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Pro Production: A Guide To LED Stage Lighting

Getting familiar with the limitations, benefits and parameters

By Sam Berkow March 28, 2013

Photo credit: Manfred Vogel

● High Brightness – Looking at Low Power from the other end, this is the ratio of light brightness to power consumption. Often advertised as Lumens Per Watt, high-powered LEDs are very bright considering the amount of electrical power they use.  The “additive” color mixing mentioned above means that light produced is not wasted being filtered out.

● Longevity. LED lighting manufacturers often quote the number of hours an LED light source will last in comparison to sources such as traditional tungsten halogen lamps.  And we are talking tens of thousands of hours for an LED.

● Built-In Dimmer. Most LED units offer dimming built inside the fixture, so there is no need to have a separate dimmer rack. In addition, many have onboard controls that allow setting the unit to a color, dimming the fixture, or even cycling or scrolling through different looks, all without the need for a separate controller.

So, LEDs are the answer to everything now?

Not yet. There are a few things you might want to know about LED stage lighting, before you go out and buy a truck full.

● Many LED arrays can’t provide a point source like a conventional. Because there are many sources of light in the LED array, it is harder to create a LED fixture that will focus like sharp spotlight or project a gobo. Manufacturers have worked their magic on this, creating a point source with optical systems or by using a single, bright LED source. Recent developments have been in the introduction of hard edged spots such as the ETC LED Source Four but still, many LED units are designed to be washlights.

● 16 Million Colors. Just not the one you want. Because of the way colored LEDs are made, different LED fixtures have colors that they just can’t do. A good quality white light that looks great on human skin is often cited as being one of them. Because of the way that all LED source colors are mixed together and the way LEDs are made, a nice white light is extremely difficult to achieve with many fixtures. LED lights that are designed to be white light sources often lack the range of spectral colours of daylight or an incandescent.

● LED lighting fixtures are bright but …  Although when considering power consumed for brightness LED stage lighting fixtures are really efficient, many units lack the punch of their conventional lantern relatives. A cheap PAR can with LEDs in it is nowhere near as punchy as a 1000W PAR64 CP62. Cheaper LED lighting units have neither a lens nor a reflector, the light they produce scatters and struggles to maintain intensity when thrown much of a distance. However, great strides have been made regarding the optics in the last few years and the top LED fixtures really blast out some light.

● Color Mixing And Shadows. Colored LEDs mix on a surface to create an even light, this mix improves further away from the light source. If there is much distance between the colors, the end result is multi-colored shadows that don’t get with a single-colored conventional. The latest professional and more costly LED optical systems are better at reducing these issues.

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