What are fresnel lights - best fresnels

What are Fresnel Lights? What are they used for? And are they worth it?

These are all very good questions and I’m going to help show you why Fresnels should definitely be in your lighting arsenal.

When starting out in film or theatre one of the first things you learn is lighting. 

And for good reason…

It can make or break your production.

Lighting has been essential to both mediums for so long that there are different lights to choose from and use in different ways. 

This can make it quite daunting when you first get into the industry to know how and when to use the different sorts of lights.

One of the most widely used and oldest of light types is the fresnel light. Which is what I’m going to enlighten you with today.

When I started to setting up in-house studios for TV news and digital media production fresnels would become one of the most valuable and important lights in my arsenal and I’m going to explain why.

The History of Fresnels

It’s important to take a step back and look at how and why the Fresnel light came to be. The answer is actually quite surprising.

Who Invented the Fresnel Light?

Fresnel lights actually date back prior to film and theatre use and were created by a French engineer, Augustin-Jean Fresnel, in the early 1800s.

He was looking to find a way of reducing the weight of large spherical lenses and found that by carving concentric circles towards the middle of a lens – like the rings of a tree – he could shape the light using just one lens.

Fresnel Lens - what are fresnels used for

What Were Fresnels Used For?

It’s surprising but the reason Fresnel was looking to reduce the weight of spherical lenses was actually for use in lighthouses. 

His invention of a lens with concentric circles meant that smaller lenses could be used to produce the same amount of light and displacement of that light through a moveable reflector, positioned closer or further away depending on the focus of the lamp lens.

His invention was so well received at the time that he was nominated to be the commissioner of lighthouses in France.

The fact that his invention significantly reduced the weight of the light is why they are so widely used in the film and theatre industries now, because they are highly portable and durable.

The Fresnel light has been quoted as “Saving a million ships” – an interesting quote for a light mainly used for completely different purposes now. 

How to Pronounce ‘Fresnel’

Fresnels still take their pronunciation from their inventor and the French language and therefore should be pronounced ‘Fray-nel’ instead of ‘Frez-nel’.

I’ll go over some of the other do’s and don’t of lighting jargon in this article. It should help shine a light (pun always intended) when it comes to handling them on set and working with ‘gaffers’ (lighting technicians) who have been in the game a long time.

Never Touch Fresnels

An important note about tungsten Fresnel ‘lamps’ (the industry term for a light bulb).

The lamps used in tungsten fresnels are not only extremely powerful and expensive but they can also cause some serious damage if not handled correctly.

Tungsten bulbs generate a lot of heat and once one has been on for even a couple of minutes you certainly don’t want to touch that bulb with bare hands. You could get a serious burn if you did.

On the flip side of that, touching a tungsten lamp even when it’s cold could end up doing serious harm to you or someone else.

You see your skin has natural oils on it and if you touch a tungsten lamp with your bare hands then that will leave a small trace of oil on the glass of the bulb. Once that bulb is on and gets hot it could cause the glass to explode.

So, to summarise, DON’T TOUCH tungsten lamps/bulbs.

The Different Types of Fresnel

How fresnels react on set will depend on the physical size and the wattage of lamp (bulb) that is within the light itself. This will result in different ‘intensities’. 

If you’re looking to work on set or in the broader industry then there are some funny looking but important names to remember for the different types of fresnel light.

Mole Richardson is responsible for the nicknames of these different sized Fresnel lights. These nicknames are widely used on sets, a least in the USA.

100-watt Fresnel light is called an “inky.”

200-watt Fresnel is a “midget.”

650-watt Fresnel is a “tweenie.”

1k-watt Fresnel is a “baby.”

2k-watt Fresnel is a “junior.”

5k-watt Fresnel is a “Senior.”

There you have it, some interesting nicknames to use when you are next on a film set or on a stage. 

How to Choose?

With all of these different types of fresnel light available it becomes quite confusing and difficult to identify which you need for your setup.

Don’t worry.

At the bottom of this article I have varying fresnels in budget brackets that I can for different lighting setups.

Whether you’re setting up a studio in your office, starting on YouTube or are looking for better studio lights in your digital production then I have something for you.

Also check out my article on audio solutions for different budgets here too:

What Fresnel Lights Look Like

It’s not hard to spot a fresnel light, or I should say the lens of a fresnel light (when turned off obviously, do not look directly at a studio light when it is on).

Fresnel lights usually have a square-ish box shape to the rear that houses a fan and the power unit. 

