Friday, 7 December 2018

Miniature Painting Lighting Review : Light Polymers Crystallin Task and Study Lights

As miniature painters, we rely heavily on our eyesight... it is, after all, a visual medium. Because of this, lighting is of paramount importance to painting.  Poor quality light can affect your perception of colour temperature, tone, and contrast.  If overly harsh and direct, it will also cast odd shadows and reflective glare.  It can also lead to eye strain and fatigue, and even (literal) headaches.  Bad quality lights can flicker, hum, and create considerable amounts of heat (just the thing you want to avoid when it's so close to your head and your palette). In addition, unreliable lighting can lead to painting downtime from burnt out bulbs, tubes, ballasts, and broken hardware.

Conversely, good quality lighting makes it easier to discern fine detail, gives good, true colour representation, is energy efficient and quiet, and casts an even tone of light that is pleasing and easy on the eyes... all of which will improve the quality of your painting, and make it enjoyable to sit and paint for longer periods of time.

Now I've had quite a bit of experience with different lights over the three decades that I've been painting.  A lot has changed, and much has improved.  Nowadays, painters are spoiled for choice, and it can get really difficult and confusing to decide on what will work best for them.  Some time ago I posted an article on the various lights I've tried, and at the moment, it's the most viewed article on the blog... not too surprising considering how often the topic of lighting comes up on the various miniature painting Facebook groups that I frequent.

I was recently asked to review some new offerings on the market, the Crystallin Task Light and Crystallin Study Light from Light Polymers (out of San Francisco, California).  Now, I thought I knew a bit about lights (well, having majored in English Lit, I probably know about as much or little as any other non-science geek), but after reading through the literature on their website, I realized this might be something entirely different from what I was used to.

Now, I'm going to admit that much of the science on the websites is beyond me.  I can't confirm or dispute their claims that certain blue lights are harmful to your vision, if the construction of these lights is somehow less harmful to the environment, or if certain wavelengths of light are better for focus and alertness.  All I can do is take these lamps out of their respective boxes, give them a try for myself, and report on my experiences and observations.

Speaking of boxes, let's tear into them, and see what comes out, shall we?

The Crystallin Study / Task lights both came in handsome, rugged boxes, with a carrying string handle built into them.

There was some good info presented on the sides of the boxes... the listed features making it quite clear which light was intended for which use, and why.

Tearing into the box, and pulling the guts out, we can see that the lights were well protected against shipping damage.  So much so, that I'm considering keeping the boxes and packaging in case I would like to travel with these lights when attending painting classes or conventions.

There was also a little tag attached to the lamp, with some light spectrum info, and one of those "scan QR" pics so that you can use your smartphone to link to more information.

Also included was a warranty card, indicating that the lamp is covered by a two year warranty.  Always a good sign.

There's also a fairly basic "manual" included.  Not much here to note, but worth the 1-2 minutes to read and review.

Setting up a lamp took less than a minute.  There's no "bulb" to screw in.. just unfold the lamp, set it down where you want it, then plug in the included power cord.

The whole unit is very lightweight... there's some heft in the base, but that's fine, as it will keep the whole thing from tipping over if you accidentally bump it.  In fact, the balance is much nicer than many of the traditional desk lamps I've used in the past... with almost all the weight in the base and so little up top, it's pretty damn stable for such a skinny lamp.

Can contort almost as well as a Cirque du Soleil acrobat

Not that size matters... right?

Both the Crystallin Task Light and Study Lamp have several points of articulation, which makes positioning and pointing the light fairly easy.  And once positioned, nothing seems to loosen over time (which some of my more top-heavy lamps have done in the past).

Simply touch to activate, no pressure needed

I also noticed that it has a few tricks that your old-school lamp does not.  First of all, there is a smooth touch power switch on the base, and controls for selecting varying degrees of light output (a very nice feature).  They respond well, do not protrude from or recess into the base, and should be easy to clean if things get messy.  I'll have to try wearing some nitrile gloves and see if the buttons still work with gloves on though... that would be a consideration for any painter who wears them while airbrushing.

