Lighting with Lightstar HMIs

Cluster of white star LED lights.
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You might not have heard of Lightstar HMIs even if you work in video production. They’re a trusted lighting brand in Asia, and here’s why it’s time they get to the US.

A Chinese company that engineers quality lights at a low price. Even though most people haven’t heard of Lightstar, it’s actually popular and is a trusted brand for productions in Asia. Like Arri, they have a full line of HMIs, from 24,000W all the way down to 200W. Ikan brokered a deal with Lightstar in order to offer a few of their most popular HMI lights at an affordable price to customers in the United States.

Build Quality

When it comes to HMIs (Hydrargyrum Medium-arc Iodide), Arri dominates the market in the West. While these new Lightstar lights resemble the Arri HMIs, ikan informed me that Lightstar didn’t simply reverse engineer Arri’s methods. Rather,  they completely re-engineered the way that they work, especially in the ballast. I’m not a scientist so I can’t confirm or deny this, but I’ll take their word for it. Plus, that way I feel better thinking that they aren’t simply knocking off Arri and stealing their intellectual property. The light fixture of the 575 PAR looks very similar, but the ballast certainly is much different. The ballast is similar in size and weight, but it definitely doesn’t look like a direct knock off.

The Lightstar 575 Super Spot light is interesting because it’s unlike any other product on the market. And definitely not one made by Arri. It’s an awesome light because it has the same Wattage as a 575 Par but it’s more compact and the ballast is much smaller. The ballast is so small and lightweight that it’s simply screwed onto the side of the yoke.

Performance

Energy Efficiency

As with all HMIs, it takes a few minutes for them to reach their color temperature and maximum brightness. Due to their internal arc reaction, HMIs can output 4 times the amount of brightness per watt of electricity. Therefore, a 575 Watt Par HMI outputs about the same amount of light as a 2k (2,000 Watts) tungsten light but without using 2kW of electricity. This great for energy efficiency. But it also comes in handy because you can put more lights on the same circuit. For example, in the case of a regular 2k light, you would need a 20-amp circuit to power it. But with a 575 Watt HMI, you can easily power it off a more commonplace 15-amp circuit.

Light Temperature & Lamp Compatibility

The Lightstar 575 Par and 575 Super Spot are both daylight temperature and appear to be very accurate and pleasing to my eye. I don’t have a spectrometer so I haven’t been able to scientifically test them. However, I have tested them side by side with high CRI LEDs and the HMIs look much more like natural daylight. This is due to the fact that the wavelength basically mimics the sun’s. So much so, in fact, that HMIs can actually give you a tan or a sunburn if you expose your skin to the bare lamp. This is why HMI light fixtures have a protective, UV-blocking glass barrier in front of the lamp. HMI bulbs are also capable of exploding into millions of shards of molten hot glass, which is another great reason to make sure the aforementioned glass door is closed.

Speaking of lamps, I should mention that neither of these Lightstar HMIs ships with a lamp. This is typical with HMIs. Compatible lamps are the OSRAM HMI 575W/SEL/XS G22 and the PHILIPS HMI 575W/SEL UVS G22. Each lamp costs about $150 and should last for about 1,000 hours. Keep in mind that as the bulb ages, the color temperature decreases by about a half degree Kelvin per hour of use. Most people recommend to change the bulb at its half-life (about 500 hours) before the color temperature gets drastically warmer, and because the older these bulbs get, the more likely they are to explode.

575 Par v.s. 575 Super Spot

The 575 Par is more upscale than the 575 Super Spot, so it has a swing out door on the light fixture, which makes lamp replacement easy. It also comes with a fancier ballast that has more indicator lights, switchable frequencies, and the ability to power a 1.2k HMI. If you want to replace the lamp on the Super Spot, you have to undo 8 screw (standard Phillips size) which takes few minutes. However, the Super Spot is more compact, appears brighter, and is much less expensive.

