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DIY HMI lights
  • I built some DIY HMI lights and people want to know how I did it. Here's how.

    First, the acronym "HMI" is not really a "type" of lighting, it's actually more of a name of a product. It's just been generalized like saying "googling" instead of "searching" when looking up something on the internet.

    HMI lights are actually arc lamps from the metal halide family. These work by drawing an arc between electrodes, through a glass/ceramic/crystal envelope filled with different types of gasses and metal salts, collectively known as halides. The arc provides the power and the majority of the light, the metals and gasses change the color and spectral makeup of the light.

    These bulbs need something to create the arc and then keep it regulated. These are the ignitor and ballast. The ignitor causes an initial spark to jump across the electrode gap and the ballast is a transformer that regulates the current that flows through the arc, sustaining it without letting it get too powerful or too weak. Each bulb needs a specific ballast. These usually have ANSI codes so that you can match them up. Don't expect to be able to mix and match the bulbs and ballasts. Also, don't expect to be able to get a more powerful ballast and get more light from a specific bulb, these don't work that way. There are some hacks you can do but they usually end up with very shortened bulb life or extremely hot ballasts that could catch fire.

    With that said, Metal Halide lights are more efficient than tungsten. In fact, they are about 4.5x more efficient and give off very little heat. So for a 650W tungsten light, you are looking at 5.4A@120V. For the 150W MH you get the equivalent of 650W of light for 1.25A@120V.

    So I started by making a small HMI type light. I gathered these parts:

    6" Fresnel fixture
    150w Metal halide bulb, G12 base, 3000K temp (needed M102/M142 ballast)
    M142 ballast kit (ignitor, ballast, capacitor)
    G12 bulb base

    I bought a couple 150w bulbs. I got one from Coollights, one from GE, one cheap chinese one, and a Philips CDM. I wired everything up on the bench first and then started it up. These lights take a couple minutes to heat up and stabilize in color since they are not "hot-start". Everything worked and this light was incredibly bright.

    I then modified the Fresnel fixture by removing the old bulb socket and drilling a couple holes in the bottom of the reflector/adjustment slider. I then maked some stand-offs with old aluminum tube so that the bulb would sit at the right height for the reflector.

    I used this setup to test the different bulbs. I found that they all had very different colors even though they were all supposed to be 3000k temp. Most were very blue/green, especially the cheaper generic bulbs. The GE was a little better, but the Philips CDM was by far the best match for tungsten lighting. It still has a slight green hue but I added a 1/8 or 1/4 Minus Green gel and I could no longer tell the difference.

    I found a nice cheap aluminum box to house the wiring, ignitor and cap and then mounted the ballast so that the majority of it was outside the box for cooling purposes. As long as the coating and paper on the ballast isn't damaged, it won't shock you.

    That's all the time I have right now to type this up. I'll get some pics up in the next couple days!

    1600 x 1200 - 765K
    1600 x 1200 - 668K
    1600 x 1200 - 618K
  • 10 Replies sorted by
  • @svart

    Thanks, very interesting.

  • Indeed very interesting! Could you post some pictures or a clip how you modified the fresnels in detail? And maybe a list of components? Well, if you find the time.. Do you have any experience with daylight bulbs as well? I am starting to build up my own lighting set and I want to use 5000/5500 K energy saver bulbs for the soft lights.

  • I'll get into daylight bulbs in another post. If you look above, you can see a list of what I used, although I don't have model numbers or anything like that. The Philips lamp is pretty specific. The ballast kit is generic and there are probably dozens, if not hundreds, of different manufacturers and/or vendors.

  • @svart So where is your kickstarter project for building these things? :-)

  • @ahbleza, I doubt I would go through with making these. I think the Coollights version is pretty decent and cheap although I was able to make this one for about half the price of the Coollights HMI. It's pretty easy to get the parts off of EBAY or other sites and build your own.

  • As I remember I saw project using 200-250W small bulbs and electronic ballast. It had been pretty cheap.

  • These are the prices I paid:
    bulb 25$
    socket 5$
    fixture 25$
    ballast 35$
    box 2$

    So it cost about 100$ to make not counting shipping. I'd say around 150$ total with all parts.

  • @svart great post, thanks. I am wondering:

    Are these flicker free? Do they pulse? How do they compare to the Arri gear ?



  • I have not seen any flicker with 24P. I don't use any of the other settings so I don't know if they flicker with those. These are transformers so I expect they would do a little flickering if you got the framerate/shutter in the right spot. You can find electronic ballasts for "grow lights" in the 150W range which would eliminate any possibility of flicker, but add considerable cost to the project.

  • @svart - Zehr Kewl, dude.