Differences between Tungsten & Fluorescent Lighting

By Michelle Tapire

Both tungsten and fluorescent lighting are widely used in professional photography. Each has unique characteristics that enhance the image output with color temperature ranging between 3200-3500K. However, there are a few differences between the two, the specifics of which are beneficial to know if you are practicing or learning photography.

Light Color

The most obvious difference between tungsten and fluorescent lights is their color; at first glance, photos using these lights turn out with yellow or blue casts. This is because tungsten light shifts the light spectrum towards red, which comes out as yellow or orange, while fluorescents shift light towards blue.

Lifetime and Wattage

Another difference between tungsten and fluorescent is their efficiency in terms of lifetime and wattage. In this regard, fluorescent lighting may be considered more effective as it only consumes an average of 85 watts, compared to tungsten which consumes about 500 watts. In addition, fluorescent lights’ lifespan extends up to 7500 hours while tungsten bulbs only last for an average of 50-60 hours.

Temperature

Tungsten is referred to as "hot lights" because it emits a red, warmer look which varies depending on the voltage. On the other hand, fluorescent lights are known to be cooler and skewed towards the blue end of the spectrum. Although the temperature differences are not that great, during long working hours fluorescent lights prove to be a lot cooler, which is beneficial those working with them. Similarly, using tungsten lights for long photography sessions may make it uncomfortably hot for the people you are photographing.

Operational Cost

When it comes to operational costs, tungsten and fluorescent lights may differ depending on your usage requirement. In terms of energy efficiency, fluorescent lights, being cooler, have many benefits over tungsten, especially in a small-to-medium sized studio. Tungsten emits more heat than light energy -- at a ratio of 95:5 -- in comparison with fluorescent lights, which emit more light than heat energy at a 5:95 ratio.

Power

Tungsten lights are more powerful than fluorescents and may be a better lighting option for larger photo studios. Also, some flash photography effects come out better with tungsten than fluorescent lighting. For shorter photography sessions that require powerful lighting, tungsten is a better choice.

About the Author

Michelle Grace Tapire began her writing career in 2003 when she was hired as a part-time in-house feature writer for a local magazine called "Candy Mag." She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from St. Louis University.