'FAQ' Category

General Questions

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

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?

The CL-455 Studio Softlight manual can be found here.

The CL-255P/PMD Portable Softlight manual can be found here.

The CL-MF0070 CDM 70 Fresnel manual can be found here.

The CL-MF0150 CDM 150 Fresnel manual can be found here.

The CL-SFT1P Speed Softbox manual can be found here.

The CL-LED600 LED Panel manual can be found here.

The CL-LS1 Professional Rolling Light Stand manual can be found here (discontinued product).

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!

Ordering Questions

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

Are all your items on the website in stock?

Yes and no. Yes, every single item that you can checkout in your cart with is in stock. We do however show some future products but even though you can put them in your cart, you can’t checkout or pay with them there. We don’t believe in back ordering and we aren’t just a web storefront for some other manufacturer. If you see it on our site and can pay for it, we’ve got it.

If I place an order on the website, how long will it take to get it?

As long as you place an order before about 12 Noon, Central Standard Time, the order will go out the same day via your chosen method of shipping. You’ll be presented with several shipping quotes during checkout, just choose the one that suits you (Ground, Next Day, Two Day, etc.) and then pay. A message will be instantly sent through an automated system and your order will be fulfilled by our warehouse.

How can I pay?

We accept major credit cards and Paypal. If you choose Paypal, please make sure you follow the entire process and let it take you all the way back to our site or the order won’t be fully processed.

Do you charge sales tax?

The standard practice on the web is the one we follow. We only charge sales tax in those states where we have a presence. Nevada is the only state for the moment. So, if you reside in that state, we must charge you tax, collect it and pay to those state entities to stay in the law.

Is ordering on your site secure?

You can come to our site by one of three ways, through the “aliases” of, which point back to our “root” page at which is the third (and most direct) way to get to us. This business of aliases is just a marketing thing and nothing to worry about. The root is the one registered with Geotrust SSL Certificates however. On our home page, you can see a Geotrust SSL Logo. If you click on it you can see that we are certified as secure by Geotrust. That means that all the pages into which you enter secure information on our site are encrypted. The actual secure HTTPS pages only kick in during checkout however. In addition, we use to process our credit card transactions and they are one of the biggest providers in the world. We carry their logo also on the home page and if you click on that you can see we are a “trusted site.” A simple test to see if a website is using SSL or not is to type in “” (in our case If it still works, you know they are using SSL in the proper way. In fact, in Mozilla, you can see a padlock symbol in the status line of the browser indicating the secure function is working and really is secure.  Thus, we normally only encrypt the pages where you enter your private information in checkout.  We are PCI compliant and we do not store your credit card information.  It is only used at the time of a sale and passed to the credit card provider. So, yes, your information is safe with us! We’ve taken all the precautions any website can.

What shipping methods do you offer?

For now, we only offer Fedex for most items. Fedex Ground will be the least expensive option for most of our items, some of which can be rather large. There will also be Next Day, Two Day and whatever else is popular at the moment. We don’t offer Saturday delivery though. So if you have a “shoot” coming up, we love to accommodate you, but please give adequate time for the fixtures to be delivered. Don’t wait to the last minute when Next Day is your only option as it can really be expensive. Some of our free shipping items like the video (when its on free shipping promotion) go out US Postal Service First Class which is normally a several day service, but Priority or Express delivery are options. Many of our spare or DIY parts and the Cool Lights video come from a different warehouse and only use USPS Priority or Express mail delivery.

I’m not in the USA, can I order?

Yes, we’ve been shipping to far and wide outside of the USA. As long as you can pay with a method we accept and is secure for both you and us, we will ship to you. Of course, shipping to many countries from USA can be very expensive and customs duties vary for each different country. You are on your own for all customs and any other taxes involved for your country. For now, the best thing is to not use the website to order though. Please contact us at for a shipping quote to make sure you agree with the shipping charges. If so, send us an email with all your address information and we will prearrange a payment method (bank transfer or Paypal) and appropriate amount for the merchandise you order plus the agreed upon shipping and handling charges.

