LEDs Light the Way to the Studio

SEATTLE—Lighting out on location usually means augmenting and filling in the ambient light. Studio lighting, by contrast, usually means starting from scratch, and presents an array of challenges. Designers and manufacturers of lighting equipment work to overcome those challenges with innovative new equipment every year.

ARRI Skypanel

For all the artistic needs that studio lighting must fulfill, John Gresch, vice president of lighting for ARRI, cautions that most studios are connected to a business. “What’s not changed is that everybody’s looking for return on their investment… the challenge is buying something that isn’t going to be obsolete too soon,” he said, adding that the company provides firmware updates to its lights “to bring new features and to bring longevity to the fixture that was invested in.”

Another ROI factor Gresch pointed to is flexibility, so fixtures continue to handle a lot of use even as lighting needs change. “[The kind of] flexibility that we offer is the ability to change many of the parameters of the light by the LED light engine, whether that be changing the correlated color temperature, or changing the actual gel color internally, whether that be the ability to program effects, so that the light can do many things.”

To add to the versatility of its Skypanel soft lights and L-series Fresnels, ARRI has just unveiled wireless control for those fixtures.

Studios with existing tungsten lighting fixtures face the challenge of when to replace them with LED equipment. Sure, LEDs are going to reduce power to illuminate the fixtures and for air conditioning, but those Fresnels cost a pretty penny in their day and they continue to work fine day in and day out.

VisionSmith has allowed studios to have their cake and eat it too by designing its ReLamp product, LED replacements for incandescent bulbs in existing Fresnel fixtures. They fit into the halogen bulb’s socket, and precisely align with the fixtures optics. “You can just buy the Re-Lamp from us and put it in the regular halogen Fresnel, right where the halogen bulb goes,” said VisionSmith President Pete Smith. “You don’t even need to change your hang and focus, you’re literally just relamping.”

This brings those legacy Fresnel fixtures the advantages of LED lighting, such as low-power use, minimal heat and dimming without color shifts. VisionSmith provides ReLamps in 3200K and 5300K, according to Smith. “Everybody seemed to like the 5300K better than 5600K, even if the rest of their lights were 5600K.”

Litepanels Gemini 2x1 Soft Panel

Broadcast studios are not only getting smaller in the size of their footprint, but they’re having to do a lot more with the space, according to Alan Ipakchian product marketing manager for Litepanels. For example, “there’s maybe two persons at a desk, and to camera right there’s a small living room set where there’s two couches facing each other,” Ipakchian said. “And then they also have to accommodate live performances, with rock and roll lighting.”

For these combination sets, Litepanels has introduced Gemini, a panel light. which provides a tunable full spectrum of light from tungsten to daylight along with red, green and blue LEDs, “so you can do those wall washes of color that the scene or environment asks for,” Ipakchian said. “They have the ability to adjust those Geminis, at any moment’s notice, quickly and easily through the DMX board, manually or wirelessly. Basically it allows our users to be more versatile because they’re being asked to be more versatile with the space they’re lighting.”

Cineo S410 full-gamut light

Rich Pierceall, CEO for Cineo Lighting notes that more lighting customers are asking for saturated color capability in a white light fixture. The challenge his company faced was how to make this increased color capability user friendly.

“We want to make sure that it’s easy for our customers to be able to understand how adding saturated color to a base light is an intuitive process,” he said. “So we developed a user interface that we’ve deployed across several product lines now in our LED white lighting/saturated color lighting products.”

He described the use of saturated color as additive. “If you think about it, it’s almost like a layer cake,” he said. “At the base you set your white light CCT and level, 32K, 43K, 56K. And if you want to deviate from that, adding magenta or green or pink or purple, or any other saturated color, you’re allowed to do that without changing any of the aspects of the white light.”

