Obviously lighting is one of the Top Two most important pieces of equipment for you saltwater aquarium. We'll try to be as in-depth as possible for people who may be new to the hobby. If you should have any questions though we would be more than happy to speak with you about your lighting needs even if you don't purchase your light from AquariumSumps.com. We have nearly a century of product knowledge and experience between all our staff members here.
Let's dive into it....
A lot of customers we have end up looking at lights and automatically staying away from certain lights due to cost. Let us make a valid point after what we have seen through the years though. Most lights end up costing the same in the long run. There really isn't a way to save money if you're trying to build a reef tank. If you purchase Metal Halides over LEDs then you'll end up paying the cost of LEDs when it comes to energy consumption and bulb replacement. Even with most LEDs they end up costing the same when it comes to accessories most people end up purchasing or number of lights to match wattage.
Just one example is a single AI Hydra 52 (135 watts) costs $629 and an Ecotech XR30 Gen 4 Pro (190 watts) is $849 while it would take 2 Kessil A360 lights to even come close to the single Radion at $349 a piece. Then Kessil, for some odd reason, charges for even being able to make their lights work in unison while Ecotech and Aqua Illumination can be run from phone apps. Even if you do the math it seems that all lights are around 22 cents per watt. Here we love Ecotech Radion lights. The features and programming options on Radion lights are beyond any comparison.
Type of Light: "Do research. Build for the tank of your dreams to prevent anu unnecessary cost wasting of money down the road."
T5 Lighting - We don't believe that T5 lighting has a place in the aquarium industry any longer. MAYBE if you have a fish only tank, but that's a pretty big maybe. The reason we say this is because the tanks we're building are made to bring actual living reefs from nature into our homes. To us there should be no settling when it comes to any aspect of that. It would kind of be like asking any individual if they would be willing to give up sunshine and settle for a 65 watt soft white light bulb for the rest of their lives. We require a certain amount of Vitamin D in our bodies that comes from natural sunlight. As reef creatures their needs are likely the same. Even the most simple organisms such as plants, require sunshine, and trying to satisfy their needs with anything other than a light capable of replicating natural sunlight would be almost cruel.
Metal Halide Lighting - The boss of this lighting type was and always will be Hamilton Technology. Most people see the price tag on halides and choose those because they are slightly cheaper and actually are capable of sustaining the majority of reef life. The drawbacks of metal halides however are many. They are pretty costly to maintain, they seem to burn through bulbs rather quickly, the produce a good deal of heat, and they are locked in to a single spectrum of light which can not be adjusted like LEDs can. If you are going to chose Metal Halides the recommended light intensity is about 3-7 watts per gallon. So a full-blown reef would be around 700 watts. If you are going to run the lower end of 3 watts per gallon you shouldn't have any light demanding members in your tank. If you have a full reef tank you will need on the higher end of 7 watts per gallon. With the higher end light intensity you can keep light demanding tank member such as SPS corals and clams.
Lastly we have LED lighting. LED lighting is fairly new to the aquarium industry and has come a long way since 2013. The technology that some of these companies have contributed is both fascinating and amazing. Our favorite brand of LED at AquariumSumps.com is Ecotech Marine. The features on these lights brings a new passion to the reefing hobby by letting users control light color, intensity, weather patterns, lunar patterns, and even acclimation. These lights are really worth the difference in price because they allow you to create your dream reef. Most of us here even switch the weather patterns for fog, lightning, cloud sweeps, and more on a weekly basis.
You'll notice while looking at lights on our site that almost all manufacturers seem to have 3-4 different models. These models are usually classified as nano, small, medium, or large. Here's why...
The Nano lights, really only Kessil makes a nano light with the A80. This is a very small light meant for aquariums under 10 gallons.
The small lights from each company are the Kessil A160, the Aqua Illumination Prime, and the Ecotech XR15 Gen 4 Pro. Our recommendation for these lights is to only keep them on tanks that are under 15 inches wide such as fish only tanks, nano reefs, or refugiums. Some of them might have a "spread" that is nearly 2 feet, but in our experience they do the best jobs on tanks with a surface area of 10-15 inches. We have a good number of customers that "chain" these lights together to cover lights that are larger. However, we do recommend against this because we feel they don't have the power to sustain coral tanks that are most likely over 30 gallons.
Next are the mediums LEDs. These are the Kessil A360, the Aqua Illumination Hydra 25 and the Ecotech XR30 Gen 4 (regular). These lights we recommend for medium sized tank that are anywhere from 17-21 inches. These lights we only recommend for most LPS and Soft Coral Tanks. They can also sustain some Tridacna Clams such as Squamosa and Derasa Clams.
Last up are the large lights. These are the Kessil AP700, the Aqua Illumination Hydra 52, and the Ecotech XR30 Gen 4 Pro. We have tested every light that we sell with some of the most advanced equipment available. Ecotech beat out any of the competitors light models in the same class. The light intensity was phenomenal. We saw coral coloration and growth that we have never seen before. With these lights we recommend only a light spread of 21 to 25 inches. These lights we recommend for Soft Coral, LPS Coral, SPS Coral and Clams.
All light brands come with industry standard warranties that are backed by amazing companies. The warranty on Kessil lighting is 2-years while the others offer 1-year warranties. We don't believe this really makes a difference because most LED lights claim to have a bulb life that would run much longer than the warranty. In the shop here we just make sure to keep them dust free and away from too much moisture and they seem to do fine.
Many customers ask us for recommendations when it comes to watts based on tank size; they ask if there is recommended watts per gallon rule. Since you can control the light output when it comes to how many watts the LEDs put out throughout the day, gauging watts per gallon is not a big concern due to versatility. We in general say the Small LEDs should go on 25-50 gallon tanks, the Medium LEDs should go on 50-125 gallon tanks, and then anything over 125 gallon you should purchase the large lights. Throughout the years as you add on to your reef you will be able to increase or decrease light intensity based on your tanks needs. If you are looking for a recommendation or just want to discuss lighting you can call, text or email at firstname.lastname@example.org