FB pixel

Why Are LED's Better? (Comparing different types of light bulbs)


LEDs are better than other light sources in most applications. While they are more efficient, there are a lot more things to consider when buying a lightbulb than just how much energy it uses. Let’s work through the major options right now and see how they rate.

1) Incandescent Bulbs

An incandescent bulb is basically just a piece of metal that emits light when it gets so hot. It is contained within a special gas mixture to extend the life of that glowing piece of metal. Most (95%) of the power with an incandescent is emitted as heat, not light. They’re so inefficient that they’ve been declared illegal in several countries. Halogen light bulbs, a type of incandescent bulb, operate at a higher temperature. They have greater light output but they’re extremely delicate because they’re so hot.

Regular incandescents are fairly delicate but not too shabby. You do have to worry about both breaking the glass bulb and also shaking the bulb to the point where the filament breaks apart. They are easy to use and don’t really have anything too toxic in them. Their lifespan is terrible, though, literally orders of magnitude shorter than LEDs. Since they’re the oldest bulbs around, they’re considered the standard in light quality and due to the way they work, the light quality is actually surprisingly good.

One way that light quality is measured is through the Color Rendering Index (CRI), which, hugely simplifying things, just measures how well that light shows the true color of what it’s illuminating. Just like if you use a red light on a green apple, it’ll look black, that would be a good example of bad lighting.

Incandescent Bulbs Rating

EfficiencyAbsolutely terrible
CostReally cheap (though they’re getting more expensive as they’re becoming illegal)
Quality of LightQuite good
LifespanTerrible (even the long-life ones still are terrible)
Ease of useVery easy to use (it’s basically just a resistor)
ToxicityNothing too crazy, so not bad
On/Off DurabilityThey’re not great at turning On and Off but it’s not as bad as CFLs and fluorescents.
The biggest issue is the expanding and shrinking of the filament as it heats and cool, which shortens the life.
Physical DurabilityThese aren’t really hard to break but they’re typically small with thick enough glass that means they’re a little harder to break.

2) Gas Discharge Lights

One type that is not often considered as it is for more niche uses are the gas discharge lights. Low or high-pressure sodium vapor, high-intensity discharge (HID), or arc lights. These are very efficient bulbs with long lives but they give out terrible light and most of them have an extremely slow warm-up time. They’re great for high-bays, gymnasiums, street/parking lot lamps, etc. Places where a lot of light is needed, but light quality is not that important, and you’re going to turn it on and leave it on for a long time. Xenon HID lights are also used with car headlights but other than cost, they’re not as good as LEDs in any category.

Gas Discharge Lights Rating

EfficiencyNot too bad
CostThey can be relatively cheap
Quality of LightLight quality isn’t great (the CRI on these are generally pretty low)
LifespanLifespan isn’t great
Ease of useCan be easy to use or not (depends on the style)
ToxicityThey have some nasty stuff in them
On/Off DurabilityNot great for turning on and off. They take forever and if they don’t stay off long enough before trying to turn them on, it damages the bulb.
Physical DurabilityNot really much harder or easier to break than a typical incandescent

3) Fluorescent Lamp

Next is fluorescent - the most difficult to spell of all the bulbs. Besides this, they are filled with mercury and seem scary easy to break. Given that their shape makes me really want to use it as a lightsaber, that ease to break and toxic filling is almost insulting. On top of this, they require expensive ballasts and the old magnetic ballasts are loud, inefficient, and contribute to flickering. They also do poorly in the cold, as I’m reminded of every winter in my garage. All that being said, they’re still better than incandescents. They are way more efficient, with the newest styles and ballasts putting them as efficient, if not more efficient, than current LEDs. You can also find ones with a rather high CRI, meaning good quality light.

Fluorescent Lamp Rating

EfficiencyThe newer ones are exceptionally efficient, with the proper ballast and bulb
CostModerately expensive, but not insanely so
Quality of LightGo from good to great, with relatively inexpensive bulbs with CRI’s up to 95 out of 100
LifespanLifespan is pretty good, but not super great
Ease of useKind of a pain, you need the ballast, you need a special holder, and then there are two different types of ends, one with a single contact on each side and another with two contacts on each side
ToxicityThey have nasty mercury in them
On/Off DurabilityNot great for turning on and off. You’re familiar with the slow flicker on when turning this on.
Physical DurabilityEasy to break. Really long, thin glass structures? Yeah, these things are scary. Glass and mercury flying all around, no thanks.

4) Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL)

A compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) is basically a fluorescent that has its ballast tucked into the base so that it can be easily swapped with a “standard” edison base. They share a lot in common with the long tubed fluorescents for obvious reasons, with the main benefit being that they’re a lot easier to use and the main increased drawback is that they’re not quite as efficient. They’re also rarely dimmable and, from my experience, even the dimmable ones perform badly.

Compact Fluorescent Lamp Rating

EfficiencyWhile not as great as the long tubes, these are still great and in the same realm as LEDs
CostFairly inexpensive
Quality of LightDecent (you can find ones specifically for video work, even)
LifespanBetter than incandescents but not as good as LEDs
Ease of useEasy to use, but not compatible with dimmers
ToxicityStill got the gross mercury in it
On/Off DurabilityNot great for turning on and off. You’re familiar with the slow flicker on when turning this on.
Physical DurabilityBetter than the other fluorescent, more in line with incandescent

5) LED Light Bulbs

So, finally - LEDs. LEDs are not perfect. They are still more expensive even though they’ve dropped a lot over the years. To use LEDs in the house, they require specific electronics and we’re getting to the point where the overriding cost is actually those driving electronics instead of the LED portion itself. Also, to reduce cost, sometimes those electronics are on the cheaper side, significantly reducing the expected lifetime of the bulb and also show flicker. High quality bulbs and drivers eliminate those issues. They are not a problem with the LED technology so much as the driving technology. They are very efficient, producing around 10 to 20 times as many lumens per watt as incandescent. They have good quality of light, can be easy to use, are extremely durable, last for tens of thousands of hours, and are less toxic than most standard electronics. The best part is that LEDs can replace all those other lighting technologies and usually do a better job of it.

I was at a hockey game recently and after our team scored, the lights that lit up the entire arena all flashed in celebration, something that you couldn’t do with a gas discharge light. Also, the screen hanging from the ceiling was a big color LED that was basically just a really large television. This shows their versatility and is just another reason why LEDs are better.

LED Light Bulbs Rating

EfficiencyVery efficient
CostFairly expensive but still dropping in price
Quality of LightGood quality light if you buy the right ones
LifespanI worry about the electronics, but the LEDs themselves should last for decades with normal use
Ease of useEasy to use and can be used with dimmers if properly setup
ToxicityNot toxic at all
On/Off DurabilityLEDs are great at being turned on and off and frequently this is how they’re dimmed (just turning them on and off so fast that they just seem slightly dimmer)
Physical DurabilitySuper tough, can be vibrated and struck and should survive quite well


The light source comparison table summarizes the performance of each light source and shows why LEDs are better. You may quibble on a couple of the points I bring up though I don’t think there’s any question about this. But If you do want to quibble, that’s what comments are for! Leave them below and if you want more tutorials about technology and electronics, please sign up for our newsletter!

Make Bread with our CircuitBread Toaster!

Get the latest tools and tutorials, fresh from the toaster.

What are you looking for?