Cool Lights Softlight Fixture Product Questions

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Currently Cool Lights Softlight fixtures are in two categories: biax lamp type (Softlight series) and Compact Fluorescent (CFL) self-ballasted type (Softbox series).

Why don’t you offer other types of bulbs?

The 55 watt biax tube has become the defacto standard for film and television with higher quality CFL bulbs closely following. Just look around at the number of products out there that use this tube as the basis. There are many high quality 2 or 4 foot linear tubes available but many feel that the biax tube offers so many advantages (not the least of which is that biax fixtures are a bit more portable than a 4 foot wide fixtures) that it makes the most sense to jump on that standard bandwagon and help support it. Other benefits include the fact that it is voltage independent of whatever country you are using it in (the ballast is what must adapt to a country’s voltage), it is extremely color stable, and it is inherently dimmable if you have a dimmable ballast and other controller hardware driving the tube.

Softlight Series (Biax) Fixtures

Why do you call it “Softlight Series”?

Fluorescent lights are what we call broad or “soft” sources. The other alternative is a point or “hard” source. A tungsten halogen or metal halide (HMI) are good examples of a point light source. Point or hard light produces excellent shadows, has a longer throw than fluorescent and can be used for more “dramatic” effect when necessary. On the other hand, soft light sources are generally considered very flattering and are extremely useful in the new “HD” age where the detail shown on the screen can sometimes be too much or too real. Cool Lights Softlight Series and Softbox fixtures provide a very energy efficient and flattering soft light source for all your media productions.

What is the difference between a “softlight” and a “softbox”?

A softlight or softbox were both created for the same reason–to soften up a hard or point light source. Another way of saying this is that they act as diffusers to make the harsh light of a point light source much softer. The classic softlight (also known as “ziplight”) used a hood to indirectly shine the light out on the subject. This indirection was the method of diffusion. However, the aperture for emitting light wasn’t always that large thus the light output wouldn’t be a soft as that coming from a much broader source.  Fluorescent lights are already soft so our Softlight series fixtures are a modern or larger-faced version of the traditional zip or softlight and provide a pleasing diffused and broad light in different sizes/wattages. The classic softbox includes a reflector hood made of heat-resistant fabric and a silk diffuser on the front. This easily allows an even broader source when you need it as softboxes can often be found in huge sizes.  The Cool Lights Softbox fixture adapts to this classic softbox hood and allows any mogul-based bulb up to 600w to be diffused by the reflector hood and silk diffusion material. If you use one of the mogul-based, self-ballasted CFL bulbs (like our 200w 8U bulb) in our softbox fixture, there may be no need for the diffusion silk on the front. On the other hand, it comes in handy sometimes if the bulb is a bit too overpowering and needs to be toned down a bit. Since these CFL bulbs are not dimmable, extra diffusion material is your main “poorman’s” way to tone down the light.

What is your warranty on the fixtures?

1 year parts and labor on all our fixtures that were purchased directly from Cool Lights. Warranty is non-transferable, so does not pass from one owner to another.  You must return the fixture to us at your cost for any repairs. We pay return postage. After 1 year all repair and postage costs are paid for by the user.

What is the difference between the Portable Softlight Series and the Studio Softlight Series units?

1).  Weight.  The portables are made with aluminum reinforced plastic polycarbonate.  Very strong but light.  Studio models are made of aluminum and heavier.

2).  Mounting.  Yoke on studio models and “lollipop” (multi-axis mount) on portable.  Lollipop allows swinging around at just about any angle you can imagine.  Yoke only allows movement one way horizontally but not vertically.  Either way, the stand adapter is an option when ordering (drop down box at bottom of product page) so you need to pick that on checkout unless you have another stand adapter that will work with any of our models studio or portable.

