Lighting Technologies

Open Flame - Really. Lighting technology began with the open flame as candles and tapers, and then graduated to the gas light. It is a beautiful look. However, note that the history of every great theatre includes in the last paragraph a sentence that reads, "...and on such-and-such a date, the theatre burned to the ground... " Unless you have a very specific need for open flame lighting, avoid it at all costs. There are several effects tricks that you can use in place of open flame, and most of them actually look better (on stage and on film) than real open flame does.

Open flame technology also includes limelight. Calcium oxide exposed to an open flame is an effective and horrifyingly dangerous method of lighting a space. Calcium limelight is frequently cited as an origin of the term "green room" because of the strong prevalence of green color in the limelight. Actors, as the story goes, would remain in the "green room" so as to let their eyes adjust to the color of the lighting on stage. This may or may not be true.

Incandescent - Technically, all lighting is "incandescent". For our purposes, we use the term to indicate those lighting instruments we normally think of as household lighting or something closely related to it. In the USA, these lighting instruments are typically wired for household voltages (110V) and capable of holding lighting elements (bulbs, lamps) with wattages as low as 5W, and as high as 500W. Both ends of that spectrum are unusual. You will most likely be called on to light a scene or set with 60W, 100W, 200W, or 250W in a prop or practical of some sort. Some Stage and Studio lighting instruments are built for using incandescent lamps. They are rare and becoming less useful. The point is that you will do better to use a Stage and Studio instrument that is built around one of the more advanced technologies which will give you better control over the light output.

Tungsten-Halogen - We shortcut this term as "tungsten" so as to save the extra effort of indicating the halogen portion of the technology. Tungsten lighting uses exactly the same physical-chemical process of incandescent, except that instead of the filament being some sort of carbon fiber in a vacuum, the bulbs in these instruments use a tungsten filament encased in a halogen gaseous cloud.

Tungsten bulbs are superior to standard incandescent bulbs in that they last longer and are capable of much higher light output. When an electrical current is passed through a filament, causing it to incandesce, the filament will throw off molecules of itself along with the photons. Over time, the filament degrades and eventually, as you would expect, burn out. Tungsten will do the same thing. In a halogen cloud, though, the vaporized tungsten molecules tend to condense (or coalesce if you prefer) back on the filament rather than falling into the base of the lamp. As the filament cools, it rebuilds itself.

Tungsten is also a more sturdy element for the filament than the kind of carbon-fiber found in traditional incandescent bulbs. Refer to your own text books or the bulb manufacturer's documentation for the specifics regarding light output. In short, these lamps are found in wattages as low as 100W and as high as 20,000W. They are generally considered to have a Black-Body Radiation color temperature around 3200 degrees Kelvin (3200K).

Carbon Arc - This is an older, and brute-force, technology that uses the reaction of electrons moving in the air to create photons. Where the incandescent technologies have a solid, continuous circuit through which electricity passes, the Carbon Arc has two terminal points and a gap across which electricity jumps. Picture the Jacobs Ladder effect in monster movies.

This is also a dangerous technology and should be avoided. You are dumping raw electricity into an enclosed space, with carbon, and letting it light up. It gets hot, it doesn't last as long as you think it would, and the output is inconsistent over time. It does, however, lead to the Mercury Vapor lamp, which then leads to HMI.

Mercury Vapor - Carbon Arc suffers from several drawbacks that make it a difficult choice for controlled lighting. When you put a carbon arc in a cloud of mercury vapor gas, though, something fantastic happens. The arc of electricity in the lamp causes the mercury vapor to fluoresce. They require less electricity than the Carbon Arc, they last longer, and have a more consistent light output. They do, however, take very long to warm up to full strength and are quite ugly. Similar technologies are Sodium Vapor and High Intensity Discharge (HID).

The chemical vapor lamps have their place, mostly industrial. They also are the starting points for fluorescent technology, neon, and more to the point, HMI.

HMI - Hydrargyrum Medium-arc Iodide. Yup. That word you don't recognize is the Latin word for mercury (and the origin for the Elemental Symbol Hg). For the record, HMI is a trademark of Osram that has become generalized into common use. You will notice that only Osram calls its bulbs HMI. The other manufacturers use different codes and acronyms in their product names. Philips uses the term Medium Source Rare-earth, MSR.

HMI is a vapor-arc technology that combines the durability of tungsten with the light output of mercury and iodine vapor. The other advancement it implements is the discontinuous arc. Where the carbon and chemical vapor arc lamps stream a continuous flow of electrons across the space between the terminals, HMI instruments do not. HMI technology stimulates the fluorescent properties of the vapor by inducing an intermittent arc into the gas. In order to make that happen, the HMI technology requires a control unit, it cannot be plugged straight into an AC power outlet. That control unit is the ballast.

