RGB LED lights are nothing new. If you’ve ever been to a concert, you know that in the world of stage lighting, full color lighting has been around for years. Not just that, but lights that move around and spin too. However, in the world of broadcast and video lighting, RGB LED lights have only been widely adopted fairly recently. In the past, the choices that dominated the LED video lighting world have been “single color” and “bi-color” with both of those options having to do with color temperature.
Single-color lights are generally either 3200K or 5600K CCT, and bi-color lights are adjustable so that color temperature can be set anywhere between 3200K and 5600K. I’ve talked about the differences between single color and bicolor light fixtures in a previous article that you can read here, but now that RGB has entered the mix, we’re often asked by customers if this is a “better option”. Below I’ll talk about a few things to know about RGB LED lighting before making your lighting purchase, and how it fits in with single color and bicolor options.
What is RGB?
The first thing that we need to do is clear up confusion about what “RGB” means. RGB is simply an abbreviation for “Red, Green, and Blue”. This means that the RGB LED light fixture has red, green, and blue diodes arranged on the board and that the brightness of each color can be adjusted to mix together any color in the rainbow.
Now, you might be thinking back to your days in high school art class and say, “Wait a second…I remember the primary colors being red, blue, and yellow!” And you would be right! Sort of. We won’t get into too much detail on this here, but when mixing color there is “additive color mixing“ and “subtractive color mixing“.
Additive color mixing has to do with mixing light and uses the primary colors red, green and blue. Subtractive color mixing has to do with mixing ink, dye, and paint and uses the primary colors red, blue, and yellow…or more accurately: magenta, cyan, yellow, and black. This is why you’ve probably seen the abbreviation “CMYK” when dealing with your printers ink cartridges. (K stands for black to avoid confusion with blue.)
So why is this important? Well, it’s because of the “additive” and “subtractive” part. For a long time, RGB LED lights were able to achieve “white” simply by “adding” all of the red, green, and blue LEDs together at the same brightness level. These three additive primary colors mix together and create white at 5600K (aka “daylight”) color temperature.
While this method works…it’s not great. Getting white light by mixing three different colors and many different LEDs means that your white might be inconsistent from fixture to fixture. Not only that, but you can only get one temperature of white. Actually, this is the primary reason why RGB lights weren’t big in the broadcast and filmmaking world for a long time.
RGB vs RGBWW
In filmmaking, the color “white” matters…a lot. LEDs are measured in CRI and TLCI just to see how accurately colors are being reproduced on camera by “white” light. And to do that you have to have the best LEDs reproducing only the best pure white output. None of this color mixing to achieve white nonsense.
This is where RGBWW comes in.
A single LED can only be one color. There is no such thing as a “color changing LED”. To achieve different colors in a spectrum, static colors of LED need to mix to achieve color. So, if you want to have RGB but you also want better white the only option is to add white LEDs! The reason that we have two W’s in RGBWW is because of bicolor white. One “W” stands for high temperature white (approx 5600K – 10000K) and the other “W” stands for low temperature white (approx 2000K – 3200K). By adding white LEDs to the LED board, you can now have RGB color mixing AND bicolor adjustable color temperature white. It’s the best of both worlds!
*IMPORTANT* – One very important thing to be aware of here is this: In broadcast and filmmaking lighting, manufacturers have largely dropped the “WW” and use RGB for RGBWW. All of Dracast RGB fixtures are RGBWW for example. Be absolutely sure to check and make sure when comparing RGB lighting that WW is included.
Are there drawbacks to using RGB LED lights vs traditional single color or bicolor?
You would think that by introducing RGBWW that all other LED fixtures would immediately become outdated. Why not take more features and more colors if there are no drawbacks? The answer is about physical space limitations. An LED board only has so much room to cram LEDs onto. In many cases, if you want to add more RGB LEDs to the board it means that some of the WW have to come off to accommodate them.
People that have had to choose between single color (W) and bicolor (WW) know all about this. Single color lights provide more light output since all of the LEDs are the same color and can all fire together, while bicolor lights offer greater versatility since they provide adjustable color temperature, but have to mix output of two sets of “W” LEDs.
When talking about RGBWW, it is (mostly) the same dilemma. However, the newest generations of RGBWW LED lights have started to get around that problem with better and more creative engineering. Here is a link to the data sheet for both the Dracast X Series 500 Bicolor (WW) and the Dracast X Series 500 RGBWW lights. You can see that the light output of WW is almost identical between the two fixtures. This is due to a well designed LED board that allows for the most WW LEDs to be packed into the board while still allowing room for RGB LEDs.
So Do I Need RGBWW?
Ok let’s break it down: RGBWW generally will have equal WW output to bicolor but adds RGB so it wins for included features. Dracast X Series RGBWW lights also have app control with special color effects so there’s that added bonus too. Because of this, RGBWW will generally cost a bit more than bicolor (WW) and single color (W). The question of tradeoffs will still be mainly between multi-color (RGBWW and WW) and single color (W). Single color will still win for white light output, and if that’s what most important for your application, then single color will be your best option.
Really it’s a questions of what features you need for the kind of filming you’re doing. RGBWW will be loaded with features that will give you all kinds of flexibility with colors and effects. This means that your RGBWW lighting equipment is much more versatile and suited for almost any application! But…if you’re not going to use all of those bells and whistles, you may be better served sticking with bicolor or single color. After all, most of us aren’t lighting rock concerts!
One thing is for sure though: RGBWW is definitely here to stay. Keep an eye out for more RGBWW fixtures being added to the Dracast product lineup soon. From on-camera lights to tube lighting and more. If you have questions about which lighting option is right for you, feel free to chat with our customer support team here on our website, or call our office at 856-324-2892. We’re always happy to help.