Northern Light Fair

Yesterday I was at the Northern Light Fair in Stockholm to check out the latest lamps.

CFLs

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by most CFLs displayed. Both Osram, Megaman and italian Leuci had CFLs in good incandescent-like colour, looking decently bright too.

One of Osram’s displays. The lamps left and middle are CFLs, and the 5 to the right are decorative incandescent (which looked brighter in real life).

LEDs

While the LEDs certainly have improved since my last visit to the Light Fair two years ago, there are still huge quality differences between different types of LEDs.

First I checked out the holiday lights; strings, icicles, candelabras etc.

As usual, coloured ones were great, the cool-white horrid, and the warm-white ones of varying quality. Some were pink-white, others ugly yellow, but a few were actually very incandescent-looking, so clearly they are improving. However, only in light colour, not in light output.

In this picture the difference between the somewhat pale LEDs (to the left) and the glowing traditional incandescent strings (to the right) is clearly visible, even though it is clearer in real life.

Strings with many little light points still work as decorative lights, but in the candelabras there wasn’t enough light to radiate outwards, just a dull and gloomy glow inside the little bulbs, clearly not nearly as bright as the incandescent candelabra next to it and not at all giving that warm Christmas feel that you want from an electric candelabra.

In this picture the real incandescent candelabra is the glowing one in the lower left corner. The duller ones that don’t radiate are LED.

Next, I looked at non-decorative LEDs. Again I found great quality variations in the various attempts at producing bright warm-white light. I was not impressed with any of the LED retrofit bulbs from Osram, Megaman and Leuci. Bleak light, colour not quite right, still insisting on the less-than-great idea of putting LEDs in a retrofit bulb etc.

The best LEDs came integrated in luminaires from Norwegian luminaire company Lampkonsulenten. Their high power LEDs were of a completely different quality class and came in white and warm-white light which both looked decently incandescent-like and decently bright and radiating (as far as I was able to tell in this well-lit commercial setting; I’d have to try one at home to see if this impression holds). Compared to these quality LEDs, all others on the fair looked like a joke. But it made me a bit more optimistic regarding the options available for professional lighting designers even if their output is still limited and the quality not quite as high as real incandescent light. But I think they would do well compared with metal halide for example, at least quality-wise.

Halogen

Both Osram and Leuci had excellent halogen energy savers. The Osram representative said it is technically possible to make halogen lamps much more effective even without the integrated low-voltage transformer (which Philips use for their B-class halogen lamps) but it requires more R&D so they want to be sure there is enough market for it before investing and didn’t seem in a hurry to do so before EU bans C-class lamps in 2016.

So do let them know if you’re interested in even more effective halogen lamps now! If you like real incandescent light, this is the replacement to go for.

Luminaires

On the luminaire side, I found a great variety and much creativity. General trend seems to be softer shapes compared to the cold, hard designs that totally dominated the market just a couple of years ago, fewer black lamp shades (finally!) and much playfulness, e.g. integrating decorative LEDs in the design, using new materials in creative combinations, and making crystal chandeliers that truly look like something from this century.

Just a brief example.

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Lamp Guide

Now that the market is being flooded with such a confusing profusion of different lamps to replace the incandescent bulb, it is more difficult than ever to find the right lamp for the right place.

Swedish national TV consumer program Plus last week tried to sort it out with the help of Kalle Hashmi at the Swedish Energy Agency, STEM. [1] My translation of his unusually informed and balanced recommendations:

• In closed luminaires it is not advisable to use CFLs as they get too hot which shortens their life. Where you have very short burning time, such as in a closet or the bathroom, the lamp life will shorten significantly if you turn it on and off a lot. In such a situation you could preferably choose a halogen lamp.

• If temperatures are too low [= outdoors in northern winters] the [CFL] lamp does not perform at its best. The lamp is made to function best in 25 degrees [C]. In such a situation we think the best option is to use an induction lamp. Very expensive but on the other hand it lasts 100 000 hours.

• When you get older, 60+, you need more light to be able to see, and our ability to distinguish colours and contrasts diminishes. Then we need to choose a light that solves all three problems.

• When it comes to contrast, for example, it is usually limited to reading text, black on white. Then you need to choose a CFL with higher effect, e.g. 15W and you can use a correlated colour temperature around 4000K, but only for reading.

