by Laurie Dudasik – 4/14/14
Are you in the camp that believes new CFL or LED bulbs are too bright? Would you still rather use an incandescent, regardless of the better energy and cost savings that these newer bulbs can provide? I performed a controlled experiment to see if the new 40 and 60 watt ‘equivalent’ bulbs really are “too bright”, and what could possibly be causing people to say that they are.
Scroll to the bottom for a TLTR summary
Beginning in January 2014, the United States has officially banned the manufacture or import of 60-watt and 40-watt incandescent bulbs. These have been repeatedly cited as the most popular bulb in the US. The ban is a result of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (PDF) signed by President Bush. In reality the law doesn’t “ban” the light bulbs. What it does do is require that the most popular light bulbs should be 25 percent more efficient. By this standard, an incandescent would only need to use 43 watts to produce the same amount of light output as the 60 watt. On retail shelves all across the nation there are many alternatives to achieve the new low-watt standard. Among them are halogen, compact fluorescent, and LEDs.
Many people are hesitant to switch to a CFL or LED. Among the more common reasons we hear are that they are “too bright”. They are known to cause headaches and provide a harsher light quality. I’m going to go on the record right now, and say that if you go by the manufacturers’ recommendations for a 40 or 60 watt equivalent, then yes – they will appear too bright.
To test my theory, I set up an experiment to see if I can find a visual difference between the manufacturer’s equivalents — and if I could capture that visual difference on camera.
I set up a very controlled environment with a handful of household objects of different colors. No other light source was introduced into the frame. I took the photos in a completely dark closet with no open doors or windows, and the only change between each shot was the light bulb itself.
The camera settings did not change from shot to shot, either. I shot in RAW using a Canon Digital Rebel XTI. The aperture was f/4, ISO was 100. I purposely did NOT adjust the white balance, because I was aiming to capture as real-to-life tint as possible. None of these photos were adjusted or color-corrected afterwards using software, with the exception of the necessary JPEG compression needed to change them to .JPG to display in as many web browsers as possible.
Figure 1 shows a chart of some products we happened to have handy that I chose to use to perform the experiment.
CFL comparison – 40 vs 60 watt, 2700K
CFL comparison 40 vs 60 watt, 5100 K and 6500 K
Here are some conclusions I came to after reviewing the photos:
- I’m wondering if those who claim CFLS and LEDs are “too bright”, are actually referring to the color temperature output of the bulb.
- There are VERY subtle differences between 40 and 60 watt incandescent bulbs, and also very little differences between their equivalents.
- I bet that if I were to replace a 60 watt incandescent with a 40 watt-equivalent CFL or LED 2700K bulb, I wouldn’t even notice a difference. This would save even MORE than the manufacturer recommendations of doing a straight replacement with their established “equivalent”
- The 2700K incandescent look more yellow-tinted than the 2700K LED equivalent, which appears to have more white-tint. It’s possible this means they run closer to 3000K.
- If you’re okay with doing your own experimentation, try purchasing a 40-watt equivalent CFL or LED to replace your 60 watt incandescent. 40-watt equiv. LED only takes about 7.5 watts, whereas the 60-watt equiv. takes about 10 watts. A bit more savings, and it’s likely you wouldn’t really notice.
- Pay CLOSE attention to the color temperature ratings. It’s possible that if you think the new bulbs are “too bright”, what you’re actually seeing is a difference in color temperature. If your goal is to create an exact replica of the lighting an incandescent provides, then get a CFL or LED rated at 2700K.