Lighting is a fairly simple subject for most tanks, but can also get rather expensive. Type of lighting is definitely one of the top 3 things that a reef tank needs to survive. However, with variations out there such as T5, LED, Metal Halide, etc. a lot of people wonder which light is actually right for their tank.
At Reef2Land we believe almost everything ends up costing nearly the same, over the long term, when it comes to Reef Aquarium Lighting. For instance a Metal Halide might be half the cost of an LED, but it's going to need bulb maintenance and cost more to operate. So, after about 2 years usually the same amount is spent on the either a Halide or LED due to expenses in upkeep and operation.
Let’s start with the basics, such as T5s. T5s are great lights for tanks that don't have light intensive members in them. But, we like to say "Build for the tank you want.". Reason being is it seems the majority of people end up adding onto their reef tank at some point. This can only result in spending extra money. T5s we feel are only adequate for aquariums that are fish only. Sure some people have probably had success with softer corals under these lights, but would we advise someone to use these lights for a tank where they plan on adding SPS corals or clams later...no. Some of the companies that manufacture T5s usually end up adding LED chips to their T5 fixtures down the road.
Next would be Metal Halide Lighting. We carry what we consider the TOP TWO brands on the market in Hamilton Technology and ReefBrite. A lot of people choose Halides because they are slightly cheaper, have their benefits when it comes to light strength, and have been a marine staple for such a long time. However, Metal Halides do have a couple of drawbacks. One is that they can eat up a good deal of money in electricity because of how powerful they are. Two is that they can become quite hot. As a result they can drastically increase the temperature of a tank if certain measures are not taken to reduce the heat, such as adding chillers or cooling fans. Common rule for Metal Halides is about 3-7 Watts per Gallon. The lower end of 3-watts for bare minimum display tanks with no light intensive members. Then the higher end of 7-watts for tanks with inhabitants such as SPS corals and Clams.
Finally there is LED lighting. LED lighting is still fairly new to the aquarium hobby, although it has come a long way since 2013. The advances that some of these companies have contributed to the hobby are extraordinary. We can without a doubt say that Kessil is our favorite lighting company out of every light brand we have ever tested. The performance of their LED Lighting is positively unsurpassed.
Most of the manufacturers we carry make several different models which vary in light intensity and size. This can result in some confusion when it comes to which one works best for which tank.
There are usually 3-4 sizes released by each company – nano, small, medium, and large.
The smalls are the Kessil A160, the AI Prime, and the Ecotech XR15. These are usually for smaller tanks under 20 inches wide in our opinion. However, it should not be ignored that many of these companies make rail systems that can place several of the smaller lights over a larger aquarium. These lights we only recommend for Fish Only tanks, Nano Reefs, or refugiums.
Then there are the mediums. The Kessil A360, the AI Hydra 26, and the Ecotech XR30W (regulars). These lights are most of the time used for medium sized tanks and will cover around 2 feet of surface area; unless of course a multiple rail system is installed to pack more lights together over your aquarium. Medium lights should be utilized for mostly LPS and Soft Coral tanks.
Lastly are the large LEDs. The Kessil AP700, the AI Hydra 52, and the Ecotech XR30w Pro. These lights are all capable of producing exceptional light intensity with very good PAR ratings. The Large lights have a surface area coverage of usually 3 feet or more. A rail system can be used with most of these lights as well in order to hang multiple units over a tank. Large lights are a necessity if you have SPS dominant tanks or clams.
Then there are benefits based on manufacturer. Ecotech merged with Aqua Illumination. They are both good brands that come with 1-year warranties. As many have probably noticed Ecotech LEDs have a price tag that is a good deal higher than the AI LEDs. Kessil over the last couple years has without a doubt been our favorite light. Their LEDs come with industry leading 2-year warranties, their price tags for comparable brand light models are still pretty moderate, and the benefits we have seen from using their lights is nothing short of amazing.
There really is no general rule when it comes to LED lighting. The reason there is no rule is because so many different LED variations can be used based on so many different members kept in each tank. For more in depth Lighting Recommendations click HERE. You are more than welcome to contact us to see what we would recommend and brainstorm with us any ideas for your tank at email@example.com