• When in a situation where colour rendition is very important, where you need to match colours, then it is very important to use a mains voltage halogen lamp because it has much better colour rendering capacity. It can be a situation like cooking, where all colours seem matte to the eyes. So what an elderly person perceives as ‘brown’ may actually be burnt. With halogen you see better.

• CFLs are not the answer to all our prayers. When it comes to colour rendering they are not as good, and they also contain mercury. LEDs will be the dominating technique, but it’s better to replace low voltage spotlights with LED spotlights than replacing standard bulbs for general lighting.

My comments: Good advice all of it, except for the recommendation to use cool-white CFL for reading.

Some research suggests that contrast decreases rather than increases with higher correlated colour temperature (blueness) and that certain blue wavelengths may harm rather than help in cases of macular degeneration. [2] The small traces of UV which some naked CFL tubes emit may at close range may also worsen cataracts and skin conditions. [3] If you sit closer than 30 cm for more than an hour per day, the the British Health Procection Agency recommend that you use a covered CFL with an extra outer bulb. [4] 

I would instead recommend frosted incandescent or halogen for reading, as clear bulbs tend to give disturbing light patterns on the page and most LEDs are either too dim or too directional. Unfortunately, thanks to the European Commission, that’s no longer an option.

Replacing spotlights with LED is a better idea as LEDs are already directional by nature and perform better as reflector lights than as omnidirectional light trapped in a bulb – if you don’t mind the slightly lower light quality and paler colours which can be seen clearly in this comparison between ‘warm-white’ & ‘daylight’ LED and incandescent downlights:

More tips:

For those who prefer a daylight-simulating light, despite the lower contrast, white LEDs are naturally cool-white already and need no special phosphor mix like CFLs to achieve a daylight look.

But daylight lamps usually look best in the daytime. At night the cold light can look and feel more unnatural when contrasted against the dark as we humans are traditionally used to firelight at night (though cultural and individual preferences may vary).

• Where warm-white incandescent type light with perfect colour rendering is needed, there exists no replacement other than halogen (which is also incandescent). No CFL or LED has that special sunny feel and warm glow which makes colours come alive. 

 In traditional environments with antique furniture and art, CFLs and LEDs tend to look particularly out of place, whereas they may look acceptable with more contemporary designs, even if a bit dull. 

• When it comes to mood lighting of your dinner table, cosy corner or favorite restaurant, CFL and LED have zero romance factor whereas the warm light of halogen or incandescent spots on dimmers will complement candle light and create an attractive, romantic and relaxing atmosphere.

In rooms where you’re mostly sitting down and relaxing (like the living room), use many low-watt (7, 15 or 25 watt if incandescent) lamps placed low around the room, e.g. on walls, tables or in windows, rather than one bright ceiling light. Can be complemented with floor reading lamps and ceiling floodlights to be turned on when needed. Avoid up-lighters and torchieres.

• Around children, I’d use only warm-white LED lamps (which are cool to the touch) or low watt frosted incandescent bulsb in enclosed & shaded luminaires. CFLs contain mercury and can break and should therefore never be used around children or pets. Clear halogen lamps can get too hot, bright and glaring. One exception is IKEAs Snöig series of desk, walland floor luminaires where the halogen lamp is well protected from curious fingers and eyes.

• For night-lights, I recommend LED. Even if you only save 6 watts per lamp, they’re usually on all night, every night, and come in different colours. 

• Coloured lights, e.g. holiday lights, car and traffic signal lights, stage lighting etc. can be replaced by LED. LEDs come already coloured in various colours and are often ideal due to their smallness, low energy use and lack of excess heat. Paying for premium quality incandescent light, only to filter out most of through a colored glass, is truly a waste! 

Detailed home lighting and lightbulb guide:
The Lamp Guide

More lamp comparison photos:
Snarkish Forum
Newest Lightbulb Tech Combines Advantages of Incandescent, Fluorescent, and LED
LED Tints

TreeHugger CFL guide:
Be Careful When You Shop For Compact Fluorescents

EU Commission’s interactive & multilingual Bulb Selector

Lighting design tools:
GE Lighting Style
Philips Lighting Design tool

References:
1. Plus, SVT, 17 sep 2009 http://svtplay.se/t/102796/plus
2. Artificial Lighting and the Blue Light Hazard
3. SCENIHR: Light Sensitivity
4. HPA – Emissions from compact fluorescent lights

Summary – Lamp Type Pros & Cons

Update Aug 2012: The information in post has been updated, converted into a table and moved to Pages: Lamps Overview