An adequate discussion regarding the purpose and operation of the ballast is beyond the scope of this page. Keep in mind that it is a professional requirement that you are familiar with the types of ballasts, what they do, how they do it, and what effect it will have on your filming.

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Ever seen one of the large HMI lamps blown out? Ever wonder why they fail after only a few hours of use when they are supposed to last much longer? There is an answer: Orientation Matters.

The support bar also serves a purpose of creating an electro-magnetic field that prevents the heated gasses inside the inner globe from reaching the glass. As long as the lamp is inserted into the head with the support bar on top, then physics is your friend. If you mount the lamp upside-down in the head, then gravity is your enemy and you will have a very expensive lesson in high-temperature plasma physics.

We require two things for our lamps 6K and above:

1) Always mount the lamp in the head correctly, including the proper orientation of the support bar. And,

2) We require that all lamps be removed from the lamp head for transportation. No Exceptions.

We thank our friends at Wolfram for the safety tips.

The Magnetic Ballast is not much more than a large set of transformers and inducers. They are large, very heavy, provide no conditioning of the AC waveform, and cheap. The modern Electronic Ballast is small, light, conditions the AC power into a square-wave waveform, and expensive.

The chemical composition of HMI lighting produces a color temperature in the daylight range near 5600 degrees Kelvin (5600K). Review the current documentation for specific photometric information. HMI wattages range from 150W to 18,000W.

Fluorescent - Tubes of fluorine gas shot through with an electric current have been around a long time. Not much has changed. Except to say that the compact fluorescent fixture will eventually replace the standard incandescent.

The things to know about fluorescent tubes are size and color temperature. Fluorescent tubes generally come in lengths of two feet or four feet. Other lengths are available, but uncommon. The tube's diameter is measured in one-eighth inch increments and a T prefix. Most common is the T-12 size, which has a diameter of one and one-half inches. Next most common is T-8 which has a one inch diameter. Emerging in the market is the T-5 standard. It is more compact, but needs different bases to hold the tubes. The T-8 and T-12 tubes have the contact pins in the same configuration. The T-5 pins are closer together.

Even though the T-8 and T-12 tubes have the same pin spacing, we strongly recommend that each be used only in fixtures that have been designed for them. The power requirement for the T-8 is different than it is for the T-12, and the appropriate ballasts take that into account.

Color temperatures can vary in fluorescent tubes. Commercial, consumer, fluorescent tubes can be specified as soft or daylight, roughly equating to tungsten 3200K or daylight 5600K. The best course of action is to replace all fluorescent fixtures in the shooting area with tubes from the same batch. This gives you the best chance for having colors that match throughout the area. Keep in mind that the plus- and minus-green color correction gel is a way of life when working with fluorescents.

For more control of the color temperature, specify the use of the Kino Flo bulbs or Movie-Tone bulbs.

A note about Standard Output and High Output: Our friends at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute published in 2006 a maddeningly comprehensive analysis of Initial Light Output (ILO) and Color Rendering Index (CRI). See their work here from the Lighting Research Center. For our purposes, it is important to remember that the commercial fluorescent tubes, and the Movie-Tone tubes are rated at Standard Output (ILO near 2800 lumens). Kino Flo tubes are rated at High Output (ILO 2950 lumens and above). Our Recommended Best Practices do not allow for use of the Kino Flo tubes in commercial fixtures, nor commercial tubes in Kino Flo equipment. The colors will be wrong, and the equipment may be damaged. Really, Kino Flo tubes go in Kino Flo equipment, and nothing else. No good can come from doing otherwise.

Neon - The Sky's The Limit in neon lighting. It doesn't do much for Stage and Studio lighting except as an effect, prop, or practical. Discussion of neon in depth is beyond the scope of this page.

LED - Advances in the Light Emitting Diode have created a whole new line of lighting instruments for consumer use and, more to the point, for Stage and Studio use. Consumer oriented LEDs are readily available from various sources. Stage and Studio instruments allow for a wide range of choices regarding color temperatures and power output while maintaining a small footprint, lower power usage, and cooler operating temperatures.

LASER - While not suitable for area lighting, the laser can be used for several effects that present well on stage and on film. Discussion of laser is beyond the scope of this page.

Lenses and Focus

Fresnel - Refer to French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel for a brief history of the Fresnel Lens and its first application in lighthouses. In the meantime, keep in mind that the fresnel lens allows for large-aperture, short-focal-length lenses that distribute a lot of light effectively without a thick and heavy lens material. The thing to keep in mind about the fresnel lens is that it does not provide a hard-edge beam of light. You can adjust the distance of the lamp to the lens so as to increase or decrease the intensity of the instrument's "hot spot". The edges of the beam will always be a soft focus.

