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Floodlight vs Spotlight - What Type Of LED Lighting Is Best?

Any 4wd enthusiast knows the value of extra lighting; whether you’re crossing rough ground, chilling out in camp or overhauling your gear it’s always nice to be able to see what you’re doing. What kind of light, though? There are plenty factors that can influence your choice but one of the main ones is the type of beam the lamps project. Yes, you need to decide if you’re looking for floods or spots.

The difference between floodlights and spotlights basically comes down to the width of their beam. That’s usually measured as an angle. Both types use reflectors to focus the beam, unlike a simple lamp that radiates light in all directions. The difference is in how tightly the beam is focused. Floodlights can have a beam up to around 120° wide; spotlights are a lot tighter. They’re not as focused as a searchlight, which often puts out a more or less parallel beam, but less than 30° is common.

The reason for focusing the beam is simple; without a reflector light heads out in all directions from the lamp. Its intensity drops following the inverse square law; go twice as far from the lamp and the light is a quarter as bright, three times as far and it’s a ninth as bright, and so on. That’s fine if you’re lighting up the kitchen but not so good when you want to see a hundred yards down a rough track. Add a reflector and because the light is concentrated in a narrower cone it doesn’t lose intensity so quickly. Of course it also only illuminates in one direction, so the beam angle is designed to give a compromise between distance and coverage.

If you’re looking for extra light for driving what you need is a lamp that throws light in a fairly narrow cone out in front of your vehicle, showing you the ground as far ahead as possible. A spotlight with a beam angle of about 30° to 45° is ideal here. It’s tight enough to light up your path for a good distance ahead, but also gives you some coverage out to the sides.

If you’re looking for lights to help you work in and round the bed of your ute, or to light up your campsite, that’s when floods come in. You’re only really interested in illuminating out to a few yards away, but you want a good broad cone of light to maximise the usable area. If you set up two floodlights a few feet apart the wider angle of their light also helps fill in shadows, which is a very handy feature when you want an area you can do stuff in. A flood on each rear corner of a ute cab will light up the whole bed and the area round it, for example.

We said that spots make the perfect driving lights, but floods can have their place here too. If you’re into crossing really rough ground a lightbar with flood reflectors goes beyond useful; it’s just about essential. The chances are you’ll be picking your way through, not following a clear track, and floods will give you better visibility out to each side. At lower speeds their lack of range isn’t a problem, so keep them in mind. Of course you can always build in flexibility – how about a 40 inch flood lightbar with a spot each side? That should leave you ready for just about anything.

Whether you opt for floods or spots is going to depend on what you do with your vehicle. If you were wondering, though, hopefully this guide will have helped you weigh up the factors.