Is A Bi-Color LED Light Always The Best Option?

Is A Bi-Color LED Light Always The Best Option?

When considering LED lights it’s often easy to think, “If it’s available in bi-color, it’s worth the extra money for the flexibility”. But there are often times when a Bi-Color LED is not the best option.

Bi-color LED

Bi-Color LED Lights

Bi-Color LED lights are a pretty common sight, as the rise of LED technology within filmmaking naturally brings more advanced and flexible lighting systems.

A Bi-Color light by definition is one that can offer the user multiple color temperatures. Some are user switchable between 3200K and 5600K, others give mid-way options such as 4300K, and others will transition from one end of the spectrum to the other, offering a whole variety of Kelvin color temperatures. This versatility makes them very popular – after all, why have a fixed temperature light when you can have Bi-Color, right?

Well, it’s not always the best option, and here’s why.

Some LEDs are less color accurate in Bi-Color mode. Testing the extended CRI on them can yield lesser results when compared to the respective straight tungsten or daylight LED fixture. But this is quite a broad statement, so let’s make the assumption that we’re considering good quality LED lights, where high-extended CRI values are a minimum expectation.

Generally speaking, many Bi-Color panels have less output at respective Kelvin values then single-temperature fixtures. And this is when you should consider what fixture is the right one for you.

Are Daylight-Only LED Lights Sometimes Better?

For simplicity, I’ll generalize approximate 5600K (Kelvin) fixtures as Daylight, and approx. 3200K as Tungsten, and work on the assumption that we’re always trying to color-match environments correctly (for example a daylight lamp in a daylight environment).

When shooting in a daylight environment, you are often competing with some sort of daylight. That could be room ambience, a visual-in-frame window or an exterior. If you were to take an ambience reading with a light meter in a daylight space like this, you’d generally get more level reading than if you were in standard tungsten-lit room.

This is usually the kind of situation where you want the most out of your lights. A high-powered, daylight-balanced light means you can compete with ambience levels and you can modify your fixture by cutting or diffusing as you feel necessary.

A daylight-only fixture will nearly always be brighter than its Bi-Color counterpart – you will therefore get more output from a daylight-only fixture than a Bi-Color one.

Let’s look at the Litepanels Astra family as an example. I use these in one form or another on nearly every shoot, so I know them well. The Litepanels Astra is available in Daylight, Tungsten and Bi-Color, and they have also now released a new 6X model which is brighter across all versions.

Below are the lux ratings of each lamp:

Distance of 5 feet/1.5M away

Litepanels Bi-Color at Daylight – 4577 lux
Litepanels Daylight – 5790 lux
Litepanels 6X Bi-Color at Daylight – 6330 lux
Litepanels 6X Daylight – 6612 lux

You can see from the figures above that you will get the most output from your LED light when it is a fixed temperature fixture – although, again, Litepanels has closed the gap with its latest model.

But where does that leave you with mixed temperature or Tungsten lighting, if you go with a daylight-only LED light?

My experience with these types of environments is that you have more control over the ambient levels – mixed temperature or Tungsten light is a strong contributing factor to your light levels because daylight is less apparent.

It’s these situations where you can sometimes afford to have less output from your light. Therefore, adding a corrective gel to the front of a daylight fixture is an acceptable compromise to having a Bi-Color option.

There are of course exceptions to this theory. I can’t speak for the masses, as there is an infinite amount of scenarios with lighting.

But it’s a consideration worth taking on board when considering an LED fixture: Does it really need to be a Bi-Color LED or will the extra output from a Daylight-only fixture be more useful to me?

A small tip I’d give for those considering Daylight-only fixtures and adding gels when appropriate: always consider Rosco or LEE filtration over the correction packs supplied by the light manufacturer. Many light manufacturers will mass-produce colored gels that won’t have the consistency of output and color accuracy of a company that solely specializes in filtration.

Finding a few grades of color corrective Rosco/LEE and cutting them to size can be handy, and adding magnetic strips or some small dual lock will make them as quick and easy-to-use as a native corrective filter.

What’s your preference? Would you prefer the instant flexibility over the temperature of your light in a Bi-Color lamp? Or does the extra output on a daylight fixture make more sense to you?

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