In the past, television production studios had their own in-house lights and lighting designers. The changing economics of TV production have forced studios to outsource lighting to external consultants. In 1996, a group of lighting designers formed Television Lighting and Design (TVLD) to help serve this market.
ARRI’s Studio Cool fluorescent fixture is available in three models: two-tube, four-tube and eight-tube.
Incandescent vs. fluorescent
TVLD uses a wide array of lighting equipment, including incandescent and fluorescent lights. In the early years of television, studio lighting was exclusively incandescent. These lights are easily concentrated into a beam and emit a smooth, natural spectrum. But they are notoriously inefficient, consuming large amounts of power. Fluorescent lights were introduced for TV-studio use about 15 years ago. They were much more efficient than incandescents, but were difficult to concentrate into a beam and emitted an uneven spectrum with an overabundance of green that gave the subjects they lit an unnatural appearance. Lighting engineers express the “naturalness” of light with a measurement called color-rendering index (CRI). The sun is the most natural light source, and is given a CRI of 100. Incandescent studio lights typically have a CRI of 95 to 100. By contrast, the early fluorescent studio lights had a CRI of about 65 to 70.
Over the past 15 years, fluorescent studio lights have improved dramatically, both in their CRI and their ability to concentrate light into a beam. About eight years ago, OSRAM, a fluorescent-tube manufacturer, introduced a new tube with a CRI of 82. Current tubes offer CRI ratings from 82 to 96. These tubes were also more efficient than the earlier fluorescents, producing twice the light output of their predecessors, and far less power than incandescents. They became popular, and many vendors offered them in their fixtures. Since then, other tube and fixture manufacturers have jumped into the market, and a wide variety of tubes and fixtures is now available.
ARRI has introduced a new fluorescent fixture called the Studio Cool. It is available in two models: 2-tube and 4-tube. The Studio Cool 2+2 with four tubes is oriented with two pairs of tubes side by side, which is ideal for washing large areas or using with Chroma Key backgrounds. Earlier this year, TVLD received a call from ARRI, requesting our assessment of its pre-production 4-tube model. Several days later, a huge box arrived at our office. In a few minutes, we had the 4-tube unit on a stand ready for lamping. The aluminum extrusion housing of the compact unit seemed ruggedly built. A large single latch secured the accessory frame, which swung out of the way, providing easy access to the reflector and lamp sockets. The reflector was held in place by four quick-turn screws, allowing for a quick changeover from the 120-degree “soft” reflector to the higher-output, 90-degree “hard” reflector.
The fixture uses four single-ended, twin-tube, 21-inch compact OSRAM fluorescent lamps with a CRI of 85, and it offers some welcome features. Instead of it being necessary to carefully align the four small pins of the lamp to their matching socket holes, and then secure the long lamp to a clip or mechanical fastener, the slide-in lamp supports and sockets make lamping quick, easy and secure.
Powering up the fixture required the use of a separate power cord. We were surprised to see that ARRI chose the Neutrik PowerCon, a connector we had not seen used in the lighting industry. The idea of having to deal with another specialty cable was initially unappealing. But, after several weeks in the field, the connector's positive locking feature proved its worth — whenever we connected it, it stayed connected.
We turned on the unit and let the new fluorescent tubes warm up for 10 minutes. During that time, we looked over the fixture's five different control screens/egg crates and the large set of barndoors. This basic fixture has a beam spread of 90 degrees. The screens allow you to narrow down the beam, in several steps. We had some frustration deciding which was the correct orientation for some of the screens. Since we addressed this to ARRI the Eggcrates received orientation marks to indicate the correct placement in the fixture.
The optional barndoors provided two distinct advantages. The 10Ω-inch doors provide excellent horizontal beam cutoff and, when closed, they create a hard protective “cover.”
This unit has several light-output options, an easily detachable power module, switched on/off (rocker switch for each pair of lamps), and phase-control dimming (powered from your dimmer outlet) or analog dimming (0 to 10 volt)/DMX 512. Once the lamps had warmed up, we tested the dimming capabilities and compared the light output to the provided specifications. The dimming was smooth down to 5 percent, when the lamps extinguished. Light levels seemed to be slightly better than the rating. One problem: the fixture dimmed to zero would flash every 15 to 20 minutes. ARRI has fixed this problem.
Compact fluorescent fixtures work well in the studio but have had their challenges in the field. Typically, the biggest headache is protecting the lamps from breakage. We often have to ship the bulbs in their own containers. We wanted to see how the improved lamp supports and the big barndoors would work together on the road. Adding only a Velcro wire tie to secure the power cord, we tossed the 15-pound fixture into the backseat or into the trunk. After weeks of bouncing around, the fixture and lamps were ready to go. With a set of daylight and 3200K lamps, we could deal with different color-temperature environments.
Mounting options allow for flexibility in placing the fixtures. You can hang these units horizontally or vertically and link several together to create a continuous row of light.
The Studio Cool presents our industry with an effective compact fluorescent fixture that works very well in the studio and on the road.
Dan McKenrick is president of TVLD.