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How Lighting is Changing Even to Your Eye

Measuring Lumens —What Are “Pupil Lumens”?

How people see and are psychologically impacted by lighting has been a subject of much study and discussion for years. Describing light as “lumen output” and measuring it as “foot candles” on a work plane have been the traditional ways of describing and defining how much light is required to perform a variety of tasks. However, that is being re-examined based on results of studies on visual performance and the psychological impacts of lighting. Additionally, the “color rendering index” (CRI) and correlated color temperature (CCT) describe the quality of the light (relating to how true colors appear compared to under a noon north sky on a clear day). As lighting technology evolves into various types and colors, simply measuring the lumens proves not to be fully adequate in predicting how well people can see. An excellent example is the low-sodium lamp which produces many lumens, but only two colors (yellow and gray); the ability to make out details—beyond shapes of objects—is lost under this light source. Different light sources produce light in different spectral ranges and there is a wide variety of spectral output available in fluorescent lamps.

Vision itself is affected by many factors, from light intensity, distribution, color, and contrast, as well as reflections, glare, air quality, motion of subjects and viewers, and more. Our eyes use different parts to see in bright light and low light conditions. The eye contains cones and rods which were thought to work in opposite conditions. Cones provide color vision and fine detail (photopic) in bright light and rods take over in dim light (scotopic). In bright light our pupils contract allowing more detail to be perceived, while depth of field and perceived brightness also increase. In low light our eyes dilate to allow more light in.

Light meters and recommended light levels for tasks have traditionally been calibrated for daytime viewing, and general interior lighting, based on the photopic response. However, studies are indicating that the scotopic vision is more involved in interior lighting than thought, and affects pupil size. At recent international conferences, some presenters encouraged designers to specify the photopic/scotopic (P/S) ratio of lamps when selecting them in order to get better design, efficiency, and better vision for occupants.

Sam Berman—formerly with the Lighting Systems Research Group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and a major supporter of the importance of the P/S ratio in lighting selection— developed a conversion factor that applies the P/S ratio to lumen output of various light sources, and then expresses the effective lumens the eye will perceive for vision based on the size of the pupil and the effect on vision ( Table 1 ). Some lamps, like low-pressure sodium, lose most of their output using this method, while others like high-quality fluorescent lamps gain substantially.

Induction lamps are basically equivalent to high-quality fluorescent lamps with a CRI of 80 and a color temperature of 4100K. Berman’s table suggests that, while the T-8 4100K lamp has rated lumens of 90 per watt, the pupil (effective) lumens are actually 145 per watt. If contrast and distribution are controlled, this suggests that fewer watts are needed to provide good vision than rated lumen output would suggest, meaning energy savings will result.

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