Arri Fresnel Light - are they worth it?

Towards the front is the lamp (bulb) or on LED versions a small (but powerful) cluster of LEDs. 

Right at the very front of this is the lens. 

It will look how I described towards the beginning of this article, like the rings of a tree carved into a piece of glass.

This lens of concentric circles will be able to spin/tighten on a thread that moves closer or farther away from the source of light. 

I’ll explain why that’s important in a minute.

On the outside rim of this lens you will most probably find a speed ring that can house attachments for all sorts of accessories but most noticeable and frequently used of all of these are barn doors.

Fresnel Light - what are they used for

The barn doors are four flaps that can be angled to direct the light coming from the lamp.

Why Are Fresnels Good to Use?

As I mentioned at the beginning, fresnels are incredibly versatile, portable and durable.

They can be used for everything from a fill light to a spot light and everything in between.

It’s for this reason that they are so widely used in both the film and theatre industries.

By altering the depth of lens from the bulb you push the light towards a different ring on the lens. Each ring bends the light slightly more than the one beneath it, so the light rays all project as a beam. Moving the lens in the opposite direction will spread the light further and act as more of a fill light.

Traditional fresnels use a reflector which directs most of the light towards the Fresnel lens, which then corals the illumination into a beam.

In fact, Fresnel lenses are so versatile that they are also used in car headlights and other large, outdoor event lights – like the ones they shine into the night sky at movie premiers.

This versatility means that you can much more use out of one light for your money than you would do with other fixed lens lights.

How to Use A Fresnel Light

How and where you use your fresnel lights is completely up to you and will differ from set up to set up.

For a good introduction to lighting set ups why not check out my article on three point lighting here:

3 Point Lighting Setup

You can use fresnels as a complete set or use just one or two of them to complete your setup. Your budget might dictate this more than any other factor. But take a look at the options below to see what you can afford in your budget bracket.

Using the light itself is easy to do, tricky to master.

For newer LED fresnels you will usually have a couple of dials on the back of the unit plus power in and DMX in and out.

The dials will be one for intensity, the brightness of the lamp and then then other will be for DMX control.

DMX is the ability to link your lights to a control panel to be operated from the gallery or control room rather than fiddling with each one individually. 

Check out my article on Lightkey for more computer based solutions to DMX:


The DMX in and out sockets allow you to daisy chain the DMX control via 5-pin DMX cables.

The power in will differ between makes and models but could be as simple as a kettle lead or it may come with its own transformer separate from the light itself.

On the front, the light may or may not come with barn doors already but I would highly recommend getting barn doors if it doesn’t come with the unit itself.

Changing the focus, intensity of the bulb and the angle of the barn doors will all have dramatic effects on your lighting set up and you will need to play around with each of these to achieve the look you are after.

You can also pin foils and gels to the speed ring or the barn doors to further alter the light. Though this is usually for tungsten lights. Blackwrap or CineFoil, essentially heavy, thick black aluminum foil, can be used to shape light. 

Fresnels are used in everything from interviews to product shots, simply because they are so versatile. Using a combination of fresnels can produce pretty much any lighting setup you need.

One thing to be aware of is light these lights produce an enormous amount of heat (even the LED ones) and so they usually have a fan in the rear of the unit to dissipate that heat. 

This can result in some fan noise that be picked up on studio mics if you go for a cheaper brand of fresnel light. The more expensive brands tend to have quieter and more efficient fans.

Tungsten vs LED Fresnel Lights

So, I’ve talked a lot about fresnels and I’ve also mentioned both tungsten and LED light options.

But which should you choose?

Well, that’s kind of personal preference but I will say one thing…

Tungsten lights waste 70% of the energy they use as heat. Therefore tungsten fresnels (and tungsten lights in general) are pretty bad for the environment.

Why Would You Choose Tungsten?

Because tungsten gives that warm ‘cinematic’ glow that we are all so accustomed to from movies. That look is harder to achieve with LED.

Ok, So Why Would You Choose LED?

LEDs are not only smaller in size, due to not having a physical bulb inside them but they also use less energy and produce less heat as a waste byproduct.

Some LEDs also have colour temperature adjustments allowing you to dial in a specific kelvin value that you would like for your set up.

Tip – when looking at LED lights, in general, try to find lights that are rated 97+ in terms of CRI/TLCI. This value means the light produced by the LED is as close to true natural light as possible.

What’s The Downside to LED Fresnel Lights?