Photon Beard Highlight LED

Sometimes the customer asks for lighting tools that technology isn’t ready to deliver yet. “For several years we’ve had customers ask us for an LED-powered directional softlight, essentially a replacement for the studio fluorescents that had become the workhorse for studio lighting for the last 20 years,” said Pete Challinger, vice president of U.S. Operations for Photon Beard Ltd. “We held off entering the space with an LED product for some time until we felt we could bring something truly improved to the market in all respects.”

That product is Highlight LED, a direct replacement for the company’s Highlight Studio Fluorescent product line. Challinger noted that the two biggest challenges that needed to be addressed were color and light distribution, adding that many LED fixtures are lacking in deep reds, and almost all have a tendency to drift over time.

“The recent trend to variable color fixtures only makes things worse,” he said. “Although variable color lights can be valuable for effects applications, so far all of them fail at producing a good full spectrum white. The key to solving this was using high quality remote phosphor technology. This allows much better control over the color produced and virtually eliminates aging.”

Zylight Pro-Zoom


Joe Arnao, president of Zylight, pointed to a wide variation of lighting needs from customers. “There’s not one solution for one particular customer,” he said. “Each situation is different. Someone like a corporate customer may have a space issue. They might be putting a studio into a small space, a low ceiling space, where a broadcast customer may be the exact opposite situation.

“They may want to do studio audience, large environment studio space, with a lot of color, animation and that kind of stuff,” he continued. “So those are both studio spaces, but are completely different in their scope.”

Zylight already had eight fixtures it designed and manufactured, and then added to those through distribution agreements with other light manufacturers.

“Our approach has been not only to manufacture products that were being requested from our customers, but we’re also a distribution and solutions company in that we handle a lot of brands exclusively in North and South America,” Arnao said. “Someone like a corporate customer may have a space issue; they might be putting a studio into a small space, a low ceiling space, where a broadcast customer may be in the exact opposite situation. Several years ago we were running up against not having exactly the solution that the customer needed. Now we’re in a much different place as a company in that we’re able to really offer many solutions to many types of customers.”

Scott Stueckle, sales manager at Kino Flo, looked back 25 to 30 years ago when fluorescent lighting fixtures began to replace tungsten equipment. “People liked the soft light and the full spectrum light, and they were saving money with lower energy costs,” he said. More recently, the revolution of LED lighting fixtures has brought additional savings with LED bulb lives of 30,000 to 50,000 hours.

“If the lamps can stay in the fixtures, the LED fixtures can remain color stable, and the lamp remains color stable through the life of the LED,” Stueckle said. Additionally, LEDs brought the ability to dim without a color shift, something that was problematic with fluorescent lamps.

With 20 or so different form factors to its LED offerings, Kino Flo has products “that can fit as a tool, the right tool for the right studio.”

Fluotec CMO Jose Maria Noriega added another attribute of LED lighting technology to the list of advantages customers wanted: Their sustainability and environmentally friendly attributes, especially in contrast with the hazardous chemicals in fluorescent tubes, which can be costly and time-consuming to dispose.

“Fluotec overcame a variety of challenges using world-class design and manufacturing with a high technology approach for our studio and production lighting fixtures,” Noriega said. The ability to tune their fixtures from 2600K to 6500K provides additional versatility, “allowing for greater creativity without the need to use filters or gels.

“LED technology is the only technology available in the broadcast industry that actually saves money compared to the previous technologies used in the industry,” he added.

Peter Plesner, managing director of BB&S Lighting, said he’s finding a trend where studios want integration between lighting and the sets. “A lot of these TV programs want you to feel like you’re at home, even though you’re in the TV studio.”

One way of doing that is to “put a lot of 4 x 4-foot soft boxes all over the ceiling, with Pipeline fixtures inside,” Plesner said. BB&S’ Pipeline fixtures have a 1-inch cylindrical form factor in a variety of lengths and use remote phosphor technology, separating the illumination supplying LEDs from the color generating phosphor, to provide precise color rendering, according to Plesner. “The whole Pipeline range is producing crisp very clean white light,” he said.