Both of these HMIs are dimmable, flicker-free, come with 5 lenses (Spot, Narrow Flood, Flood, Super Flood, Frost), and include barn doors. The ballast for the Par is nice and silent, but the ballast for the less expensive Super Spot is not silent, due to the fan. But don’t worry: the noise created by the fan on the Super Spot shouldn’t be a problem for most productions. However, if you need complete silence on set, then the fan noise could certainly become an issue.

Stand Compatibility

As expected, neither light comes with a stand, but they do use industry standard connections. The Par uses a junior combo pin, and the Super Spot uses a baby receiver. It would be great if cases were included with these lights but at the time of this writing, sadly, they are not. For the time being, it looks like we will need to come up with our own case solution because ikan does not offer any on their website.

Light Testing and Results

We put these HMIs through some rigorous testing on long shoots, and they hold up just as well as Arri HMIs. During a week long photo shoot we did for LAT catalog, these lights were working continuously for 12 or more hours each day.

We shot the Lightstar HMIs through light grid cloth for diffusion, and the photos turned out beautiful. The color rendition and softness of the lights created a very natural and flattering look for the models. Keying with the Par shooting through a 6ft by 6ft silent light grid cloth and backlighting with the Super Spot shooting through a 4ft by 4ft silent light grid cloth made this an easy set up. The Super Spot is a bit brighter and punchier, so it made more sense as a backlight. For fill light, we used a white wall that bounced some of the keylight back onto the subject.

Here’s a shot that is SOOC (straight out of camera) from this catalog shoot with the HMIs doing the work:

Women with HMI light

And here is the behind the scenes so you can see the two Lightstar HMIs:

Lightstar HMIs behind the scenes
Lightstar HMI Parlight 575
Lightstar HMI Spotlight

And below is a shot from the same catalog shoot that was taken before the HMIs arrived. In this shot, we just used the White Star high CRI LEDs. The White Star LEDs are still good lights, but you can see that they just don’t have the punch as  the Lightstar HMIs. Moreover, it took 2 White Star 350 LEDs and 2 White Star 100 LEDs to get similar brightness as one Lightstar 575 HMI Par.

Women with LED light
Cluster of white star LED lights.

That’s the nice thing about HMIs: rather than setting up a bevy of lights and dealing with stands and cables everywhere, you can set up just a few lights and have a nice and tidy production by using big, soft light sources.

Pricing

The Lightstar HMI lights are great because they’re sold as kits. That means you get everything you need to get up and running right away. Compared to Arri, the pricing is much lower. For example, the Lightstar 575W HMI Par is sold for $4,999 and comes with the fixture, the ballast, the ballast cable, 5 lenses, and barn doors. Arri sells a similar kit (with the exception that the Arri kit comes with a case for the lenses) for $8,150 at B&H.

The Lightstar 575W HMI Super Spot kit is a tremendous deal at $1,999. I really like this light because there’s nothing else like it in this price range. I think that it’s just as effective as the Par (if not moreso). It comes with the same types of lenses, the same quality of light, but just in a smaller form factor. Of course, it has it’s drawbacks. Not having a swing away door for quick lamp changes, and having ballast fan that’s not-so-silent are negatives, for sure. What’s more, the ballast is less powerful and not capable of delivering 1.2kW power like the ballast for the Par can. The ballast for the Par can also power the new Lightstar 1200W HMI Fresnel. Sidenote: I’m looking forward to trying out the new 1.2k HMI Fresnel, because for only $4,070 it seems like a real steal.

Conclusion

It’s really nice to have a more affordable HMI option on the market in the US. Ikan’s pricing makes it more sensible to purchase and own HMIs for yourself, as opposed to renting them. Of course, the larger HMIs (4000W and up) will still be a rental for most people/productions. But ikan was smart to bring the 575W and 1200W HMIs to the States. Those are the models that most people want to own due to their versatility on both big and small productions.

For my purposes, I would probably rather have the inexpensive Super Spot and use it like a Par (since it comes with the same 5 lenses) and then use the 1.2k HMI Fresnel as a key. Of course, I can’t determine this definitively until I try out the 1200W HMI Fresnel.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about these new HMI lights. Or, if you’re in the know, please add any further insights into the complex and scientific world of HMI lighting!

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