Unfortunately, LED lights are still more expensive than the older, energy-intensive tungsten fresnels and there is a burgeoning second hand market for them too.

Pros & Cons – Tungsten Fresnels


  • Most Directors of Photography (DOP) prefer the colour of tungsten
  • They are cheaper
  • They are durable
  • They are perceived to be more versatile than LED


  • They get VERY hot
  • They waste a lot of energy as heat and need a lot of electricity to run
  • They can’t be temperature controlled.
  • They are usually older and less likely to have newer features that LED fresnels do

Pros & Cons – LED Fresnels


  • Stay cooler
  • Use less energy
  • Can be temperature controlled to match tungsten
  • More can be used in a setup due to needing less electricity to run


  • More expensive
  • The colour of the light looks more ‘digital’
  • Cheaper brands can produce fan noise

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The Best Fresnels For Your Budget

Now that we know all about Fresnels, and why they are so versatile and useful it’s worth looking at some of the different brands and Fresnel light types available that could within your budget.

Lower Budget Fresnels – For Those Just Starting Out in Lighting

The below lights are all in the $100-500 bracket. They are all LED and they all require the Fresnel lens to be purchase separately and attached to the light fixture itself.

This is fairly common in the lower budgeted lights as they are used for many different lighting types.

Thankfully most lights use what is called a ‘Bowens Mount’ to attach different fittings to the lighting fixture.

One of the best and budget-friendly is the Aputure 2X Fresnel Attachment. This attachment uses a Bowens mount and will be able to direct your beam of light in angles from 12 to 40°.

It costs around $120-130/£130-140.

Bowens Mounted Fresnel Lens
Aputure Bowens Best Fresnel Mounted Lens

The Fresnel 2X Attachment offers a beam spread that's variable from 12 to 40 degrees. The makes Aputure's LS 120d II capable of outputting up to 14x its standard power thanks to the Fresnel's dual lens design.

Godox SL-100W


Light Source: LED | Colour Temperature: 5600K | Color Accuracy: CRI +93, TLCI +95 | Power: 100-240 VAC | DMX: No | Intensity Adjustment: Yes | Bowens Mount: Yes

  • Cheap starting LED light with Bowens mount for Fresnel attachment
  • Adjustable intensity
  • Good amount of light for small spaces
  • No DMX control
  • No color temperature control
  • Fresnel sold separately


Cheapest Bowens Mount LED Light
Godox SL-100W - Best Fresnel Light

The Godox SL100D Daylight LED Video Light has a solid color temperature of 5600K and the light's high CRI/TLCI rating of 96/97 is an indication of advanced accuracy in color rendering.

The Godox SL-100W LED light is an entry-level, high-power, LED light for those that are looking to get into lighting or are setting up a small studio space and need some budget-conscious lighting.

It’s size and form factor make it a great little light fixture to fit in any studio space or to take on location shoots too.

The 5600K color temperature will be perfect for most lighting setups but do bear in mind that this light isn’t color temperature controllable. It also doesn’t have the option to be DMX controlled either.

Godox SL-200W


Light Source: LED | Colour Temperature: 5600K | Color Accuracy: CRI +93, TLCI +95 | Power: 100-240 VAC | DMX: No | Intensity Adjustment: Yes | Bowens Mount: Yes

  • Brighter than SL-100W version
  • Adjustable intensity
  • Good amount of light for small spaces
  • No DMX control
  • No color temperature control
  • Fresnel sold separately


Best Low Budget LED Light
Godox SL-200W Best Fresnels Light

The Godox SL200W II LED Video Light is a daylight-balanced 200W LED monolite-style light source suitable for broadcasting, cinematography, online streaming, and other video applications.

The Godox SL-200W is the brighter, more powerful, sibling to the SL-100W.

It has pretty much all of the same qualities as the SL-100W apart from that increase in brightness.

This could mean you would need fewer lights to light the same size area but they are also twice the price.

Mid budget – Lighting for Semi-Professionals & Above

The lights in the mid-tier are all between $500-1,000 and are lights that you would see on professional shoots for commercials, music videos and mid-large scale productions.

Aputure 120d MkII

Aputure 120d MkII - Best LED Fresnel Light

Light Source: LED | Colour Temperature: 5500K | Color Accuracy: CRI +96, TLCI +97 | Power: 100-240 VAC | DMX: Yes | Intensity Adjustment: Yes | Bowens Mount: Yes

  • Powerful LED lighting that is affordable
  • DMX controllable
  • High color accuracy
  • Fresnel not included
  • Not color controllable


Mid-Budget Videographer's Top Pick
Aputure 120d MkII - Best Fresnel Light

25% brighter than its predecessor, DMX control, 5500K color temperature, consuming a negligible 180W of power while outputting 135,000 lux with an optional Fresnel. The fixture also features a high CRI/TLCI rating of 96/97.

