When starting out with photography or video production, it pays to be resourceful- especially when assembling your first lighting kit. Balancing interests in still photography, filmmaking and later videography I first turned to the secondhand market to purchase my constant, continuous tungsten studio lighting. A combination of eBay, camera fairs and garage sales delivered and I became the proud owner of several tungsten photo flood lights with brightnesses ranging from 450 watts to 1000 (otherwise known as 1k). The thing to understand about these lights is that they are mechanically every simple devices. Its worth considering buying one even if it’s declared ‘not working’. More than likely its only fault is a burned out bulb, or missing or burned out fuse.
Be mindful of old photofloods without cooling fans
Tungsten lights feature a burning filament inside a glass tube, similar to a traditional incandescent ‘Edison’ light bulb. As they step up in their intensity and power consumption (wattage), so increases the amount of heat they generate. Older lights (1980’s and earlier) often stimpulate ‘duty cycles’ offering recommendations of how long you should operate the light, before switching it off to allow it to cool. Some of these lights had very crude cooling mechanisms, without fans or obvious heat syncs, and were designed during the heyday of Super8 filmmaking- a time when a single roll of film could only record two and a half minutes of footage at 24 frames per second. I found these lights to be generally more trouble than they are worth, though using them in combination with a modern dimmer is a good way to give these old fellas a new lease on life.
Cooling fans are best seen and not heard
Ignoring the duty cycle on such lights can lead to plastic in the light’s housing melting and distorting, and can create potential hazards for the operator, who can risk burns or electric shock as the heat takes over. Fortunately, German manufacturers Unomat and Bausch (and others) produced economical tungsten lights up to 1000W complete with quiet-running fans (thus eliminating the annoying duty cycles of the older, cheaper lights). These are the best ‘bang for buck’ option when buying your first tungsten lights. When considering a purchase, ask the seller if the light’s cooling fan squeaks- replacing the fan bearings is not an easy task, and if you’re planning on using this on a film or video shoot, a squeaky fan can ruin your sound recording.
Finding replacement parts for your photo-flood
When it comes to the maintenance of your photographic or video light, there are two spare parts you will need to keep handy: bulbs and fuses. You will be pleased to know that at the time of writing this post, bulbs are still available for both styles of 1K lights pictured here. If your light dies, and a fresh replacement bulb doesn’t illuminate your situation, you’ll likely need to replace the fuse.
If your light still has its information sticker attached, chances are it will tell you the Ampage of the fuse you require. In my case, both pictured lights required 6.3A fuses, and the existing burned-out fuses had this etched onto their metal caps. Another helpful detail which may be present on the sticker is the fuse’s DIN number. DIN stands for ‘Deutsches Institut für Normung (German Institute for Standardization)’ and if searched on Google your number should set you on your way to finding the right fuse for your light. The DIN for the fuse fitting my fan-cooled Unomat LX6000 and my Bausch VLG1000 is DIN 41660. The required DIN number for your fuse will vary depending on the style, age and wattage of the light you own.
Good news, fuses are plentiful and cheap
The fantastic news is that these fuses are still readily available and are very affordable. I bought three today from my local electrical repair store in Adelaide, South Australia: Statewide Appliance Spares. Three of them cost me a little over AUD$11, and the store had them in stock, ready to go. Bulbs for 1K tungsten lights in Australia cost between $20-30, and Osram bulbs tend to be quite readily available. I buy mine from Adelaide’s specialty lighting store, P.J White & Co. It is a good idea to purchase your bulbs locally whenever possible, as they are fragile items and need to be handled with care.
An environmental footnote
On an environmental note, it’s true… Tungsten lighting does burn a lot of power. The good news is that tungsten lighting is rapidly being replaced by LED lighting which generates very little heat, and is far more energy efficient in producing its brightness. There is no doubt in my mind that LED and similar technologies will replace the need for tungsten light in the near future, but for the time being, saving one of these well-crafted lights from landfill and putting it to work with a new bulb or fuse still serves an immediate environmental benefit- and is a good economical option for low budget creativity. While the three R’s of waste management typically include Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, I’m a firm believer in the 4th ‘R’… repair.