Measurements and observations regarding a handful of relatively inexpensive LED PARs.
The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.
I’m in the process of getting ready for a pretty special show. The album “Clarity” by Sons Of Nothing is turning 10, and a number of us are trying to put together one smasher of a party.
Of course, that means video.
And our master of all things videographic is concerned about having enough light. We can’t have anybody in the band who’s permanently stuck in “shadow.” You only get one chance to shoot a 10th anniversary concert, and we want to get it right.
As such, I’m looking at how to beef up my available lighting instruments. It’s been a long while since I’ve truly gone shopping for that old mainstay of small-venue lighting, the LED wash PAR, but I do take a look around every so often. There’s a lot to see, and most of it isn’t very well documented. Lighting manufacturers love to tell you how many diodes are in a luminaire, and they also like to tell you how much power the thing consumes, but there appears to be something of an allergy to coughing up output numbers.
Lux, that is. Lumens per square meter. The actual effectiveness of a light at…you know…LIGHTING things.
So, I thought to myself, “Self, wouldn’t it be interesting to buy some inexpensive lights and make an attempt at some objective measurement?”
I agreed with myself. I especially agreed because Android 4.4 devices can run a cool little Google App called “Science Journal.” The software translates the output from a phone’s ambient light sensor into units of lux. For free (plus the cost of the phone, of course). Neat!
I got onto Amazon, found myself a lighting brand (GBGS) that had numerous fixtures available for fulfillment by Amazon, and spent a few dollars. The reason for choosing fulfillment from Amazon basically comes down to this: I wanted to avoid dealing with an unknown in terms of shipping time. Small vendors can sometimes take a while to pack and ship an order. Amazon, on the other hand, is fast.
Step 1: Find a hallway that can be made as dark as possible – ideally, dark enough that a light meter registers 0 lux.
Step 2: At one end, put the light meter on a stand. (A mic stand with a friction clip is actually pretty good at holding a smartphone, by the way.)
Step 3: At the other end, situate a lighting stand with the “fixture under test” clamped firmly to that stand.
Step 4: Measure the distance from the lighting stand to the light meter position. (In my case, the distance was 19 feet.)
Step 5: Darken the hallway.
Step 6: Set the fixture under test to maximum output using a DMX controller.
Step 7: Allow the fixture to operate at full power for roughly 10 minutes, in case light output is reduced as the fixture’s heat increases.
Step 8: Ensure the fixture under test is aimed directly at the light meter.
Step 9: Note the value indicated by the meter.
A relatively long distance between the light and the meter is recommended. This is so that any positioning variance introduced by placing and replacing either the lights or the meter has a reduced effect. At close range, a small variance in distance can skew a measurement noticeably. At longer distances, that same variance value has almost no effect. A four-inch length difference at 19 feet is about a 2% error, whereas that same length differential at 3 feet is an 11% error.
It’s important to note that the hallway used for the measurement had white walls. This may have pushed the readings higher, as – similarly to audio – energy that would otherwise be lost to absorption is re-emitted and potentially measurable.
It was somewhat difficult to get a “steady” measurement using the phone as a meter. As such, I have estimated lux readings that are slightly lower than the peak numbers I observed.
These fixtures may or may not be suitable for your application. These tests cannot meaningfully speak to durability, reliability, acceptability in a given setting, and so on.
The calculation for 1 meter lux was as follows:
19′ = 5.7912 m
5.7912 = 2^2.53 (2.53 doublings of distance from 1m)
Assumed inverse square law for intensity; For each doubling of distance, intensity quadruples.
Multiply 19′ lux by 4^2.53 (33.53)
Calculated 1 meter lux values are just that – calculated. LED PAR lights are not a point-source of light, and so do not behave like one. It requires a certain distance from the fixture for all the emitters to combine and appear as though they are a single source of light.
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