A common misperception of LED lights used in general lighting situations is that the only color available is a bright white that many people consider too harsh for everyday use. This is particularly true because most of us are much more familiar with the softer hues associated with incandescent lights. Well, fortunately, LED lights now offer much softer colors, and actually provide a wide range of colors that can be fine-tuned to meet nearly any need.
However, there are also many differences that are important that can be easily seen by the naked eye. One example of this is the directional nature of the light that is produced by LED lights. This enables the energy being produced to be emitted focused in a particular direction, rather than in all directions as with most traditional light sources. One side effect of the way traditional light sources emit light is that much of the light often is emitted in a (or many) direction(s) other than that which is desired. This is extremely inefficient because much of the brightness of the light is lost in the process of redirecting the light back toward the desired direction.
Another of the most obvious differences that occurs immediately when you turn on an LED light is the simple fact that the light turns on essentially immediately. In contrast, many traditional lights can take several seconds up to many minutes to turn on, and even longer if they are turned on and off, then back on again.
So, why is this?
(Editor's note: Today's post is a guest post from a tech writer, Hazel Tamano. The original article can be found at the end of the article.)
One of the challenges with any new technology is that it takes time for people to understand it and how it may differ from other technologies that they have previously experienced. Such is often the case with LED lighting.
Most everyone is familiar with the traditional incandescent light bulb and equally familiar with the ways that have historically been used to describe the light emitted from these bulbs. For example, if I say, "this room should have a 100 watt light bulb in it," you likely know immediately what I am referring to and have a general sense that this would be a relatively bright reading light.
However, one of the challenges created because of the dramatically increased efficiency of LED lighting is that using a traditional power measurement such as 100 watts does not offer any precise information about how bright the light drawing this much power would be. For example, our company, Leading Edge Designs, carries a 75 watt LED light fixture that is bright enough to be used as a street light - a far cry from a 100w incandescent light!
Therefore, one of the challenges faced by the lighting industry as a whole is how to consistently measure (and describe) brightness across different technologies, especially when they can be drastically different in the magnitude of intensity. Currently, one of the common ways to describe brightness that can be applied to both traditional and new technologies is to use the term "Lumen." Wikipedia defines a Lumen as "the International System of Units derived unit of luminous flux, a measure of the total 'amount' of visible light emitted by a source." (Luminous Flux is further defined here...)
This certainly seems like a reasonable unit to use, since it measures the total "amount" of visible light, and in many ways it is very useful. However, a challenge is created because Lumens actually measure the total amount of visible light emitted by a source without regard to the direction this light is emitted. Because of this, it does not accurately reflect the amount of light that actually reaches the eye of an observer. Some reasons for this are uniform across technologies, such as the amount of dust and other particles in the air, so these don't impact a meaningful discussion of how "bright" a light is, because they tend to have a relatively consistent impact on different lighting technologies.
However, there are some reasons that the total brightness of a light source doesn't reach an observer's eye that are different because of the technologies involved. The ones I'd like to focus on today are directional light and reflected light intensity.
Traditional (incandescent, high intensity discharge, etc.) lights emit light in all directions. In contrast, LED lighting is directional, meaning that all of the light energy is emitted in the direction the light is pointed (in whatever beam pattern it is designed to produce). For example, most Leading Edge Design lights are designed to emit a 120º beam pattern, so all light is directed within that 120º pattern. Traditional lights emit light in all 360º, meaning that essentially 50% or more of the light emitted is directed away from the intended illumination. Often times, light that is initially emitted in the wrong direction is reflected back generally toward the intended illumination point, however, this light looses brightness along the way, especially since some of the reflected light is reflected back into the original light source or is refracted along the way.
So, what does all of this mean? A rough rule of thumb to use is that, in order to compare an LED light source to a traditional light source, one must reduce the lumen results of the traditional light source by up to 50% or greater to account for brightness lost getting to the observer's eye. I call this "Usable Lumens." Who knows, maybe the industry will pick this term up to help better explain how two lights compare to each other. Either way, it is in part because of this difference in "Usable Lumens," that a traditional light rated at 20,000 Lumens would be observed to be less bright that a 10,000 Lumen LED light under the same conditions.
Another common way to measure light intensity that is often used in regulations such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards is the unit of measure foot-candle. I'll discuss the difference between this and a Lumen in a future post. In the meantime, you can learn more about the latest in LED light fixtures at our website, www.LED-ltd.us. Please post a comment or question on the blog, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.