How is your company different than others that offer film/video lighting?
This company was started by Richard Andrewski with the vision of helping amateur filmmakers, photographers and videographers build their own video/film lighting that doesn’t look like it was homemade. Along the way to realizing this vision, Richard found that Cool Lights can offer completely assembled solutions of very high quality at such an attractive price that it almost makes DIY a moot point–especially when you consider your time. The Cool Lights business model is what you would call “manufacturer direct”. We have no dealer network or middle men and work to keep overhead low. We manufacture our designs through contract manufacturers and distribute them directly to end customers over the Internet through warehouse distribution in the USA. What this effectively means is that the price you pay is what a dealer would pay if Cool Lights went to a more traditional dealer/distributor model.
Why do you separate into “hard” and “soft” type lighting on your site?
To have a complete studio lighting offering, any video/film fixture manufacturer must offer both hard and soft light sources. We made the decision to mostly offer energy efficient, “cool lighting” sources for all our studio fixtures. For soft light, its fairly easy to accomplish that with fluorescent lighting which is a very mature technology and extremely reliable. For hard light, it is a bit more challenging to move away from tungsten, but we took up that challenge to bring cost effective, energy efficient and cool hard lighting options as well. Thus, our charter has been to search for technologies for both hard and soft lighting that are extremely efficient in both the actual energy they draw to put out light and also that they don’t generate the heat which would need to be displaced by air conditioning (even further energy savings).
Soft light sources are in high demand today with high definition video becoming more prevalent. The soft and flattering light of fluorescent with its diffused and vague shadows has already been discovered by many and is well on its way to being the standard for cool, soft lighting. We now have both studio and location (portable) versions of our fluorescent softlights with dimmable models in both as well as the more economical “bank select” dimmable kinds too. But, fluorescent is always a broad and diffused soft source and can never be “hard”.
Hard light sources, like tungsten or metal halide/HMI are useful when you DO want shadows, throw and projection (such as projecting a cucaloris (“cookie”) on the wall). A hard light source is “hard” because it uses a single, tiny point light source to power it along with an efficient mirror and lens. A fresnel is a standard and common type of instrument used for delivering a hard light source. We carry both the traditional tungsten as well as the more efficient metal halide type of fresnels. Our metal halide models are divided up into two series: CDM (ceramic discharge metalhalide) or “cold restart” types and HMI or “hot restart” types. While we weren’t the first to offer a CDM type cold start fixture, many have discovered it now through us because of our economical first versions–namely the CL-MF0150 or “CDM 150” as we often refer to it. The main drawback to this type is the cold restart requires that you wait about 5 minutes after extinguishing the fixture to relight–not considered a big drawback by many.
HMI is a registered trademark of Osram Corporation and only refers to their bulb (or a compatible one made by a competitor) that can be used in a particular fixture. HMI bulbs are metal halide technology. The term “HMI” is often used in slang however to refer to a fixture that uses those type bulbs. The traditional HMI type fixtures we offer are hot restart and have most all of the features you would expect from an “HMI” fixture. Hot restart simply means you can reignite immediately after extinguishing the fixture. We even offer a 1200w HMI par which is about the most efficient configuration for any point (hard) light source like an HMI bulb. There will be many more exciting CDM and HMI offerings in our metal halide hard light category of fixtures in the future.
What about LEDs?
LEDs are also an exciting new technology that fall midway between a hard and soft light. Kind of their own category that’s not easily defined. Think of an LED light as a “digital light” of sorts just like a digital monitor display is composed of individual pixels, your digital LED light is composed of individual LEDs of one sort or another. Each LED, typically a 5mm round type, is a small point light source (hard) that’s too weak to work on its own and produce any interesting effect. Once put into in a large array however, they all work together to produce either a fairly narrow spot (if the beam angle of the individual LEDs is about 45 degrees or below) or a wider “flood” if the beam angle of all the LEDs is about 50 degrees or above. Even the softer flood LED configuration will still have more throw and be a bit more harsh than a fluorescent source. Larger LEDs, such as 1w to 5w types can be more interesting in power output but still require multiple LEDs in an array to amount to much output. For most purposes, these arrays will not cause any issues but for close work (fixture close to subject) multiple shadows may be detected. As the fixture is backed away from the subject, the multiple shadow issue (or pixelated shadows as I call them) is not as noticeable.
