The Pros & Cons of Shooting with LED Lighting

For many indie filmmakers, choosing lighting equipment is often less about the right features and more about the right price. So, chances are if you've been trying to light a film on a budget, you've worked with LED lights.

This is because they are often much more indie friendly than traditional tungsten lights: they're much more affordable, require less power, and don't heat up as much (which is great for those who are inexperienced working around lighting equipment). However, like everything else in this world -- for every pro, there is a con, and Lewis McGregor from Indie Tips lays out a bunch of them in this very helpful video. Check it out below:

Straight from his blog post, McGregor lists the pros and cons of working with LEDs:


  • LEDs cost a significant amount less.
  • LEDs require less power. The Aputure Lightstorm 1 (LS1) for example requires less than half the amount of power a 300w requires, yet it’s as bright as three 300ws.
  • LEDs are often more portable. Many have the accessibility of being battery operated, either with standard AA batteries for smaller models or with batteries like the v-mount battery for larger LED light panels.
  • A predominant feature for LED lights is that they only heat up to a fraction of the temperature a 300w tungsten light would heat to. To make adjustments on just the barn doors of the live 300w you would need gloves, or to at least wait a small amount of time before making any adjustments. Yet, a small LED light that has been on for 25 minutes straight may bear the same heat you would find from your phone after 15 minutes continuous use, which is next to nothing.


  • However, the downside of LEDs is that sometimes the colour cast can be distasteful from cheaper models.
  • You can actually get a fresnel light with LEDs inside instead of a tungsten bulb, which provides the best of both worlds. However, these lights are going to deplete your budget
  • Another downside to LEDs is that multiple non-diffused LEDs from different brands may cast incoherent colours and unwanted shadows. Cheaper LED’s may also cause a flicker when their batteries are starting to die. Something that would not happen with a tungsten light powered from the mains.
  • Although in comparison with a Fresnel light, LEDs can often seem that their build is cheaper. The barn doors as usually plastic, and from my experience when a Fresnel light has been knocked over, the sturdy metal barn doors have saved the lens being smashed more than once.

As I said before, using LED lighting is probably a great alternative to using traditional tungsten lighting if you're 1.) on a budget, and 2.) are inexperienced working with lights. LEDs are often much cheaper (in price and, naturally, build quality) than tungsten, and won't heat up enough to require you to wear gloves to touch the light or its barn doors. Furthermore, the power they need to work is significantly lower, which means you can most likely plug them into normal household outlets (as opposed to a generator) without the risk of tripping the circuit breaker/blowing a fuse and causing a fire.

I suggest checking out McGregor's full write up. He goes more in-depth about different LED lights, from the inexpensive to the not-so-inexpensive, and explains the pros and cons of those options as well.     

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Your Comment


"You can actually get a fresnel light with LEDs inside instead of a tungsten bulb, which provides the best of both worlds. However, these lights are going to deplete your budget"

How is that even a con?

Buy a LED, say, the Aputure Amaran with good CRI and most of the cons become irrelevant (eg. color cast and flicker). Build quality - sure. But as with everything you get what you pay for. A LED panel should rather be compared with a fluorescent light of similar design. And a LED fresnel with a fresnel. The more compact, the more sturdy.

However there's many situations where I would you use tungsten over LED if I had the opportunity. Not that it has anything to do with any of the listed cons.

January 1, 2016 at 2:17PM

Henrik Holmberg

Just a datapoint for any noobs to lighting with LEDs: the really good LEDs (remote phosphor lights from Cineo and BBS, and things like the Kino celebs, the Nilas, to name a few), cost way, way, way more than traditional tungsten lights.

If you're on a budget, and stuck with (or choose) low-cost LEDs, one thing we have done in the past is try to keep it "all in one family" as far as brands. This way the weird color shifts are consistent (you're not in post trying to remove excess magenta from one brand of light while trying to remove excess green from another). And we always have +green and -green gels on hand, in various strengths.

January 1, 2016 at 3:43PM

Patrick Ortman
I tell stories for money.

I can attest to the half sized model of this light storm light. It does boast a high CRI and has since made me toss my older LED tech based on just color alone. It pumps out a good amount more light than the original 1x1's from the industry standard units. It has a few drawbacks in the design but anyone with a little ingenuity can fix. Aputure designed it a bit funky due to the heat-sink that makes you think differently when you're operating it but it actually makes work easier believe it or not. Zero learning curve too which is helpful on an indie set when inexperienced hands want nothing more than to help, and this time you can say, "yeah thanks, move that light over there," versus a tungsten scenario.

January 1, 2016 at 5:37PM


I'd love one (or several) of those 1x1 LED panels but they are too expensive for my budget of next to nothing. I'd like to see No Film School do an article about combining some of the nice DIY light designs with the new high CRI Cree bulbs ( ). They are claiming over 90 CRI which sounds great for micro-budget filmmaking and the bulbs are cheap. Combine two or three into a DIY fixture and see how it does.

January 1, 2016 at 6:32PM

Anton Doiron

Alternative to tungsten lighting if you " 2.) are inexperienced working with lights. "

...... That is rubbish. How about LEDs are great for news and corporate environment. How about they are a great alternative to Kino Flow lights if you don't have the transportation space and crew size.

The end remarks there at the end of that post are not great. There are waaaaay more reasons to opt for an LED option over a traditional tungsten solution.

January 1, 2016 at 10:50PM

Claire McHardy

CFL's+White balance. Volia! Anyone ever pole an audience as to their opinion on whether or not the CRI's were up to their expectations?
It's about story.
Everyone perceives colors differently.
That's why we can't calibrate our monitors by eye.

January 2, 2016 at 2:23AM

Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker

Also the Aputure 672D is extremely bright, 95+cri, fully dimmable and only $278.
sure, the build quality isn't the greatest but so far it's been my go-to light and also it runs of two Sony L batteries

January 2, 2016 at 5:24AM

Roger Pettersen
Director of Photography

There are no budget LED solutions available that I'm aware of that will even approach the color rendition of tungsten. There's plenty of non-Fresnel tungsten options out there. It doesn't get much cheaper than a work light from the hardware store.

January 2, 2016 at 11:00AM, Edited January 2, 11:05AM


the comparisons of heat are grossly inaccurate. I can most certainly say you don't need gloves to adjust barn doors on a 300 or 650w light.

Your phone isn't even close to the same level of power consumption of a LED light and doesn't even get warm under normal circumstances. LED's can get hotter then many expect though. You can't compare 150W vs .5w for heat output.

barn doors will not generally save a fresnel lens from breaking. that said who drops lights ? or has such poor quality stands they collapse ? or sets stands so they fall over ? should be leveling, bagging, and optionally tying off stands as appropriate.

to break a lens, you really have to have the light fall from a pretty decent height, in 25 years I've seen that happen maybe once.... oh, andI saw an arri 1K kit shipped and dropped by an airline. barn doors had nothing to do with it. dropping the case 10+ ft did. you really need a severe drop to break them because the lenses are pretty rugged and durable. they will easily hold up to the normal knocks in handling.... oh, and if you some how do manage to break one, they are pretty cheap for for the smaller lights 300-2K. only the big lights get a little bit expensive. its a completely ridiculous statement.

January 2, 2016 at 11:28AM, Edited January 2, 11:30AM

You voted '+1'.
Steve Oakley
DP • Audio Mixer • Colorist • VFX Artist