You may have seen, noticed, or heard of this light from the many mentions of it from YouTubers. The Aputure 120d MkII has become synonymous with digital video production as it hits a sweet spot in lighting specification and price.

Producing a highly accurate color fidelity and powerful brightness of 7,000 LUX at 1m, the Aputure 120d MkII is well worth considering if you are looking for a versatile, powerful and affordable light.

The only downside to this light is that the Fresnel lens attachment is sold separately. (See link above)

Arri 650W Plus Fresnel

Arri 650W Plus - Tungsten Fresnel Light

Light Source: Tungsten | Colour Temperature: 3200K | Power: 100-230 VAC | DMX: No | Intensity Adjustment: Yes | Bowens Mount: No (Fresnel Lens Included)

  • Affordable all-inclusive fresnel light
  • Trusted name and product
  • Portable and durable
  • Tungsten lamps – will need replacing and use a lot of energy
  • Heat wastage
  • Power consumption


Best Mid-Budget Tungsten Light
Arri 650W Plus - Best Fresnel Light

Arri Fresnels are the perfect solution in small studios where grid height is a problem. Despite the small size, short focal length lenses with wider angles give more light output and better light distribution over the full beam area.

The first Arri light and the first all-inclusive fresnel light in the list the Arri 650W Plus is a winner in the mid-tier fresnel band.

The price for the 650W Plus is not too expensive that it is unreasonable for this price band but it is probably the cheapest Arri fresnel you will get in this bracket with decent light output.

You can’t go wrong with the Arri brand name. The only question is can you afford to go Arri LED and use less electricity?

High-End – TV & Film Lighting

These next set of lights are all in the $1,500+ range and are very much the best-in-class when it comes to all-inclusive fresnel lights.

Arri T2 2000W Fresnel

Arri T2 2000W Fresnel - Affordable Tungsten light

Light Source: Tungsten | Colour Temperature: 3200K | Power: 100-230 VAC | DMX: No | Intensity Adjustment: Yes | Bowens Mount: No (Fresnel Lens Included)

  • Powerful lighting
  • Professional and trusted brand
  • Affordable
  • Tungsten lamps – will need replacing and use a lot of energy
  • Heat wastage
  • Power consumption


Most Trusted Industry Fresnel Light
Arri T2 2000W Fresnel Light - which is the best fresnel light

The ARRI T2 2000W Location Fresnel is one in a series that represents an unprecedented evolution of the studio and location fixtures that have been popular workhorses for over two decades.

The Arri T2 2000W is one of the best known fresnel lights out there. They have been in the game for decades.

As such, they are noted for their trusted light, color and power produced.

The 2000W is probably one of the most affordable all-inclusive fresnel lights in this price bracket.

Mole-Richardson JuniorLED

Mole-Richardson JuniorLED Fresnel Light - Which is the best

Light Source: Tungsten | Colour Temperature: 3200K | Power: 90-250 VAC | DMX: Yes | Intensity Adjustment: Yes | Bowens Mount: No (Fresnel Lens Included)

  • Highly regarded name
  • DMX Controllable Tungsten
  • All-in-one Fresnel
  • Pricey
  • Tungsten – energy waste


Best Studio Fresnel Light
Mole-Richardson JuniorLED Fresnel Light - Best Studio Fresnel

This 90-250 VAC tungsten-balanced 400W JuniorLED 10" Tungsten Fresnel from Mole-Richardson features passive cooling, aluminum alloy and steel construction, a 10 to 55 degree spot to flood variation.

The dearest light in the list, the Mole-Richardson 400W JuniorLED Fresnel is probably one of the most renowned names aside from Arri. The price is reflective of the build quality you get and the fact that these lights are built to last.

The JuniorLED is also available in a DMX variant (the price above is for that version) which means you can have DMX controlled tungsten fresnel lighting on your set!

The only downside is the price (and the wasted energy with tungsten).

So, there you have it!

Everything you could possibly want or need to know about Fresnels.

For more on studio equipment why not check out my guide to audio recording equipment:

best way to record a podcast


Got any more tips of your own? Let us know below: