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Affordable Quality Light! The 3-way CFL Light Bulb Comparison Test

By Pye Jirsa on September 24th 2013

CFL-Bulbs-Comparison

We recently reviewed the Impact Octacool 9 Flourescent 2 Light Kit, which is currently on sale at B&H Photo. Although we really like that lighting kit, we wanted to see if we can get better CFL light bulbs for it. So in this review, we will talk about 2 relatively affordable full-spectrum CFL bulbs and see if they can improve the overall light quality over the stock CFL light bulbs.

Watch the 3-Way CFL Light Bulb Comparison Video

Pros and Cons of CFL Light Bulb

Each of the Octacool-9 octabanks uses 9 little bulbs called Compact Flourescent Lights, or CFLs. They are great because you can light your entire set using only about 25% of the power compared to traditional tungsten lighting, and of course less power consumption produces far less heat which is a very common problem on production sets. Hot production sets means that your talent is going to look awful as they will be non-stop sweating bullets. Trying to cool a production set is no easy feat either since you can’t have any fans or in-room AC as it will interfere with recording clean audio.

So, that is why we turned to CFL lighting. Save on power, reduce heat, and we also get bulbs that will last much longer.

Impact-Octacool-5

The downside to CFL lighting is that flourescent lighting tends to cast a nasty green hue because it doesn’t generate a full-light spectrum. In camera, this translates to making your on-screen talent all look like they have a case of the not-so-healthy greenish skin. Of course, some CFLs are better than others and this is usually indicated by their Color Rendition Index or CRI. Bulbs with a higher CRI usually render a more accurate and even color spectrum.

Tungsten-vs-CFL

One of the downsides with CRI ratings is that not every manufacturer tells you of the CRI rating. Additionally, some manufacturers seem to have strange testing methodology which leads to them showing a higher CRI rating on paper than what you get in person.

The CFL Light Bulb Test

We wanted to perform a visual test that allow us to compare differences that we can actually see, not differences that we can only see on paper. We have our Canon 6D test camera set to 5500k color temperature with no white balance shift, and with the Neutral Picture style. We are going to simply switch out each set of bulbs while using our same subject and background for each video and RAW image.

Although full-spectrum high-CRI bulbs can be expensive, there are several affordable options. So for this test, we will be looking at two such options the Cowboystudio Full Spectrum light lulb and the EcoSmart 27-Watt Full-Spectrum Craft CFL light bulb.

Impact 27W CFL Bulbs (Stock Bulbs)

Impact-Fluorescent

We will start with the stock 27W Impact Bulbs that came with the Impact Lighting Kit. One thing to note right away is that the bulbs don’t have an advertised CRI rating. We suspect because in order to keep the cost of the whole kit down, Impact went for the cheaper, lower quality bulbs, and we are not surprised that there is a strong green cast over everything in the video sample we recorded with this light.

Impact Kit Lighting

Cowboy Studio 85W Full-Spectrum Light Bulbs

Cowboy Studio 85w

We also purchased the Cowboystudio Full Spectrum light bulb that claims to be “full spectrum” with a CRI rating over 90. Cowboy studio is known for cheap photography accessories that are not always the best in quality, so it will be interesting to see how these compare to the stock bulbs. Each bulb costs $20 a piece, so the cost to replace all 18 bulbs (9 per octabank) is $360.

There are a couple things worth noting here. The Cowboy 85W CFL bulbs are actually a lot larger than the regular bulbs. As a result, you can only fit 5 of these into the Impact Octacool head due to physical space limitations. But, even with 5 lights, we should have 425 combined watts, which is still much more than the combined 243 watts that our other lights put out. Instead, what we found was that the 85w heads really only put out around 45-50W each, which meant that 5 85w bulbs created less light output than the original 9 27watt bulbs setup. It is a shame that Cowboy Studio claims their bulbs to be 85 watts.

Cowboy-Studio-85w-2

Now, in regards to color, we noticed that we had slightly less green in the cowboy studio CFLs than compared to the stock 27W Impact Lights as you can see here in this video, but it wasn’t by much, and we still would have to do a significant amount of in camera white balance shifting to compensate. But, at least it is better than our stock lights even though it doesn’t look like it is reaching a 90 CRI.

Cowboy Studio Lighting

EcoSmart 27W Full-Spectrum Craft CFL Light Bulbs

EcoSmart-Full-Spectrum-CFL

And finally we have these Ecosmart Full-Spectrum Craft CFL Light Bulbs that we picked up from Home Depot for $9 a piece. We actually learned that these could be a good potential solution from Will Crockett on Discover Mirrorless.com.

Because these bulbs are not made for photography, they don’t have a CRI rating. Nevertheless, the EcoSmart CFLs have a beautiful, near perfect color rendition as you can see from our video. We have far more neutral colors, little to no visible green shift, and overall a much higher quality color rendition.

EcoSmart Lighting

Side-by-Side Results

So to recap, here are the results of the 3 light bulbs so you can see the difference next to each other.

CFL-Bulbs-Comparison-3way

Conclusion

So there you have it. The EcoSmart 27-Watt Full-Spectrum Craft CFL light bulbs are not only extremely inexpensive at only $9 per bulb, they also provide the best color rendition. A full set of 18 of these bulbs to fill in your reviewed the Impact Octacool 9 Flourescent 2 Light Kit or similar lighting kit will set you back only $160 bucks. Be sure to check out our review of the Impact Octacool-9 Fluorescent 2 Light Kit, as well.

If you are looking to upgrade your CFL lighting, we highly recommend stopping by your local Home Depot and pick these bulbs up.

About

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Vicky Mittal

    Does anyone know where to get these bulbs in Canada? or something similar?

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  2. Joao Coelho

    Awesome review. Thanks for putting it out!

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  3. Camille

    Thanks for this review. I’ve been using the Octacool-9 light kit for a few weeks now. I haven’t had to replace the bulbs yet, but I was already looking at the EcoSmart bulbs for when the time comes. Now I need to find a way to store all those bulbs when (if) I take apart the softboxes.

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