The whole point of a spotlight is to make the object you are illuminating stand out from its background. In simple terms, this means providing a lot more light on the object than its immediate surroundings, say five to 10 times as much.
Of course, lighting isn’t that simple. You must also consider spill light, colour, contrast, background luminance ratios, the viewer’s adaption level, CRI and the all-important ‘soft’ issues such as aesthetics, customer appeal and brand image. Doing it properly is difficult and it’s why British retail lighting designers are considered among the best in the world. After all, we are a nation of shoppers so maybe that’s where we get our expertise.
In the spotlight
We’ve looked at 14 spotlights this month. As it happens, they’re all LED. The best LED spotlights now match metal halide for quality of light and prices are getting more competitive by the day.
Most of the spotlights we’ve looked at produce a peak intensity greater than 10,000 cd. That means, for instance, they’ll produce at least 2,500 lx from two metres away.
You always need to think about what width beam you need. Obviously, the wider the beam, the more lumens are required to produce a given illumination level. A pencil thin beam needs very little power and very few lumens to achieve high levels of illumination. But in that case, you may need to provide some extra background illumination. Often it’s where you can position the luminaire and the size of object to be illuminated that determines the beam width you need.
An important aspect to consider is the light distribution in the beam. Some beams are quite sharp edged – like those used to follow a performer on stage. Others are deliberately made soft edged so that you do not get such a cut-off against thebackground.
Yet again, others beams have a ‘hot spot’ in the middle with a surrounding halo of much lower intensity. At first I thought that this was the result of poorly designed optics, but more than one supplier told me it was done specifically to prevent a shop looking too dramatic or ‘contrasty’.
You should always do a demo. It is purely a personal preference as to whether you prefer a beam with a central hot spot or one that is totally uniform. Ditto, whether you like a hard or soft edge.
One last point is the colour quality. This is largely to do with the CRI but isn’t the whole story. If you need an extra special quality of light, consider some of the newer LED modules that are tuned to make colours extra vivid, such as Xicato Vibrancy Series or Philips CrispWhite (see our article on page 38 for more about these technologies).
Standard white light LEDs are fine for most applications but not all white light looks the same. Again, you should do a demo.
We’ve given an indication of approximate price: £ = under £200 ($310), ££ = £200-£300 ($310-$460), £££ = more than £300. Of course, actual price depends very much on quantity – you’ll get a better price for a 100-shop rollout than for just one. It is possible to get a decent quality spotlight for less than £100, but I’ll leave that to your negotiating skills.
Commercial Lighting Sovereign SLM
This luminaire is physically bigger than the others we tested – almost 300mm long. The reason is that it has a large finned heatsink sandwiched between the two aluminium halves of the body. One half contains the driver, the other the LED and reflector. Shorter spotlights have the driver alongside the body of the luminaire. The quality of the 16-degree beam is excellent. There is no hot spot and the beam is almost totally uniform from the centre to the soft edge. I’ve known Commercial Lighting for a long time and one of their strengths is customer service and deliveries.
- Price ££
Concord Beacon XL
Historically, Concord was the go-to company for display lighting, be it for retail or museums. I previously gave five stars to the Concord LyteLab adjustable spotlight for its performance and build quality. The Beacon XL is a smaller, fixed-beam unit that is more affordable but still has great performance. I suspect that the performance comes from the large cooling fins, which were also a feature of the LyteLab. Apart from the fins, the exterior is uncluttered with no visible locking screws or clips. Concord is also launching a higher power version of the XL called the XXL, designed to replace 70W metal halide spotlights.
- Price ££
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What would you expect from Erco? Compact, excellent build quality, finely engineered, and a stylish, minimalist appearance. The Optec has all that. Erco also manufactures its own drivers so the electronics precisely match the LEDs used. From a retail design standpoint, what is more important is that the optics give the maximum punch from the lowest wattage. The sample we received had a 16-degree beam that produced 20,000 cd from just 21W. That’s twice the performance of some we tested. This unit is very much in the mid-price range and will be a wake-up call to some of Erco’s competitors.
- Price ££
Flos Architectural Solid Pure
Flos products are known for their simplicity of line and are popular among designers. It has the brand name clearly marked on the outside. Our unit had a 15-degree beam that achieved 10,000 cd with 28W. There is a gentle gradation of intensity from the middle with a very soft edge. There is a bit of a hot spot in the centre of the beam, but this is only apparent when you shine it on a plain white surface. It’s not noticeable on a textured or woven surface. Flos has a huge range of spotlights and accessories so you can achieve just about any effect you want. Check its 600-page catalogue to see the rest.
- Price ££
Hacel Manta 90 Power Spot
This is a nice, simple, budget range of spotlights rated from 12-24W. There are three beam widths from 18 to 54degrees. There is no front glass, but a honeycomb anti-glare baffle is available as an option. The beam is of the hot centre variety but has a clean edge. It would be fine for most general retail applications. The feature that sets this spotlight apart is the range of brightly coloured ‘fluorescent’ trims that fit like a halo around the end of the reflector. There are five colours ranging from Acid Green and Lava Orange to a more subdued Etched Ice.
