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Are the Days of Tungsten Lighting Over?

Tanner Shinnick

With the introduction of the Arri Skypanels, the Digital Sputnik, and many others, is LED lighting the future of filmmaking?

Cover image via Shutterstock.

I’m a big proponent of LED lighting. I use LEDs on nearly every shoot. However, I also have tungsten fixtures wherever I go. Yes, tungsten lighting does have some drawbacks. They’re hot. They’re power-hungry, and they’re not daylight-balanced. However, tungsten lighting is still (and will remain) a vital tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal.

Are the Days of Tungsten Lighting Over? — ARRI Light
Image via B&H.

There are certain things that a tungsten light can do that modern LEDs just can’t. For these reasons, I still continue to use these invaluable tools on set. I’m going to break down the four reasons why I think we’ll still be seeing tungsten lighting on sets for many years to come.

Light Quality

The quality of light from a tungsten source simply outperforms LEDs. They’re color-balanced perfectly at 100 CRI. I also love how much control a good fresnel light offers with the beam of light. Yes, there are fresnel LED options out on the market. However, they don’t have the same sharp quality to their spot or smoothness to their flood. LED options simply can’t match this feature quite yet. The fact that the fresnel lenses are so great inside tungsten fixtures means this light will be around for years to come.

A tungsten source can also be about as raw as you can get — especially with open-face options. This gives you more control as a cinematographer to shape the lights for the scene.

Are the Days of Tungsten Lighting Over? — Tungsten Light
Image via Resolution Rentals.

Price

Quality LED lighting is expensive. Tungsten lighting is less expensive. It’s as simple as that. You can look at any rental house’s pricing list, and tungsten fixtures will always be cheaper than LEDs. For budget shoots, tungsten packages are great way to go because they will give you the most raw and punchy output that you could want. LED prices have become more affordable over the years, and they may even catch up at some point — but not yet.

I’ve even seen many rental houses offer discounts on their tungsten packages. Also, when looking to purchase your own set of lights, tungsten sources are usually still cheaper than LED sources. I always find it wise to have a good mix of LED and tungsten sources as each type of lighting is its own paintbrush. Different scenes require different approaches.

Are the Days of Tungsten Lighting Over? — Production Light
Image via B&H.

Build Quality

Tungsten light sources are built like tanks. I’ve used Mole Richardson heads that are older than I am. These lights were built to last through years of hard work on sets, and those same lights are still ready to work today.

While tungsten lights may be power hungry, hot, and raw, they are still fantastic tools that help filmmakers tell our stories. I still plan on using tungsten lighting in the years to come.


Do you only used LEDs now or are you using a mixture of light sources? Let us know in the comments.


For more information on LEDs and tungsten lighting, check out these articles.

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