Aputure just announced a 2,600 Watts beast, the Aputure Electro Storm XT26, Nanlite are in the race with an Evoke 2400B, and I can only assume that Godox will join the 2,400 Watts club soon enough. This is where the industry is going. But, while technology is giving us seriously powerful lights, we are ignoring the fatal dangers of human error.
It’s amazing that lights have scaled to a rough equivalent of 25,000-watt tungsten lights and still run on a household cable. I mean, back in the day, such a light would need a small truck and a generator to run. LEDs are really a wonder. But this is also where fatal danger lies.
[Geek alert! If you are wondering about the calculations above, here is some math fun. If you don’t care, just skip this part. The math behind wattage is pretty simple, Wattage=Amps x Volts. And the calculation for Amps is Watts/Volts. More Ampers means more heat. Sadly for our US readers, it means that your 120v grid can supply half the power of a European 240v grid. It’s just the math of it.]
Those lights are beasts! Think about it. It’s like having a small sun in your hand. A good place to start understanding the power is looking at something like the Arri studio T12. This is a 12,000 Watt light. It weighs 25 kilos, and no one will let you touch it if you don’t have the right certification. Oh, it also comes with a special VEAM plug.
The issue with 2,400 Watt LEDs
And it is this plug that I am concerned about. You see, if you are running a 300 Watt light or even a 600 Watt light, your mains can probably handle one light per socket. Heck, probably even two. But when you are running 2,600-watt lights, there is a good chance your wall socket will not even be able to handle one light.
A standard American outlet at 120V supports up to 20 Amps (if it’s a modern house) which is about 2,400W. This is not even enough to run a single Aputure Electro Storm XT26, and marginal at best for an Evoke 2400B. Older outlets only support 15 Amps, which is 1,800 watts, so you would not be able to run any big lights. In Europe, the situation is a little bit better. Most sockets run on 220v-240v, and support up to 13-16 Amps, so you can get about 3,000 Watts.
And the mandatory disclaimer: if you are dealing with those high currents, please don’t base your research on this article. Talk to an electrician.
Most likely, your fuse will pop. You will understand the issue and look for a studio where you have a decent electrical system.
Those issues can be managed by using special plugs or a three-phase power solution. And I hope that both Nalite and Aputure equip those lights with a non-standard socket. But there are bigger risks.
Extenders and roll-up cables
While it may be easy to mitigate the risk with lights that are inherently high wattage, some medium size lights pose bigger risks. Not only because they can pose risks but also because they are more accessible to people who may not be as educated on dealing with high currents.
Take the Godox MG1200Bi or the new Aputure CS15, for example. Both of those lights can run perfectly well off of a standard socket. And at least for the MG1200Bi, we know it comes with a standard plug. And hey! it’s a $3,500 light, so not out of reach for many.
What they don’t tell you, and you absolutely must know, is that dealing with devices in this current category is not like dealing with your standard 300W light. For one, you really want to consider the extension cords and splitters you are using. You won’t find a place that tells you not to run two of those lights on a single splitter, but that is a fire hazard. Also, Not all extension cords are made equal, and using an extension cord that does not support the Ampage can melt and cause a fire as well.
But it gets even worse with retractable extension cords. The rating on those is for when they are fully extended. When they are retracted, they have lower heat dissipation. If you run them in their rolled-up state and push high power through them, they will heat up and melt. The first thing you want to make sure is that the line has a circuit breaker, just in case you overload. The other is that you spread them out, even if you don’t “need” to, just for heat dissipation.
Know your s**t
There is no nice way of saying it, but you have to know what you are doing. Just like with any other gear, the stakes and learning curve are steeper as the tools get more professional. A hand saw requires less safety training than a miter saw. A shovel requires less training than a tractor. And a small light has less safety considerations than a 2,400-watt monster.
Once you cross a certain threshold, it’s not enough to know how to light. You also need to know some electricity, some basic gaffing, and other peripheral information that comes with the trade.
It’s about market education
Brands are coming up with amazing technology. Just look at the Arri above to see where we have gone in terms of giving creatives more and better tools. But where the Arri light was treated with awe, LED lights are very common and accessible. The dangers are not always clear and are not always obvious. On top of that, the gear is becoming more budget-friendly and accessible outside of the inner trade circle.
It is also up to the brands to educate the market not only on the core products but also on how it lives inside of the existing ecosystem.