Are you building your new lighting set, updating an old one, adding to the equipment you have at hand, or perhaps bringing in something new and cutting-edge that will make your work easier?

Well, what do you need to consider?

Fresnel or panel

Whether you are a sector professional or an amateur, or are expanding your skills in other directions, there are many innovations on the market to keep up with, which is why it is important to consider six main aspects:

1 - The type of light you are looking for:

Do you want warm or cool light? Or something more sophisticated, such as a tunable white or RGBW light?
Some fixtures only emit warm light (at around 3200 Kelvin), others only emit cool light (at around 5600 Kelvin), while so-called ‘tunable’ or ‘bicolor’ lights allow you to vary the quality of light from warm to cool at will.
Your needs may also not stop at white light but demand a full range of colors. In such case, you would need an RGBW light, or, even better, an RGB with two more white channels, one dedicated to cool light and the other to warm light, so that you can vary the hue of the light from cool white to warm white and the full range of colors.
If your concern is having to find a compromise between the type of light and its power, you needn’t worry as there are very powerful RGBWW lights on the market that make no sacrifice with color rendering and intensity. These are LED lights, which unlike old tungsten, HMI and neon lights, offer the very best light intensity to power consumption rates, and last at least 30 times longer.

2 - The power you need:

You should choose the light’s power to suit the work you do. If you are in a closed studio you would need less power than if you are outdoors and need to counter the light scattering typical of an outdoor set.

Consider also that during your professional life, you will most likely be faced with a range of situations, and a more powerful light will certainly be less restrictive over the long term. In this case, a powerful LED light combined with an integrated power supply might be the best solution. Some modern LEDs even make it possible to match the light output of a 1500 Watt HMI, with much reduced overall dimensions and weight, and without the need for any ballast.

3 - The light’s case - size and weight:

You do not have to base your choice of light case strictly on the type of work you do. Anyway it is clear that, regardless of your specific needs, the lighter and more compact it is, the more you will benefit in terms of ease of use and of movement, as well as reducing the number of people you can have on set at any time.

You cannot overlook the aspect of the light’s power; however, you should know that today’s LED lights can certainly be more powerful and, at the same time, far more compact than other types of light.

4 - The quality of the light output:

This is without doubt the most critical aspect in judging a light, since there are so many indicators to bear in mind. The most well-known indicator taken into consideration is the Color Rendering Index (CRI), but, for some years now, it has been regarded as a rather limiting and outdated metric. Today, a new method for evaluating the quality of light is promoted by the International Commission on Illumination (CIE), the TM-30 metric.

This method contemplates the assessment of 99 sample colors, at least two different indices (Rf and Rg), and a graphical representation. For the sake of simplicity, we will not go into details here, suffice it to say that:

• Rf, the Fidelity Index, indicates the fidelity of color rendering from 0 to 100, with 100 being the highest fidelity, though a value of 95 is considered quite satisfactory.
• Rg, the Gamut Index, indicates the variation of color hue and saturation across the light spectrum. If Rg = 100, the light changes neither in hue nor in saturation. Values lower than 100 indicate a decrease in saturation, while values higher than 100 indicate an increase in saturation, making colors pop more. The optimal value is therefore 100, because this means that there is no shift in perceived saturation.

RGBW light

5 - Your budget:

Do you already know your available budget? Once you have decided how much you can spend, you need to take some time to evaluate the technical characteristics of the fixtures, in order to make a balanced choice. It is wise to remember that a brand’s renown does not always equate to quality, and carefully reading manufacturers’ specs can certainly help you better evaluate the various technical aspects.

In this regard, we must also bear in mind that some types of light have much longer useful lives than others, such as LEDs, which can easily last over 30,000 hours of normal use!

6 - The dilemma - Fresnel or panel?

Finally, let’s talk about an essential choice: is it better to get a panel light or a Fresnel one? The choice is neither trivial nor obvious, and it can be a mistake to blindly follow the trends of the moment. Indeed, there is no one answer: it simply depends on the use you want to make of it and your artistic considerations.

The first distinction to make, as is fairly well-known, is the difference between the soft light from a panel and the hard light from a Fresnel. A panel generally brings more softness to details, making shadows less defined and therefore creating a more diffused light effect. A Fresnel, on the other hand, generates a narrower and more collimated beam, therefore tending to enhance details and make transitions clearer, such as with direct sunlight.

The second distinction to make, perhaps less obvious, concerns the ability to illuminate at depth. As a diffuser itself, a panel emits light in all directions, and will rapidly lose intensity within a few metres. On the other hand, the light of a Fresnel fixture will be perceived even tens of metres away, and can even counter the shadows of a daytime shoot.

Let us add, though, that modern Fresnel lenses, made of borosilicate glass, and featuring prismatic internal surfaces, can still create a pleasantly soft lighting effect. Moreover, you can easily transform the harder light coming from a Fresnel lens into a softer light by using a diffuser accessory, such as a softbox, or a bouncer. On the contrary, there is no way to get the beam focus or illumination depth typical of a Fresnel from a panel.

The choice, however, lies with the user of the equipment. As almost always, for the sake of versatility, you are better equipped with the right mix of both.

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