WHAT TO USE & PRODUCT REVIEWS
(You need to disable add-block to see the links below)
tools and products I use
In general, T5 tubes are more stable and give very predictable results, as explained here. LEDs are sleek and more energy-saving, but most lack the ideal spectrum for plants, and may 'look bright' but not have the necessary intensity.
LEDs: my top picks
These are fixtures I have used or would use on my own tanks. If you do buy the products through the Amazon links below (at no extra cost to you), I do earn a small commission, which helps in the running of this website.
Chihiros vivid, Life Aqua master pro, ADA solar RGB
Among commercially available LED systems, those with pure white diodes do not work as well as units that come with RGB LEDs. The increased red/blue spectrum of RGB units give higher visual contrast and better colors and growth forms to plants. There is a specific group of LEDs units that do this particularly well - focusing on having mostly RGB LEDs rather than white - the Chihiros vivid, Life Aqua master pro (Maxlite) and ADA solar RGB are 3 units that achieve this. The Chihiros vivid is programmable and cheaper than the other 2 while the Life Aqua master pro is dimmable and water proof. The ADA solar RGB is a no frills unit.
SBreef lights are another popular option among the technically minded crowd. The fixture is large and bulky, but comes with very high PAR values, considering the fixture cost. This fixture is for folks that favor cheap, high powered lighting, but are less concerned with the aesthetics of the fixture itself which is large and bulky. Its programmable with in-built electronic timer and its spectrum can be tweaked.
LEDs: other reasonably good fixtures
Twinstar S series and Chihiros RGB/WRGB
The Twinstar S series works well for smaller sized tanks. The S series has an attractive spectrum, a rarity in the LED world, and sleek build. I also like that they do not have fans which are another weak point in many light fixtures. The fixtures are slightly broader than thinner fixtures, but I find that this actually gives better spread in a tank. I think single fixtures work well for smaller standard sized tanks. For 3ft (90x45x45cm) tanks and above, I would recommend having 2 fixtures. The other similar LEDs in this category is the Chihiros RGB
Fluval fresh and planted 2.0/3.0/4.0
The Fluval fresh and planted 2.0 LED also works well. It's spectrum is less striking than the rest above, but it's a good quality, well crafted light as a whole. It has good PAR values for the tank sizes it is fitted to. The light reeks of sensibility. Comes with in-built dimmer.
If I were on a tight budget, I would go for this RGB LED from Lifegard Aquatics. It has high PAR values for its cost.
Desk lamps and LED floodlights
For a low-tech tank or a tank that keeps low-light plants, the humble desk lamp can work surprisingly well. I have kept many tanks using nothing but this and a 20 Watt, warm-white Philips CFL bulb. It can be mounted on a simple clamp-lamp.
Among the many T5 fixtures o the market, I would go for Hydrofarm's Agrobrite hydroponics range. Good reflectors, good build quality, fair price.
Sunblaster has good reflectors and provides fixtures that can be customised in terms of number (you can add individual light bars)- which is good for DIY enthusiasts.
T5 BULB SELECTION
What you want is an array with a mix of colours. A good neutral tone 4 tube combination would be 2 white/6500k bulbs matched with 2 pink bulbs.
For stronger contrast, I would forego white bulbs entirely, and just use a mix of pink and blue/purple tubes. White white/orange can be used to balance out selections that are overly blue heavy. A 4 tube selection I like is 2X pink, 1X purple and 1X orange/warm white.
The Giesemann Super Flora range is what I use. It has a reddish tint with spikes in the red / blue spectrum. Alternatively, the Zoo Med Flora Sun and Wavepoint bulbs work fine as well. The Dennerle Colour Plus bulbs are good as well.
The ATI series is what I go for. Wavepoint also has a number of choices.
The ATI series is what I use. Wavepoint also has a number of choices. However this is a bulb color that is not normally used unless you want a blue tint to the tank or are compensating for
using many warm white/red tubes.
WARM WHITE BULBS
The Osram 2700K series is established and works well. iPower has good options also. I like the Agromax and Dennerle's 3000k choices as well.
NEUTRAL WHITE BULBS (~6500K, 'daylight' bulbs)
Wavepoint has several choices (the Amazon picture may look yellow but the specifications would be 6700K). The Giesemann Tropic bulb is good too. The key difference between using these bulbs (vis a vis everyday home-lighting daylight bulbs) is the better spectrum distribution in these horticultural bulbs. Many household bulbs have large spikes in the green spectrum (which human eyes are more sensitive to) while we would prefer spikes in red and blue for plant growth and give better colour rendition.
COOL WHITE BULBS (~12000K)
The Wavepoint has a bulb in this category.
Below are examples of T5 combinations (by Joe Harvey) used by other aquarists (with slightly different brands).
Twinstar S series by Twinstar Iberica
Twinstar S series by Twinstar Iberica
ADA Solar RGB
SBreef lights by John Eldredge Jr
Chihiros RGB by Michal Zielinski
I use a mix of 2X Dennerle color plus, 1X ATI purple and 1X Dennerle 3000k in my farm tank. However, I use 2 sets of fixtures for a total of 8 tubes.
THE 2HR AQUARIST'S GUIDE TO LIGHTS & LIGHTING
What T5 brands to go for? What LED brands are good?