3). Carrying Cases.  Portables have carrying cases (see CL-CCL1A under accessories / carrying cases).

4).  Surface Treatment.  Studio models have powder coating which is tough but not suitable for repeated “throwing in the back of the car” or carrying around.  Large powder coated surfaces would eventually get scratched up and worn down.  They are mainly designed for use on a stand or ceiling mount grid in a studio environment.  The portables have minimal powder coating, just large plastic surfaces exposed.  The plastic is very tough and dull objects tend to bounce off it, like hammer blows, etc.  Can be dented but fairly hard to break it.

5). Price Difference.  The portables are hand assembled in a long process plus they have specialized parts like the aluminum skeleton and lollipop.  Thus they are more expensive.  The studio models go together quicker, use machine stamped and readily available parts and are less expensive because of that.

Other than those points, as far as light output and quality, they are the same since they use the same bulbs and ballasts.

Dimming vs. Non-Dimming Models

We have both dimming and non-dimming in both Portable and Studio Softlight Series.  The dimming models are always more expensive as they use a more complex and expensive dimming type ballast.  We refer to the dimming models as “manually dimmable” which means they have a dimmer pot on the unit itself and no remote dimming capability (like DMX) at this time.  The non-dimming models use a fluorescent ballast which is not dimming capable and less expensive but still very high quality.  Both versions put out about the same amount of light.  Both versions have “bank select” switches which means you can turn the bulbs on/off two at a time.  On the dimmable version, the bank select switch allows you to dim however many bulbs are turned on.  Neither dimmable nor non-dimmable can be dimmed by a dimmer attached to the power cord input.  This would potentially damage the unit and void your warranty so please do not even try it!

What about your reflectors, are they efficient?

We think the reflector is almost as important as the bulb and ballast and spent quite a bit of time engineering a high quality, mirrored aluminum reflector using products from the best and most well known name in Mirrored Aluminum: Alanod. The reflectors are available as a separate product item for those that already have some kind of home made enclosure. The Cool Lights reflectors are 2.5” wide by 22” long and 1.5” tall. The reflector kit includes 2 bulb clips and mounting screws.

What is the quality level your 2G11 bases?

Cool Lights chose the most-used (in film and television fixtures) 2G11 base and spent a bit more money on it because it was felt that many of the cheaper ones would cause many problems later. The one chosen makes it easy to insert the tubes as well as take them out and grips them well. Not just one, but two stainless steel bulb clips are also included on the reflectors to help support the biax tubes. No cheap plastic ones that tend to melt over time. These 2G11 bases and bulb clips are available as separate parts on the website.

Softbox Series (CFL Self-ballasted) Fixtures

What kind of socket is in the fluorescent 200 watt softbox fixture?

Most all 200 watt 8U CFL bulbs have an E39 or E40 (similar enough to be interchangeable) socket (or as it is also called “base”). The E39/E40 base looks just like the more common Edison or E26/E27 base but is a much larger version. The E26 and E39 are mostly used in the USA and the E27 and E40 are mostly used elsewhere in the world. Richard designed the softbox fixture to use an E39/E40 base because there just was not a suitable fixture available that would give all the called-for parameters for the large base, 200 watt CFL bulbs to be successfully used with a softbox.

Why a fluorescent softbox?

A softbox is really used to diffuse an incandescent or point source and make it very broad using a silk translucent diffusion material. A fluorescent light, by its very nature is already a broad source so diffusion material is not necessary normally to make it more diffuse (so just remove the velcro’d material!). Richard decided however that the typical softbox makes a great portable fixture and had embarked on a quest to make a fluorescent softbox. Along the way Richard found the 200 watt 8U compact fluorescent (CFL), self-ballasted bulb and decided that it was ideal for use in a softbox hood. After that it was just a question of finding the best fixture to use to make it functional with the typical softbox speed ring adapter. After several DIY tries, Richard just designed a solution that could be manufactured inexpensively but still provide a quality fixture—the result was our 200 watt softbox fixture.

Is there a warranty on the softbox fixture?

1 year parts and labor. There isn’t much to go wrong with that fixture. It is very simple. Unless you burn it out somehow that is.

Why is there no power switch on the softbox fixture?

There are many that would believe this was a cost-saving feature but that is far from the truth. The currently common 200 watt CFL contains its own ballast and is therefore a complete package with everything necessary to make the light work. Our softbox fixture was designed primarily for this lamp (or any of the 105, 125, 150 watt bulbs that use the E30/E40 base). However, there is a much less commonly available version which has a separate ballast. While this actually makes more sense for a number of reasons (bulb replacement cost being the foremost), the market has mainly decided that self-ballasted bulbs are “the thing”, despite the fact you are probably throwing away a perfectly good ballast when the CFL tube is worn out! Richard designed the softbox fixture to use either type of bulb. The separate-ballast type usually have a ballast in a metal case with input and output cords. You can normally plug a fixture which contains a non-ballasted bulb directly into the ballast using the standard 3-prong wall power cord, then just plug the ballast into the wall using its own power cord. The original prototype fixture had a switch and Richard noticed that the voltage jumped over the switch whether it was on or off. It was obvious that this was due to the relatively high voltage necessary for the CFL “running over” the switch (which was rated for only 250 volts). The safety implications of this alone are very obvious. So Richard decided it was far better to make a fixture without a switch so each user could decide whether they liked to use the self-ballasted kind of CFL or the separate ballast kind with this fixture. One more thing to think about in deciding which one you like better is the fact that with the ballast being so close to the bulb in the self-ballasted type, it shortens its life somewhat. The separate ballast kind is safely removed from the light usually and several feet or inches away so may enjoy a longer life because of this. Once the bulb is worn out, you simply replace the bulb (at a much lower cost) and use the same ballast.

Will the softbox fixture work with other kinds of “mogul” base bulbs?

Yes! In fact we have another very interesting solution coming up. Keep watching for developments in this area. The mogul base we chose is fine with any bulb up to and including 600 watts of actual draw power (600 volt pulse rating).

Cool Lights DVD/Video Questions

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Why did Richard build his own fixtures?

Having a background in electronics Richard felt it was no problem to build his own fixtures (and later to tell others about it through the Cool Lights video). This later expanded into Cool Lights USA which is primarily represented here, in this website.  Today, Cool Lights offers both ready-made fixtures for those without the DIY inclination but still preferring to spend less and DIY parts for those so inpired to build their own.

I’ve seen the Cool Lights DIY video but don’t feel up to the experience of making the enclosure, what can I still do?

If you find the right sheet metal fabrication shop you can make a very attractive fixture but finding the right one is the big chore. You will find many that will quote you impossibly high prices to make what you need and may find only one or two which provide a suitable price. It is an exercise of determination to call all the fabricators in your area and find the best one for your needs. When you buy the Cool Lights video you get all the plans necessary to take with you to the shop to communicate what you want. One way to quickly narrow down the list of shops is to pre-qualify if they have hand-fabrication available or are a totally automated shop. Since you are only building one or two lights and not going into major production you won’t want to be choosing an automated CNC shop because they have horrendous “tooling” charges you will have to pay for setting up the machines. A hand fabrication shop may be a bit more expensive per item but this makes more sense for just one or two.

Why did you produce Cool Lights: DIY Fluorescent Video Lighting Volume One in video form and not a book?

Richard thinks that the how-to video is a really effective means of communicating ideas and information. In any case, the video is supplemented with other necessary drawings and information to make it a complete package.

Is 89 minutes long enough for such a topic?

Richard actually shows you how to build no less than 6 different kinds of lights (halogen worklight conversion, 2 x 55w biax fixture, 6 x 55w biax fixture, 126w softlite fixture, Softbox fixture using seven 42w bulbs and a softbox fixture using a 200w CFL) through a combination of great editing, fast speed footage, and an ongoing, professional and high quality narrative. In addition, he shows you how to build your own dimmer which can be used either with some types of special dimming-capable CFL bulbs or incandescent fixtures. There are other chapters on simple, off-the-shelf solutions that don’t require much construction at all (Home Depot class products for example) and also electrical and other types of safety necessary during work of this type.

The price seems higher than many how-to videos?

The more specialized the information, the higher the price. What other videos or information on this subject are available on the market? This video is the only one of its kind. In addition, Richard has synthesized a great deal of information in the video and all its accompanying information making it really much easier and more understandable. This video can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars depending upon the amount of lighting you need for your productions. This price looks small in comparison to the savings!

Is it hard to make that worklight conversion project (also known as the Low Key)?

We show a 2 hour method of adding sheet metal barn doors to a halogen worklight fixture that we converted to fluorescent lighting in the video (using about $2.50 for the barn doors and another $8.50 for the fluorescent conversion which adds another hour also). We have a kit available to speed this barn door process up to more like 20 minutes (down from 2 hours) and make it really easy to add barn doors to one of these types of cast aluminum fixtures. Elsewhere, in the Cool Lights Video Magazine we have shown the updated process making the barn door addition quicker.  There is a free CL-BD4 Barndoor template we give away if you want to make your own barndoors as show in the video or the CL Video magazine but our pre-made barndoor kit will save you a bunch of time too!

But you’re only using a 30 watt CFL in that fixture. Can that really be enough light for a video project?

Richard had about six of these he converted and they were really his workhorses on the production of the video. In fact, the first fixtures Richard made were 6 x 55 watt and he didn’t really use them at all in the video other than for demonstration purposes of how to build them. He found they were just too overpowering and would only be necessary in a large studio environment. He also decided to take a more subtle approach to lighting, only using what was necessary and adjusting the iris appropriately. In this way, several of these worklight conversion fixtures were used to pinpoint light certain areas and give really professional results (thanks to the barn doors).

Why can’t the barn door idea just be used for a halogen worklight (not converted to fluorescent)?

There is no reason you couldn’t just add the barn doors to the halogen fixture and not convert it to fluorescent if you want to go on using one of those really efficient HEAT GENERATORS. No problem! Anyway, the barn door kit we sell will make this a 20 minute proposition and afterwards you will have a really professional looking light that is quite a bit more functional too. See our first entry in the Cool Lights Video Magazine which shows how to add barn doors using our barn door kit or the free barn door template we provide to do it all yourself.

I really like the design of your 126w softlite, are you going to be making it available?

The most efficient use of this type of fixture would be for making a hard, point light source softer–as was the case with the old style ‘ziplights’.  Metal halide would have been the obvious energy efficient choice for a modern version of such a fixture, but time ran out and a great deal more research had to be done to make that happen-so Richard chose to put a fluorescent light in it at the time for purposes of the video and construction. Since the very nature of fluorescent light is already to be more broad (soft and diffused) rather than ‘point’ (hard), the softlite hood is really not necessary for anything other than toning the light down; thus not the best use of such a fixture.  The hooded softlite would make a great and attractive package for delivering a diffused metal halide though as a future product from Cool Lights.

Bulb Questions

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Why did you make your own Cool Lights fluorescent biax tube?

In the beginning Richard was just going to search for some low cost CRI 85 tubes to sell on the website because you mainly find CRI’s in the 80-82 range or 90 but not much in between. Through various circumstances he ended up with a major league education on how fluorescent tubes are made, how higher CRI’s are achieved, why it is harder to make higher CRI bulbs, etc. At the end of the process Richard had the tube manufacturer very interested in supporting him in offering a “just under 90” CRI, reasonably priced bulb to compete with the likes of the Studio grade bulbs from Osram or General Electric. Just remember this practical advice about CRI. Richard completed several video projects using fluorescent biax and CFL’s that were CRI 80ish and he never once saw a green tint to any of the video or any other artifacts that he thought were unacceptable. These “green” artifacts are far more likely to show up in film and not with digital mediums.  So, if you are primarily doing digital video work (and not traditional film) then you will probably never have to worry about it as long as you are careful with consistency of color temperature and use custom white balance with your digital video or still camera.

Will Cool Lights biax tubes work on 220v / 50 hz that we use in my country?

One of the nice things about biax bulbs (like the ones we carry) is that they are independent of a country’s voltage type. Since they operate off of a ballast, they have their own proprietary voltage requirements which are supplied by the ballast that drives them. Therefore, if the ballast works in your country, our biax (and anyone’s biax) tubes that are driven by that ballast will work in your country! Our Cool Lights ballasts are universal voltage, so if you use our fixtures there is definitely no problem in adapting.

Are Cool Lights biax tubes dimmable?

Yes. No problem–all biax 55 watt tubes are inherently dimmable. Like the question about whether a biax tube will work off your country’s voltage the answer is the same here. It all depends upon the ballast. Is the ballast you use a “dimmable” ballast and does it have all the associated hardware along with it to make dimming happen. Thus, our bulbs work with both dimmable and non-dimmable Cool Lights Softlight Series fixtures as well as competitor dimmable and non-dimmable fixtures.

What color temperatures are available for the biax tubes?

The very standard 3200K and 5600K were chosen for our products. White balancing on all types of cameras usually falls into the tungsten or daylight categories and 3200K and 5600K represent these (respectively).

What is the difference between the 3200k and 5600k bulbs. Why would I choose one or the other?

You’ll normally find the two choices in fluorescent tubes to match existing lighting as color temperature differences aren’t usually wanted. So, if you have some tungsten fresnels to use for hard background or rim lighting (like mentioned above) then you would want a 3200K tubes in your Cool Lights fixtures to help out with key and fill soft lighting. Matching to incandescent household lighting is another time you might need the 3200K tubes. If you’re in a room with sunlight streaming in (and you can’t or don’t want to block off the windows), you would normally want to use all 5600K lighting to match the sunlight; so, that’s a place where the Cool Lights metal halide Hardlight option would come in handy if you need hard light to complement the Cool Lights Softlights (or the Softlights turn out to be too weak to compete with the sunlight) because they come in daylight color for all wattages and also a tungsten color for the lower ones like the 150w type. This is why you hear of HMI units being used so often when productions are going on outside during the day or in a room where daylight is coming in–metal halide hard light really helps “fight” the sun when it’s needed.

What is the CRI of the Cool Lights biax tubes?

Cool Lights decided on a CRI of under 90 as a design compromise. CRI 90 and above fluorescent tubes are notoriously inefficient in the amount of light they put out. CRI 87 is a great compromise which provides a high quality color rendering at whatever correlated color temperature you are using but still puts out the amount of light we expect from an energy efficient fluorescent tube.

Do you have test reports available showing the parameters of your biax tubes?

Yes. In general if you are proud of a product then you don’t mind sharing all the aspects of it. If its not so great you don’t talk about it very much. Many of our competitors offer a cheap 6400K CFL or some other standard, off the shelf, color temperature (see why in our article on Color Temperature and Color Rendering Index). And just look here for our Cool Lights Biax Bulb test results.

Will Cool Lights self-ballasted CFL 200w bulb work on 220v / 50 hz that we use in my country?

A drawback of a self-ballasted bulb like the 200w 8U bulb we sell is that it is single voltage only.  We currently only stock a 120v 60HZ version in both 3200K and 5600K.  Perhaps with enough demand we will stock a 220v 50HZ version in the future–or technology permitting may find a universal voltage self-ballasted 200w bulb.

Are Cool Lights self-ballasted CFL bulbs dimmable?

No.  The ballast in the base of a bulb like the 200w 8U bulb must be capable of dimming and the one we sell is not.  To reduce the intensity, we recommend extra diffusion in front of the bulb which works well and doesn’t have any color temperature shift issues associated with it.  Trying to dim the 200w 8U bulb with a line voltage dimmer will most likely damage it and invalidate your warranty for the bulb!

Ballast Questions

Monday, January 1st, 2007

What ballasts do you use in your assembled fixtures?

When searching for products Richard found several ballasts from the Asian market that provide the performance necessary for film/video lighting without the cost normally associated. The problem has been that there are large stage and studio lighting manufacturers that have propagated some myths that they have some components or some other technology available that is not available to anyone else. And you will hear statements like “Ballasts from China are cheap and unusable for our purposes.” This is simply not true! Maybe it was true at one time (at the dawn of the fluorescent film/video lighting era perhaps) but not today. The reality is that most all ballasts today are made in China. Fulham, Osram, Philips, Advance, Universal—most of their models are all manufactured there. While you can certainly find very cheap ballasts that wouldn’t be very suitable for a fluorescent video light, you CAN find many reasonably priced models that DO offer the results you would expect. Richard tested no less than 20 models while in China and found the cream-of-the-crop to offer in his reasonably-priced, fully-assembled fixtures.

What are the specifications of your ballasts?

Lamp Type: PL-55w
Number of Lamps Driven: 1 or 2 (all Cool Lights Softlight Series fixtures drive 2 lamps per ballast)
Voltage: Universal (100v – 277v) 50/60hz
Output Frequency: 40khz
Input Watts: 105w for 2 x 55 biax lamps
Power Factor: .>.95
THD: < 15%
Protection against open circuit and lamp fault conditions
Class P, Type 1 Outdoor

I’ve heard that some ballasts flicker or hum—why is that?

The older magnetic ballasts had some problems with this. They drove fluorescent tubes at a 50 or 60 hertz rate (50 or 60 times per second—depending upon the type of voltage used in your country). New electronic ballasts have virtually eliminated these problems. Only the cheapest, most poorly designed (mostly for household use) electronic ballasts (with low refresh output rates) will have these kinds of problems. Cool Lights ballasts were all chosen because of their quiet, flicker-free operation. The frequency our ballasts drive the bulbs is 40 khz (40,000 hertz). This is why there is no flicker problem. You’ll get years of great service for use in film and video lighting out of our ballast-equipped fixtures.

Do you offer a dimmable version of your fixtures?

Yes we do and at a price point unheard of for dimmable fluorescent.  We offer a “manual dimmable” model in both our studio and portable fluorescent fixtures.  This means there is a dimming dial on the fixture that allows continuous dimming from about 5% to 100% intensity.  These models are a bit higher in price than our economical non-dimmable but that’s because of the special dimmable ballasts required to make them possible.  Future versions will include a remote dimmable studio model that will allow DMX or traditional dimmer packs to remotely dim the fixture through line voltage or other methods.  Stay tuned for those developments.

I understand that some film/video fluorescent fixtures use ballasts that overdrive the tubes for more lumens—do you do this?

Even many of the best electronic ballasts will output around 85 to 90 watts to drive two 55 watt tubes. So you say “but it should be 110 watts right? Why do they do this?” The answer is simple. They do this to save tube life! Remember, most of these ballasts will end up in fixtures in warehouses and grocery stores (not on film sets) so they consider the consumer who will favor tube life in these settings. In film and video, we don’t always care so much and are simply looking for light output. Richard had the choice of choosing bulb life or lumens and chose lumens. So all Cool Lights ballasts output maximum watts possible for a 2 x 55 watt ballast or about 105 watts to drive two 55 watt tubes. But then you ask “but again 2 x 55 =110 watts so why aren’t you outputting 110 watts?” Another simple answer: the specification that you always see on ballasts called “power factor” indicates what percentage of the ballasts rated wattage it can actually achieve in real use. So if the power factor is .95 (very common) then the output from a 110 watt ballast (at its maximum) would be about 105 watts. Then you ask: “Are there ways to actually drive the tubes at 110 watts?“ Yes! We could have chosen to drive them even harder by selecting a higher power ballast (and we may do so in the future as an option) or by taking a 2×55 ballast and wiring both outputs to one tube, but we feel the current method we use is adequate for most people’s needs and still manages to balance tube life with lumen output.