Why are the prices of the big name manufacturers so high?
They all have dealer networks and quite a bit of overhead to support. This results in a dealer price as well as a manufacturer’s suggested retail price to keep it all properly motivated. There is a confluence of several things happening at this particular point in time that will make it increasingly hard to charge higher prices for these fixtures.
(1) Many of these fixtures were manufactured in China or Mexico and have been marked up as much as one hundred times. Currently, many Chinese manufacturers (and U.S. manufacturers like Cool Lights that have Chinese operations) are getting into the act and establishing distribution in the United States. Given their smaller overhead and more efficient marketing models, they are able to sell their wares at a much lower price than many of these other established manufacturers. A manufacturer direct model, such as the one Cool Lights has adopted, only helps in this cause–thus cutting out middle men.
(2) Ballast manufacturers have moved much of their manufacturing operations to China. This has had the effect of disseminating the technology to many Chinese companies. There are no secrets left about making great ballasts in China! There are so many good, high quality, mature ballasts on the market now that the price has gone way down—but you’ll still pay higher prices for a brand name and also for U.L. approval (both of which are mostly a perception thing anyway—for every brand name UL ballast, there are at least 50 more that are very suitable products and have the same quality level but not the same marketing muscle).
(3) Practically all of the fluorescent tubes in the world are made in China at this point. Most are manufacturing a very common tube which would be mostly useful in grocery stores or warehouses; but there will be more in the future which will manufacture a higher quality tube—like the one Cool Lights is selling. These will be available at much lower prices than those being charged for the high CRI products today.
(4) Prices were higher because the relatively small group of (media production) people using fluorescent (in proportion to those not using) just wasn’t enough to fuel mass market production and lower prices.
(5) There are more and more amateur filmmakers, photographers and videographers who are demanding high quality, modern and efficient lighting but for less money. They simply cannot afford the prices that many companies charge today so this will also be a driving force behind change. The forces of mass market are slowly kicking in to serve this hungry market!
(6) Metal halide and LEDs will follow these trends as well to help bring their prices down.
Exactly how efficient is a fluorescent or metal halide source?
Perhaps the easiest and most accessible way to understand fluorescent efficiency is to take the general rule of “dividing by four” to get the “equivalent” wattage. What this means is that if you know you normally use a 500 watt incandescent (tungsten) light to light something, then you need a 125w fluorescent to give you the equivalent (500 divided by 4 = 125). Another way of thinking about this is that a 125w fluorescent puts out an equivalent of 500 watts for drawing only 125 watts of actual power. In addition, it only radiates 125 watts of heat so there is less heat to displace with air conditioning–even more energy savings. A more precise rule is that fluorescent puts out 40 to 60 lumens per watt used whereas incandescent puts out 10 lumens per watt. For comparison purposes, metal halide (HMI) can be even more efficient at 80 to 140 lumens per watt! It really is the best alternative for longer throws or “dramatic”, hard light and casting shadows. The main drawback to metal halide though is the bulbs and ballasts are a bit more expensive but it is worth it to have an inherent daylight source that doesn’t loose light through “gelling up” with CTB gel.
But I’ve heard there are many issues with fluorescent use for media production, if so many professionals are negative on it can it be very good?
In any pursuit, it’s easy to get newcomers to accept change than it is to get people that have been in the pursuit for a while to break their momentum and change. In addition, there are early adopters and late adopters in any given technology. The early adopters in this case seem to be the newcomers since they don’t have all these pre-conceived ideas and have been discovering the benefits of fluorescent for digital media production for quite some time. Many of the myths that come from the early use of fluorescent in media production (particularly where film was involved) such as the “green spike” issue or flickering are no longer issues with modern bulbs and ballasts. Thanks to electronic ballasts and the high frequency output drive (often greater than 40,000 hz) there is no flickering. And as for green spike issues, the higher the CRI of the bulb used, the less likely this will be with digital media and the ability to custom white balance.
Do you have any product manuals?
I haven’t written a product manual for the CL-255 or CL-655 yet but the CL-455 is close enough to the others to apply. Same for the CL-255P/PMD and the rest of the series. Will do a product manual for the CL-SFT1 in the near future but it’s very simple!