Another really nice value-added feature is the USB charging port in the back.  This is fantastic for anyone who needs to charge their phone or tablet while painting, or if they want to run a USB powered fan or other accessory.  I often play videos or music on my phone while painting, and this will allow me to do so without taking up a valuable outlet on my power bar.

The length of the "bulb" is very nice... like the old long florescent tubes that were used in classrooms, workshops, and business spaces, this lamp throws out light in a large, evenly dispersed area.  This is unlike most traditionally shaped screw-in bulbs or spotlights, which usually have a projected hot spot in the middle, and the light drops off in a radius around it.

Incredibly even light all the way throughout its length

Also, unlike some LED lamps, it doesn't seem like it's made up of a long string of tiny little bulbs.  Those types of LEDs work fairly well at dispersing the light a bit more evenly than a single massive bulb, but not quite as well as an continuous even light unit.  The long single "bulb" of the Crystallin Task Light seems to fill the work area quite well, given the relatively compact size of the lamp.

In addition, the light is very steady, with no noticeable flicker.  I haven't experienced any eyestrain since using the light, and it's very comfortable on the eyes.  There's no harshness, and I'm easily able to discern fine detail on my miniatures while working.

There is also no noise that I can detect either, although I don't usually expect to hear any hum or buzz unless I'm using a florescent lamp or old incandescent.

Speaking of florescents and incandescents, those lights were notorious for putting out a fair bit of heat as a byproduct.  While that's fine in your old "Easy Bake" oven for making little cupcakes, it's not very desirable when perched near your head, or over your painting palette.  The Crystallin light does not seem to put out any heat at all, which also makes it comfortable for use in extended painting situations.

However, I will say two things about this lamp that detract from my otherwise positive impressions.  The first thing is that it's still a fairly compact lamp... this is great for painters who need to move their light around a fair bit (say, if you do not have a permanent setup in the house and have to set up and tear down your painting station all the time, or if you want to bring a lamp while travelling to a convention or to a friend's house).  For those of us who have a dedicated painting space at home or at your studio, you might wish for a slightly larger unit, or run two lamps at the same time.

I guess it depends on what you are used to... I normally use two full-sized desk lamps, each with an 800 lumen LED daylight bulb.  If I was to replace those with a single Crystallin Task light, I would want one that was just a few inches longer so that I would have a comparable sized lighted area.  As it is, I could see myself using two of these lamps to replace the two desk lamps I currently use.  While they put out less lumens than my LED bulbs...about 300 lumens less (lumens are a measure of light... a typical flashlight usually only produces about 80-300 lumens, whereas a standard lightbulb does 600-800 lumens), the fact that they spread that light more evenly over a wider area more than makes up for the lack of raw horsepower.  Because of this efficient design, I find I don't miss the extra lumens whatsoever.

The other thing is that while the website gives the specs for the task light at a colour temperature of 5000k, the box specs are actually 4000k.  My sample unit was definitely 4000k, not 5000k, as there was a tiny bit of a yellowish tinge to the light.  It wasn't overly warm in tone, but I prefer my painting lights to be in the 5000k range, which I feel is closer to white light.

Using one Crystallin Task Light at 500 lumens and 4000k colour temperature

Using a 800 lumen 5000k standard LED bulb from overhead

As I explained in my previous article about painting lights, the closer you can get to white in terms of lighting, the truer the colour reflected back to your eyes, and the more the colours pop.  A yellowish light (typical and traditional incandescent lights were around 2700k) will warm the colours, but rob them of some intensity... and white paint comes across as yellowy, and colder colours (blues, greens, etc) will lose vibrancy.  On the other hand, a bluish light (anything beyond 6500k) will cool all your colours down, and will also throw off your colour perception.

What does this mean?  Basically, if your light is yellowy-orange, or bluish, then you aren't seeing the colours on your model or palette as they really are in real life.  It would be like looking at your painting with yellow or blue tinted sunglasses on.

That being said, 4000k is not bad.  I know the official literature for the Crystallin light says that this light is meant to give true colour representation, but my eyes couldn't help but perceive it to be a touch yellow... sort of "off-white", but certainly not "orangy" like a traditional light bulb.  Maybe it's because it's what I'm used to, but I still would have preferred 5000k though.