- Price £
We previously tested iGuzzini’s Front Light, but the iShop is specifically designed for retail applications. There are three versions rated from 12 to 46W (1,500-5,200 lm in 4000K). There are also four beam widths from 9 to 60 degrees and an elliptical one. These reflectors can easily be changed on site so you can alter the light distribution to suit the display application. A feature we particularly liked is the beam. The lit area is almost totally smooth from the centre to the edge and the cut-off is clearly defined but not hard. This product has just been launched, so may not be in your catalogue.
- Price £
Lug Nuovo LED
Lug is a Polish lighting company founded in 1989 with offices across the world. The Nuovo is an extremely compact unit with a chunky appearance and feel. Despite its size, it can produce 3,500-5,000 lm. It has a cast aluminium body and a powder coat finish. The weakest aspect is the simple spun reflector. Like many other beams, there is a hot spot in the middle, but this one also has concentric striations leading to a woolly edge. It might not be noticeable on an uneven surface such as a rack of clothing but would be very apparent on a plain painted wall.
- Price £
Lumenpulse AlphaLED Apto
When Lumenpulse acquired AlphaLED in July last year it bought a company already well established in retail and display lighting. The Apto is AlphaLED’s latest spotlight and is aimed (no pun intended) at the retail market. It is compact, solidly made, well finished and has an excellent heatsink. AlphaLED has always used XicatoLED modules so the quality of light is top notch. The body is die-cast aluminium and the satin paint finish is hard wearing. A nice touch is that the sales literature gives illumination levels from different heights and offsets.
- Price £
Microlights, now owned by Aurora, has been known for decades as a retail lighting specialist. The Movi is its latest high-efficiency spotlight. The 16-degree reflector achieves 10,000 cd with just 20W. This is done by keeping the junction temperature low by using a quiet axial fan. Lower wattage versions with the same output will be released later this year. Microlights says its Hot Spot beam technology is designed for applications where you want to highlight an object but provide some spill light. This is certainly visible when you shine it on a plain surface. Cost is kept down by using polycarbonate for the body and gear housing.
- Price £
Mike Stoane XXX Fatty
Mike Stoane is a company that cares about detail. Even the sticky tape on the outside of the box had neatly trimmed corners. The whole luminaire is manufactured to fine tolerances. The concentric heatsink fins are neatly incorporated into the shape of the spotlight. The 135mm reflector gave a beam with one of the cleanest cut-offs of any of the spotlights tested. It would suit high end retail. The 25-degree beam unit will give just over 10,000 cd and there is a 10-degree beam version producing over four times the intensity. Mike Stoane uses the latest Xicato XTM LED modules.
- Price £££
This spotlights is just a short cylinder and a block. The beam is totally smooth from the centre to the edge. There is a great deal of light in the centre of the beam and it fades imperceptibly. The standard version has the Philips Fortimo module, but the one we tested has the slightly more expensive CrispWhite, designed for retail, that combines warm and cool light so whites are bright and colours retain their richness. I suppose one reason why it performs so well is that the LED chip, driver and reflector were all designed by Philips. A 3,900 lm version will be available later this year.
- Price ££
RC Lighting DR8 MK2
High-intensity narrow beam spotlights are often mounted at a great height, so aiming them can be a real problem. Remote Controlled Lighting has a motorised spotlight that can both pan and tilt, and you adjust its aiming position from the ground. The eight-degree beam will deliver over 2,000 lx on a 700mm diameter patch, all for less than 25W. To achieve this, RCL uses nine individually lensed high-power LEDs. The spotlight is small but the mounting stirrup is larger than most because of the built-in motors. The remote control functionality also means a relatively high price.
- Price £££
The Reggiani catalogue has a huge range of products that target the retail lighting market.The technical and sales literature for the Yori alone extends to 60 pages. One of the main features of the range is the IOS, InterchangeableOptical System.This enables you to change the beam on site. We tried them out on a plain wall and all gave a uniform appearance without any visible striations. We especially liked the fairly long ‘nose’ on the body of the spotlight. This prevents any direct view of the light source and is finished matt black inside to minimise any spill light.
- Price £
XAL BO 70 Focus
This is a really compact variable focus (15-48 degrees) 34W spotlight. The body is just 70mm in diameter and 145mm long. A recessed track is available, so only the spotlight projects below the ceiling. About half way along the body is a knurled soft rubber ring to vary the beam. Regular readers will know that we’re great believers in keeping LEDs cool and this has a large, radial heatsink concealed in the body. If you don’t need the extra functionality of a variable beam, you can get a lot more lumens per watt by using the standard 25W basic version of this spotlight.
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