in their stores: nothing like a little sun to brighten things up.

My one goal in life is too light my home 100% with LED's. So far, they are much too expensive for that application, but as prices start coming down, I will start installing them. I absolutely hate, with a purple passion the fluorescent garbage that's on the market, I'd rather use candles. They are great for lighting basements and garages, and that's about it.

One of my goals, inspired by your encouraging posts and books on the subject, is to get a couple of Fotodiox LED panels and start playing with them, for both still and video use.