Speaking of orange lights, let's have a quick look at the Crystallin Study Light.

The design and dimensions are identical to the Crystallin Task Light, but the unit is white in colour, not black.

One little difference is the fact that the power "button" is backlit, which is great for finding it in the dark.  I could see this really coming in handy if I was to use this lamp on my nightstand when I want to read in bed, or need to quickly turn on the light if I hear something go bump in the night (which is usually one of my cats knocking something over as they cough up a hairball).

But the key difference between the two lamps is the light itself.  The Study Light is very orange on the colour spectrum.

My understanding is that this apparently taxes your eyes less, by removing certain blue and UV spectrum in the light.  Again, I can't speak to the veracity of their claims, but I have been using this lamp for extended periods of time while reading, and noticed no discomfort or eye fatigue.  In fact, after you get over the initial shock of seeing everything illuminated in bright orange-yellow light, your eyes and brain quickly adjust to it, and I found it quite pleasant to read with.

That being said, I can see why this lamp is marketed as a "study lamp", and not as a task light.  The colour shift is too pronounced for painting, or anything else that requires accurate colour representation.  It's an excellent desk lamp for a student desk, when you are cramming for a test the next morning, or for reading and writing under.  And as I said before, I think this is a great reading light for the nightstand next to your bed.

So what is my takeaway from all this?

The design and quality of these lamps are fantastic, nearly faultless.  The "bulb" is much nicer than any incandescent, florescent, and most LED lights I've ever used.  It creates no discernible heat or buzz or flicker, and isn't sparkly like those chains of LED lights that many strip lights use.  I also really appreciate the "value-added" features such as the easy to clean touch switches, the built in USB power outlet, and the backlit on/off switch of the Study Light.

The hardware itself is solid, and rock steady.  The hinges work much better than the ones on the traditional articulated arm desk lamp that I use, and need no re-tightening after repositioning.  And they still offer plenty of adjustments.

The compact size and light weight really make this great for transport, storage, and easy setup and takedown.  Couple this with the fact that all the weight it DOES have is in the base, and I think this will be coming with me to any painting session away from home, and I can also recommend this light to anyone who has to paint at their dining table or other common area of the house.

My only gripe is the colour temperature on the task lamp is not in the 5000k colour range.  4000k is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I still prefer to not perceive any yellow in my light when painting.  I can appreciate that perhaps they may have had to compromise a bit in order to reduce eyestrain, but colour representation of my paints is imperative, and I'd be willing to take a short bathroom or coffee break once in awhile to rest my eyes just so that I could have as clean a light as I could.

The funny thing is, looking over my photographs, it DOES seem that the colour representation does look better under the 4000k Crystallin Task Light than it does under my regular 5000k LED light bulbs.  The 5000k LED lights seem to wash out the detail a bit, and the camera picks up a touch of blue.  But that's just not how my eyes and brain perceive it... when seen in person, 5000k seems "whiter" than 4000k.

In the end, would I recommend the Light Polymers Crystallin Task and Study Lights?

Yes.  While the Gold97 True-Color LED Task Light is not in my personal preference / sweet spot of the colour spectrum, it's still in the range where you could work with paints and not be thrown off or misled by your light.  On the other hand, I would never recommend the Orange Study Light for painters, but it's definitely been great for reading.

Overall, the impressive build quality, thoughtful design, and value-added features makes it a good lamp.  And the price point seems to be attractive as well... this isn't a budget setup by any means, but it's also not in the boutique price range of many lights that some people try to pass off as a minimum standard for a "serious" painter.

If your current setup is not working for you, and are looking for something different, check out these lights.  I've added links to the Amazon pages below to check out:

Gold97 True-Color LED Task Light:

Orange Study Light:

Well, that's it for the Crystallin Lights.  If you would like to see more reviews, please comment below.  What kind of products were you interested in or curious about?  What products have you yourself used, and what did you like or dislike about them?  And if you have a product that you would like reviewed, please let me know.  As an artist and hobbyist, not only do I love trying stuff out, but I also love writing and talking about my experiences at the same time.


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