TRIED & TESTED / Light and shades: Out of the dark, into the lighting department. Our panel switches on to small lamps to see what's watt in desktop illumination

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The Independent Culture
WARMER weather and longer evenings signal, for thousands of unfortunates, nothing more pleasant than the start of the swotting season, as GCSEs, A-levels and university finals loom. If you'll be spending the next couple of months poring over books and almost illegible notes, it's time to make sure you have a good desk lamp.

When shopping for a reading lamp, there is a lot more to consider than simply whether you like the look of the shade. To shed some light on the question, we asked three A-level students and a lighting consultant, Tom Oates, to test five and give their verdicts. Tom Oates's advice is to try, as far as possible, to re-create in the shop the situation in which you will use the lamp - for example, sit down with it at the level of your desk - and see how comfortable it feels. Check that the lamp gives an even, glare-free light and that you can position it so that the light source is out of your field of vision but illuminates your work area effectively. The lamp should also not take up too much desk space. In short, Mr Oates says, don't be fooled by aesthetics. So, now you know how to carry out your own test, read on to find out how the lamps in ours fared.

THE PANEL

Kolya Hutchinson, student at Woodhouse Sixth Form College; Daisy Houghton and Hannah Canter, students at Hampstead Comprehensive school; Tom Oates, lighting consultant, Chelsea Lighting Design.

THE TEST

The panel members gave each lamp marks for how easy it was to adjust its position and the direction of the light, how effective it was in lighting their work, how attractive the design was, and its value for money. The marks were converted into a star rating. Prices all include the cost of the bulb, except for the British Home Stores lamp.

**BRITISH HOME STORES PRIMO LAMP. 60-watt tungsten light bulb; available in magenta, purple, turquoise, white; pounds 7.99

No prizes for originality: everyone has probably had a similar lamp at one time or another. Panellists didn't award it many points for its looks but thought it very good value for money. 'It's unassuming and practical,' said Kolya Hutchinson. Tom Oates's view was that the short, flexible stem didn't give much scope for adjusting the lamp. The lack of height also created shadows over the reading area. 'It will probably end up propped up on a pile of books to achieve a reasonable spread of light,' he said. The light quality of the conventional light bulb is more yellow and less crisp than the halogen lamps - though you might find it warmer. The lamp can also take a spotlight.

*** IKEA MIL LAMP. 20-watt low-voltage halogen bulb; pounds 12 in black or white, pounds 19 in lilac or turquoise

This was a good all-rounder and the panel's favourite. Both expert and students thought it was easy to adjust and produced a good light. 'The reflector gives a generous, even spread of light, glare free,' said Tom Oates. Most liked its style. The panellists also thought that the model they saw in black or white, which costs pounds 12, was excellent value (though if you want it in lilac or turquoise, it costs an extra pounds 7). 'It's stylish, has an easily movable head, gives a good spread of light, and is good value for money,' said Kolya Hutchinson. Daisy Houghton found the switch on the base easy to find, unlike the ones hanging down on a flex. The only disadvantage was that the base was lightweight and so a bit unsteady.

**ANGLEPOISE 90PL. 11-watt miniature fluorescent tube; red, white and black; pounds 70

This revamp of the classic 1930s design follows the principles of the original Anglepoise. The panel gave it top marks for being easy to position and adjust. But while our lighting expert, Tom Oates, thought the fluorescent tube produced a good, even quality and distribution of light, the students found the effect harsh and chilling. 'This light was far too white - it gave the impression of an inquisition,' said Daisy Houghton. 'Blue, unattractive light. It's unflattering, clinical and cold,' said Kolya Hutchinson. You can buy a fluorescent tube that gives out a warmer light, though, and the tubes, which cost pounds 7.75 for the type used here, can last eight times as long as a conventional tungsten light bulb. Hannah Canter thought that it was well made and useful if you need to see a lot of detail, but poor value for money.

HEAL'S ARC LAMP. 20-watt low-voltage halogen bulb; pounds 59

The lamp got top marks for its looks, but the panel could find little else to praise. 'It's impossible to adjust, not very stable and takes up too much space. If you care more about flashy designs than actual performance, go for it, but otherwise it's a complete waste of almost pounds 60,' said Hannah Canter. Tom Oates agreed that it was more decorative than practical for reading. Panel members also noticed that the lamp became hot when switched on. A halogen bulb usually lasts twice as long as a tungsten one, but costs about pounds 7, compared with about 50p for an ordinary bulb. Halogen bulbs can also be harder to find in the shops.

*HABITAT FLEX LAMP. 20-watt low-voltage halogen bulb; pounds 69

Instead of a conventional shade, this lamp has a translucent glass sphere surrounding the halogen bulb. Tom Oates thought it was almost like using a bare lamp. 'The quality and distribution of light are patchy and there's an uncomfortable and distracting glare.' Kolya Hutchinson agreed: 'Harsh on the eyes, like a lamp without a shade.' They both thought, on the other hand, that the fitting looked good. It's clearly a matter of taste, though: Hannah Canter thought this lamp was the least attractive of the lot.

NEXT WEEK: FOOD PROCESSORS

(Photograph omitted)

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