As with almost any form of aftermarket vehicle modifications, there are many options to choose from. Off-Road LED lighting is one category where there are more products, and even more questions. From LED light bars affixed atop roof rack-equipped overlanding rigs, to migraine-inducing bright blue lumens, there are a bazillion options at our disposal. Thankfully Baja Designs (BD) has taken the time to shine some light on amber and clear illumination and what is right for what application.
But is one better than the other? And if so, why?
Recently, Baja Designs released a presentation run-down on the differences between these two forms of automotive illumination. The explanation is quick to recognize that there are both purpose and functional challenges to be considered. But to be fully informed on the topic of off-road lighting, we should reintroduce you to Baja Designs’s Lighting Zone system. Off Road Xtreme covered this back in June of 2021, and we found it enlightening. The amber versus clear illumination category is most closely related to Lighting Zone 1, but it is also relative in the other zones as well.
Who Needs That Much Lighting And Why?
Almost all professional off-road racers opt for a combination arrangement of both amber and clear forward-facing lighting.
Most off-road recreationalist, and this includes overlanders, are not traveling at high speed through the open desert. With that being said, do they really need all of those expensive lights? Lighting is more of a safety feature that allows operators to see and drive safely through the terrain. Lighting is also used to light up the vehicle they are mounted on so it will be seen as well. So we say yes, have at it and load up with lights!
Also, consider this. Aftermarket fenders, bumpers, racks, and trailers make it increasingly difficult to see over and around the vehicle. Being able to effectively see the terrain around you is essential to your safety and your overall off-roading success. These additional visual impedances are a couple of reasons why lighting selection matters. But that is really at the bottom of the list.
Lighting up the dark, notably when tasked with driving a motor vehicle for long periods, can affect our mental acuity, awareness, and physical conditioning. These facts, along with the following explanations, illustrate why it is so vital to first determine which form of lighting is best for you, your mission at hand, and your vehicle driving style before embarking on your next wheeling adventure.
Color Temp Talk With Uncle Kelvin
Before we can even get to the point of discussing pros, cons, positioning, and purchase options, we must revisit the jolly old “Kelvin Scale” and its color output ratings. Ranked anywhere from 1,000—12,000 Kelvins, this range of determining the pigments within light is used universally across industry categories.
Remember when cop cars used to have just a single rotating red light on top of the cab? Well, they did from the 1930s up into the 19080s. Nowadays almost every police cruiser and undercover agent relies upon blue lighting, purely because that crisp cobalt color shines brighter and further. This allows other folks to see the emergency vehicles from a long distance far more effectively, clear the path, and get out of the way.
The Kelvin Scale starts at the bottom with warmer color temperatures (yellow, orange, and red), and then climbs up from there. Higher Kelvin numbers are all cooler in color, thus the aforementioned bright blue emergency lights.
How Do Baja Designs Amber And Clear Lights Benefit Off-Roaders?
As for Baja Designs, its engineers have found that its clear lights perform best when they lean more toward the center of the spectrum, with 5,000K, being the preferred color output. Scientifically speaking, this is the closest scientists have ever been able to get to recreating direct sunlight. The result? A natural-looking light beam, that is easier on the eyes.
When designing the most optimal lighting package, the application is the main consideration to consider. If you are aiming for high-speed open desert driving, clear and intense lights are your best option. If you are driving through inclement environments such as dust, snow, or fog, then we recommend running amber lights with dimming, or high/low capability. —Baja Designs
In contrast, amber lights bearing a Baja Designs badge sport a Kelvin rating somewhere close to the 3,000K mark. “Specifically designed for off-road driving in inclement conditions…” BD goes on to explain that it is actually a selective yellow hue that they landed on after years of desert racing research and countless hours of field testing. This selective yellow lights at 3,000K, with BD claiming that this pigment is “…superior to a more orange-hued amber color, mainly because of the greater effective lumen output.”
Baja Designs Explains The Light Spectrum
It has long been known that what we perceive as visible light is but a sliver of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum. From infrared goggles to bearded dragons relying upon specialized reptilian glands, the light spectrum extends far beyond what the naked human eye can perceive.
Since each color has its own specialized wavelength, light refraction is a constant consideration when designing a new lighting product. Warmer colors are wider spread in wavelength, whereas the cooler pigments prefer a far more frantic pattern.
Being that it is difficult for the human eye to process blue light, the other end of the spectrum is equally frustrating. Our eyes struggle in low-light situations, while big cats and many other members of the animal kingdom can see just fine after dark.
Finding that equilibrium between amber and blue is key, which is one of the primary reasons why Baja Designs settled on that 5,000K sweet spot for their white lights.
We believe it’s not just about having the brightest lights but using the right lights in the right way and all that ties into the right color temperature. —Baja Designs
Baja Designs Clear Lights
Take a walk outside on a sunny day, and chances are you will be able to see the furthest and clearest at noon. That is because the color temperature of 5,000 degrees Kelvin is in full effect in this ideal scenario.
Baja Designs explains that this is why its “ClearView” optical system works so well. That 5,000K sweet spot greatly reduces visual fatigue. The result is you’ll be far more capable of spotting obstacles and hazards when driving at night.
The light is always going to emit the same lumens and the 5,000k color temperature. With the clear lens, blue, indigo, and violet rays are permitted to pass through and will always appear brighter. That goes away the second the amber lens is added. This explains why a clear lens will always project further than an amber lens.
The downside is they are prone to producing glare and can cause retinal fatigue due to the blue light color.
Baja Designs Amber Lights
Amber lighting can be achieved in several ways. The most common is a lens or light cover that the white light passes through. This is how Baja Designs’ signature selective yellow color is achieved. The other way is with an amber-colored Light Emitting Diode. Baja Designs also uses these on some of its products such as the LEDs found in the Baja Designs RTL.
The noted drawback with Amber lights is that they do not present as much illumination. Baja Designs measure an average of 15-percent less illumination, but there are perks.
With decreased optical workload by the human observer, objects in the foreground will appear sharper and more distinguishable. Professional drivers have reported the benefits of amber-hued lights for both high and low-beam applications.
Baja Designs Helps You Outfit Your Rig With the Right Light
With the right lighting positioned in the right places, pretty much any vehicle can champion the elements. But having a helping hand never hurt either. This is precisely why Baja Designs came up with its “Lighting Zone” program. We have found this guide to be helpful in determining how to select lighting products and light positioning.
Baja Designs is quick to mention “…a perfect light package does not run off of just amber or clear. It is in fact, a mix of both.” The other thing to note is the spot beam and flood beam lenses combination should also be considered.
This is why Baja Designs came up with its unique “uService” product design for swapping out lenses on the fly. It is an easy and affordable DIY solution that allows drivers to replace, refresh, or repurpose lenses.
Just please do us all a favor, and keep those toggles closed if not needed. Not only is a light bar lit up on the road obnoxious and unnecessary, but it can also be downright dangerous. While your eyes may not be so sensitive, the same may not be said about the sweet little old lady on the road.