Open - This is, as it sounds, a lighting instrument that has no lens built in to it at all. It is commonly referred to as "open face". The open face instrument allows for the maximum light output with minimum interference. Typically it is used to wash an entire set or frame, or is filtered through a soft-box ("Chimera" for example) or fabric. Some open face instruments come with a set of lenses that allow for beam focusing.

The open face instruments are also called PAR, for Parabolic Aluminized Reflector. This refers to the mechanism in the instrument that reflects the light away from the back of the lamp head towards the open face. It is similar to, but shouldn't be confused with the PAR lamps / bulbs themselves.

Ellipsoidal - Interestingly, the two most common nicknames for Ellipsoidal Reflector Spotlights (ERS) came into use around the same time. Joseph Levy and Edward Kook developed their ERS for their company, Century Lighting. As a brand name, they took the first two letters of each last name and came up with the Lekolite. The Kleigl Brothers developed their ERS under the brand name Kleiglight.

Since then, Century Lighting merged with Strand Lighting for what we now know as Century-Strand. The term Lekolite grew into common usage as the leko, although Century-Strand is starting to use the name Lekolite again. You may occasionally still hear these instruments called kleiglights or kleigs. That is less common (read: old school).

Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) has built their Source4 line around the ERS design. As such, you will hear that as a synonym for ERS also.



AAdynTech - The ECO Series is made exclusively with high-end CREE LEDs, the brightest and most-controllable LEDs in the world today. No LED on the market has more output that draws as little power.


ARRI - ARRI was founded in Munich, Germany as Arnold & Richter Cine Technik in 1917, named after founders August Arnold and Robert Richter. You will still see this full name on occasion on ARRI equipment and documentation. Our selection of ARRI Lighting equipment ranges from the 150W Tungsten Fresnel to the powerful 18 kilowatt (18 KW) ARRIMAX.


Barger Lite - The powerful and compact lighting instruments are designed to fill a soft-bank (Chimera) with an even spread of light in a small footprint. Our selection of Barget Lites include 3-light and 6-light units.


Chimera - Ask the best lighting experts in the business and they'll tell you what makes all the difference. It's lighting solutions from Chimera. For the past 30 years, they've developed and invented innovative products that have changed the way the industry creates perfect light. Their lighting essentials and accessories are lightweight, portable, durable, heat resistant, easy to assemble and use, and so much more. And every Chimera product is built to last. Shot after beautiful shot, scene after memorable scene, year after year.


Cinemills - Our Cinemills 12KW HMI is used to fill the gap between the smaller wattage HMI instruments and the 18KW range. Ask us about how this would work best for you.


ETC - Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) offers a full range of stage and studio lighting, rigging, and control equipment. Our rental inventory includes their Source4 ERS (ellipsoidal) and open face PAR cans.


K-5600 - These small-footprint HMI instruments allow for ease of use, ease of movement, beam focus, and control of the light output. Our inventory includes the versatile 200W HMI Joker up to the 1200W HMI Joker.

Kino Flo

Kino Flo - Kino Flo designs all of its unique fluorescent lighting systems for motion picture, TV and commercial production. These versatile fixtures and proprietary True Match® full spectrum lamps have distinguished Kino Flo as the leading innovator of creative lighting solutions. This line of fluorescent-based lighting instruments allow for an easy setup and manipulation of a lighting source. Our Kino Flo instruments come in 2-foot and 4-foot options for single (1-bank) heads, 2-bank doubles, 4-bank, and the 4-foot, 8-bank Flathead. Bulbs are available in 3200 degree Kelvin (3200K) Tungsten and 5500K Daylight.


Litepanels - This revolutionary lighting brings the advantages of Litepanels unique patented light-emitting diode technology to professional production lighting. Not your ordinary lights, Litepanels has painstakingly designed these extraordinary systems to exceed the highest professional standards. That's why their ultra-efficient, luminous, soft, directional output is being praised by lighting directors, photographers, and cinematographers alike. Cool, silent, dimmable and ballast-free, Litepanels concept offers a multitude of benefits for working in studio, or on-location anywhere in the world. It's no surprise that Litepanels have fast become the industry's most valuable lighting tools. These revolutionary instruments paved the way for LED lighting solutions that are commercially and technically viable. We offer the handy Miniplus and the powerful 1x1.


Mole-Richardson - We maintain an inventory of Mole equipment to provide the kinds of lighting options not available from everything else we carry. Ask us if these lighting instruments would work best for you.