LED vs Incandescent

Discussion in 'Electrical/Electronics' started by Jim James, Apr 21, 2012.

  1. Jim James

    Jim James Staff Member Staff Member

    Okay guys, this is a super friendly site and I respect everyone's opinions and experiences. Here's the deal. I've spent a lot of time and effort on my #151 project and adding a headlight will be major pain in the butt regardless of my choice of headlights. I find myself torn between the two options. I don't operate my trains very often or for very long at a time so I'm going for looks in headlight choices. I've read that incandescent lamps have about a 500 hour life. That's not an issue for me. LEDs are newer technology which interests me. Either one will require a resistor which is new to me as far as use goes. Heat is not a problem as the light will be in a brass headlight casting. I'm looking for a friendly debate based on experience. I don't want to screw this installation up and I sure don't want to do it twice! Any thoughts to be shared? I am almost totally ignorant on this subject so go easy on me. Thanks in advance for everyone's patience.

    SAFN SAAP Member

    Incandescent will give you a more natural look but will eventually burn out and need to be replaced. LED will give you a non-period "white" or "yellow" look and will last for eternity usually. You really don't seem hip on the headlight, just the sound. If so, why install a headlight. If you do a headlight, a tender backup light is a must too; no?
  3. Jim James

    Jim James Staff Member Staff Member

    I do want a headlight but I want it to look realistic and not too painful to install. I'll skip the backup light I guess. Depends on the headlight experience. By the way Manny, I received a package today. Thanks!
  4. frisco1522

    frisco1522 Staff Member Staff Member

    I've never used LEDs on my steam models. I use the brass casting, drill through it and the smokebox front for the bulb and wire. Usually about a 1/16" drill works. I take a Q tip in my dremel tool with a little Brasso and polish the reflector to a mirror finish. I'm doing all DCC now, so pick a resistor which lets the bulb burn at less that total brightness. I use the tiny little 1.5V bulbs. Pop a lens on the headlight and it is totally realistic looking with that "Golden Glow" look. Looks great when the bulb isn't burning also.
  5. Jim James

    Jim James Staff Member Staff Member

    Now we're talkin'. That sounds like the result I'm going for.
  6. Iantha_Branch

    Iantha_Branch Member

    Jim, Excuse the long post, but hang in there, all will be explained.

    In my experience, like others have stated, the bulb looks better, but the LED lasts longer. If you do go with an LED then go with like a Sunny White, Golden white or Warm white. I have some sunny whites, and while they aren't as blue as the regular white LED's, they have a little bit of blue to them that wouldn't look right on a steamer, it's bad enough on a diesel. I haven't used Golden or Warm white, but from what I've gathered is that Golden is too yellow and Warm has more blue to it than Sunny White. And then there is bulbs. I recommend Minitronics 1.5v 1.2mm 15mA light bulb. I use em in like the roof beacons and gyro lights. They look and work very well. As far as resistors go on LED's it's gonna vary from brand to brand. On the minitronics bulbs I recommended a 680 ohm resistor normally works, but I have had some weird cases were a smaller value was needed.

    Walthers part number:

    Or if your interested in saving money:

    Litchfield station is probably the best source for model electronic and DCC stuff (light bulbs, LED's, resistors, wire, decoders, DCC systems, etc) and it's cheaper than Walthers.

    EDIT: Also you can get resistors at radio shack, they have a wider variety and bigger watt rating than LFS

    Hope this helped.


    FYI for anyone that is looking for LED's, Litchfield station has some. Just FYI that the sunny white LED's use a 1000 ohm resistor and they do not come with the LED.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 21, 2012
  7. Jim James

    Jim James Staff Member Staff Member

    Thanks, Ethan. I think I'll go the incandescent route. I've had two different recommendations on resistors, yours and 820 ohms. What's the difference?
    I would like to thank you guys for taking the time to respond to this thread and helping me with my decision. As I've said before, this forum is my most useful modeling tool.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 21, 2012
  8. Iantha_Branch

    Iantha_Branch Member


    I've been told 680, I've used 680 and generally it works. The higher the resistor value the dimmer it will be, but you get more life out of it. There's been times were I needed a smaller resistor value than 680 to get the full brightness, but I'm using DCC and it seems like there's always some shenanigans going on. If your using straight DC with no decoder I would suggest picking up resistors of values from 330 to 820 (general values you can find (at radio shack, that's were I get mine) are 330, 470, 560, 680, 740 I think and 820) and test each one with your bulb until you find the resistor that makes the light burn the correct brightness at the voltage you normally run your train at. Start with 680, and go from there. If you pick one with to low of resistance it will burn the bulb out faster and it will cause it to burn brighter.


    PS, you gonna need a soldering iron. I recommend the 20-50W adjustable heat iron at radio shack, It's like $20 if I remember right. Also pick up a stand with a sponge on it.
  9. renapper (Richard Napper RIP 3/8/2013)

    renapper (Richard Napper RIP 3/8/2013) Passed away March 8, 2013

    White LED's have not had a blue tint in years. They are Pure White in color, I know because I have 100s of them and I use them all the time for headlights. If you want the yellow glow look, look into the Warm White, Yellow Glow, etc. The greatest advantage to a LED is the fact that you get a real headlight, one that shines down the track, produces no heat to speak off, and will outlast you. The little 1.5 volt bulbs barely light up the headlight casting, not worth the trouble to install, IMHO. IF you are going to all the trouble, why not get a real headlight effect, it is the same amount of work. If you do not like the color output of the LED you can paint it with TAMYA Orange paint to get the effect you want. There are lots of information on the net, do a google search.
  10. klrwhizkid

    klrwhizkid Administrator Staff Member Administrator Frisco.org Supporter

    Jim, for the best period-specific look, the 1.5v 1.2mm 15ma Miniatronics bulb would be your easiest and best bet. Use an 820 ohm resistor in series with the bulb and it will look more like the lamps that were in the headlights of that era. The 820 ohm resistor will make the bulb last for a long time. Just my experience with over 125 installations, Tsunami sound and otherwise.
  11. SteveM

    SteveM Member Frisco.org Supporter

    The NMRA magazine arrived today with an article about using LEDs. Haven't been through it yet and can't remember if I proofread that article. Been too busy the last two months if I did. Now to see if I can remember where the article is when I get around to some LED projects.

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