Is there any Ballast Wiring Support available for a DIYer?

We provide information where we can but ultimately you must be on your own in a DIY effort; and thus should have the skills to understand wiring diagrams and what they really mean as well as the ability to debug any eventual issues.

What are the best ballasts for 55w biax tube DIY projects?

The 55w ballasts are in the class of “T5HO” and there are many good ones that can work for a 55w project. You’ll want the ones that specifically state they work with either F54 54w T5 tubes or FT55 tubes which are the classic biax like Cool Lights uses. Of course you can get both dimming and non-dimming versions with the dimming ones being the most expensive by a large margin. You always want to get the 2×55 versions that drive two tubes as the cost ratio is better on them than the ones that drive one tube alone. Here are some good ones that work well separated into dimming and non-dimming versions:

Advance Centium ICN-2S54 Intellivolt model which works from 100 to 277v so it can work anywhere in the world.
Universal B254PUNV-D also universal input voltage.
Sylvania Quicktronic QTP2X54T5HO/UNV PSN (universal input voltage–we carry this one in stock)
Fulham Workhorse 5 (110v or 220v models)

In dimming we have two categories: the 0 to 10v which require a control voltage from a special dimmer to operate them or the Inductance type which you can actually use an inductance dimmer or motor speed controller on the line voltage 110v or 220v going into the ballast like you can with a tungsten light–as you do so, you get dimming on the fluorescent lights being driven by the ballast. Very cool stuff, but rare to find and very expensive. The 0 to 10v are still very expensive but less rare and available from more sources.

Dimming (0 to 10v models)
Advance Mark 7 RZT-2S54 120v (or 277v for other countries than USA)
Sylvania Quicktronic QT2x54/120 PHO-DIM (or QT2x54/277 PHO-DIM outside of USA)

Dimming (inductance type)
Advance Mark 10 REZ-2S54 120v (inductance dimming version) (or get the 277v for elsewhere outside of USA)

Phillips and Osram make some nice dimming ballasts but for the most part, these are only available in other parts of the world besides the USA.

Also, always double check to make sure you’ve got the model that works in the USA or whatever country some others may be in. There are some models in the same line which work with 380 volts and some other odd combinations which are totally unusable for most people.

Where can I get any of those ballasts you mentioned?

Typically, they can be found at a professional lighting supply in your city or often can find them online too. I occasionally caught some of the Advance non-dimming ones on Ebay for around $15 to $17 each with shipping and that’s a very good price. Ebay is the most likely source to find some ballasts on clearance or surplus type deals. Otherwise, if you pay anywhere near retail, you’ll be paying around $50 for non-dimming ones and $160 for dimming ones.

Electricity Questions

Monday, January 1st, 2007


Do you sell different input voltage ballasts for other countries than the USA?

All of the ballasts that Cool Lights sells by themselves or integrates into fixtures are Universal voltage. That is, they all adapt to anything between 100 and 277 volts automatically. Cool Lights made this decision to make support outside of the United States easier for everyone involved. Since there is a plug adapter on most of our fixtures, adapting the plug to your country’s wall plug system is simply a mechanical adapter problem—not a transformer problem. Just change the plug to your country’s standard plug by either changing out the entire cord or adding the appropriate adapter to the plug end of the cord so that it will work with your wall plug type.