I switched my shop to electronic ballasts because of the cold start
problem. Many electronic ballasts will start even at 0 degrees
Fahrenheit. My old super cheap shop lights that came with the house
would flicker for ten minutes until they warmed up. Oh, and they eat
Not all electronic ballasts are silent. I have some that hum a little
bit. I've taken to buying fixtures with magnetic ballasts and
immediately replacing them with electronic ballasts of my choice in
order to get something well behaved. A decent electronic ballast can
be had for $15 or so. The pins on T12s and T8s are exactly the same,
so you can retrofit magnetic ballast fixtures with electronic ballasts.
(Maybe if your fixture has starters you'd have trouble.) Another
thing to be aware of with electronic ballasts is that you can get
special high output ones that give more light from the same bulbs, and
also special low output ones that save you energy and give you less
light from the same bulbs.
Regarding color quality, there are two factors to be aware of when you
buy bulbs. One is the color temperature. If you get 3000 K bulbs you
will have yellow light, like you get from an incandescent. If you get
5000 K bulbs you will have bluer light, more like daylight. I have the
5000 K bulbs in my windowless basement shop.
Regarding light quality you need to look at the color rendering index
or CRI. This indicates whether the light is of good quality. Somehow
CRI measures how well the spectrum is filled out. (I have never found
a satisfactory explanation of what EXACTLY it means.) Incandescent
lights have a CRI of 100 which is the best possible.
The quality of the light has no intrinsic connection to whether you are
using T8's, T12's, T5's or anything else about the shape of the bulb.
They can make bulbs in any shape to have whatever light characteristics
they want. It does appear that not much is available in T12s. I use
T8s that have a CRI of 86 which seems to be adequate. I believe that
T5's might be more efficient than T8's, but probably not enough that
you'd really see the difference in your electric bill. (The jump from
magnetic ballasts running two T12's at 80 W to an electronic ballast
that gives the same light running two T8's at 54 W is much bigger.)
If you experience radio interference you might try switching to a
different brand or even just a different model of electronic ballast.
Electronic ballasts operate at much higher frequencies than the old
magnetic ones which is why they don't flicker or hum. If they happen
to be leaking at the frequency of your radio station you can get
interference. Advance makes a ballast called PowrKut that is
specifically designed not to generate radio interference.