Autor: Dennis Jackstien

Lighting technology (6 / 10): Luminaire Types

We are continuing the popular series on lighting technologies by Dennis Jackstein.

Variety of luminaire systems

There is an almost unmanageable variety of different types of luminaire systems for the film and television sector. Some are used comparatively rarely and are designed only for specific applications. Examples include chasers, spacelights or dinos.

The range of products on offer has once again increased significantly due to LED technology. Especially for variants of softlights, which are equipped with LEDs in almost all conceivable forms. From small, battery-powered light bars to huge, flexible light mats.

In this article, however, we want to focus on the "classics", which are used again and again in a wide variety of applications – nowadays often already equipped with LEDs, of course.

These classic luminaire systems are:

  • Fluter / Openface
  • PAR headlights
  • Step lens headlights
  • Profiler
  • Softlights

Everyone should know these systems. In the following we present you individually explaining the differences.

Note: For many of the classic luminaire systems, there are several names at the same time. On the one hand, of course, there is often a German and an English term, which are also used mixed in this country. But also in German or English sometimes different terms exist in parallel. Depending on which region you are in or in what application area. We will mention the most common names.

Openface / Fluter

The floodlight is a simple headlamp that works without lenses and bundles the generated light only by a reflector.

Classic floodlights work with halogen lamps (often between 500 and 2,000 watts), but there are also floodlights with HMI torches or – in a modified design - also LEDs.

For very simple floodlights, the focus (scatter angle) is set. So-called horizon floodlights (also called cycloramas) use an asymmetric reflector to illuminate from a certain angle backsettlers, green screens and more evenly.

Frequently, floodlights also have an adjustable focus, such as the IANIRO  Redhead at the top of the picture, and can thus concentrate the light more strongly or spread further if necessary. However, very narrow scattering angles are not possible. In most cases, floodlights do not produce clean shadows, but show multiple shadows and less clean light gradients, compared to step lenses, for example.

The floodlight is therefore mainly used when it comes to producing as much light as possible with comparable little effort, but that does not have to be particularly precise. Typical applications are the use in combination with frost frames, reflectors or softboxes or for light effects in the background.

Flooders are also known under the name "Redhead", "Blonde" or "Iani", whereby some of them also name specific performance classes.

A common variant of the floodlight is the "MAXheadlights" from ARRI. Equipped with HMI daylight and a special facet reflector, these bright floodlights have almost pushed the classic PAR headlights off the market.

LED floodlights

On the market there is a variety of LED panels, which radiate the light very concentrated and are therefore more comparable in light and in use with classic floodlights. Lens systems are usually used instead of reflectors. An example is the DOPPIO from CREAMSOURCE:

PAR headlights

Even if HMI PAR headlights are no longer used as frequently on set, they should be mentioned here. A classic PAR also works with a reflector in which the bulb (HMI or halogen) is positioned in the middle.

Unlike the floodlight, however, the reflector is parabolically shaped, so that the headlight generates an approximately parallel light bundling. The light can then be brought into almost every conceivable scattering by means of the lenses in front of it. Very narrow and very wide focusings are possible, but also asymmetric ones, where the light is only scattered in one direction.

For simple halogen PARs (PAR64 or PAR56), the lens is firmly connected to the reflector, resulting in a light, inexpensive and very bright headlamp. Powerful HMI PARs (such as the ARRISUN) use interchangeable lenses and are very versatile. The extra lens set to be transported as well as the effort required to change
lenses are clear disadvantages compared to simple floodlights, such as ARRI MAX.

Step lens headlights

In the case of the step lens headlamp, the light of the light is focused by a stepped collection lens. Hence the name. A wide-ranging focusing varies the distance between the bulb and the lens, which allows very narrow spots, but also wide scattering angles (flood).

The step lens results in a softly sloping, clean light distribution and a clear shadow drawing. Step lens headlights are therefore not quite as efficient as floodlights or PARs, but they produce the light (and the shadows) much more precisely. The light field can be clearly limited via wing gates – much more precisely than is possible, for example, with the wing gates on floodlights. The soft light drop also allows the clean blending of several light cones, if a larger area is to be illuminated evenly.

Step lens headlights are available with halogen torches and HMI daylight and in almost all performance classes. From small 150 watt headlights to 24,000 watts. LED stage lenses are also widely used today and are available in various power levels. In many cases, these replace the older halogen step lenses.

TV studios and theatres in particular use the precision of the step lenses quite often, but many of these headlights are also used on the film set. In English, this type of headlamp is referred to as "Fresnel", whereas in German it is often simply abbreviated as a "stage".

Profile headlights

Profile headlights are suitable for applications that require the highest accuracy. In these, the light is formed very precisely via a double asphere lens system, as in a projector. The generated light circle is uniform and clearly limited. Thin sample discs in the beam path - so-called "gobos" - can also be used to create light effects such as artificial window crosses, blinds or light breaking through foliage. The optics make it possible to depict the light effect more or less sharply drawn.

A small profile headlight, especially used frequently on the film set, is the DEDOLIGHT by Dedo  Weigert Film. Typical is the 100 and 150 watt power class. Especially for targeted effects, but also as a small pointed or guide light, the "Dedo" can be used very well.

Larger profile headlights with 500 or 750 watts are used in the theatre, but also in TV studios and partly in film. The most famous is the "Source 4" from ETC, which is of course also available in an LED version nowadays.


A softlight is basically any large-area luminaire that produces very soft light and soft shadows due to the large illuminated surface. By means of softboxes, reflectors or front frames, each of the aforementioned luminaires can also be turned into a softlight. 

However, there are many luminaire systems on the market that are already a softlight in their very own way. 

Halogen softlights reflect the light softly over an integrated, large, white reflector, but hardly play a role today. For decades, the softlights with fluorescent tubes from KINOFLO could not be imagined without a film set. The "2 banks" and "4 banks" can still be found on many shoots today.

Today the countless LED softlight shave an even greater spread. The most common design is the "1 x 1" (specified in inches, i.e. about 30 x 30cm in size), but there are LED softlights today in almost all conceivable sizes. From small sticks to gigantic designs such as the ARRI SKYPANEL S360.

Even if in fact every luminaire can be turned into a softlight via detours, real softlights are often even simpler, lighter or at least faster in use. Many LED systems also offer battery operation.

Since soft light often creates a more pleasant image impression, especially when there is just a little time to shine, softlights have an enormous spread on the market. However, it is important to have appropriate accessories for limiting the light, as softlights normally also scatter very far. Straightening grilles, honeycombs or even flags to guide the light are needed often.

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