WHAT TO USE & PRODUCT REVIEWS
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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.
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.
Another option is the ADA Solar RGB. It is a well crafted light with an attractive spectrum selection that makes both greens and reds pop in a tank. However, it does cost quite a lot. The alternative to the Solar RGB is the Life Aqua RGB by Maxlite, which has a similar spectrum, dimming feature and a better price point. The budget version that is similar to the two above would be the Chihiros RGB vivid.
The downside of both these light sets is that they do not come with dimmers/electronic programming by default.
LEDs: other good fixtures
The Fluval fresh and planted 2.0 LED also works well. It's spectrum is less striking than the Twinstar S series or ADA Solar RGB, 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.
SBreef lights are another popular option among the technically minded crowd. The fixture is bulky, draws significant wattage but also comes with pretty 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. Its programmable with in-built electronic timer and its spectrum can be tweaked.
The Chihiros RGB shown above has a relatively attractive spectrum and is also surprisingly good for its price. This light is very popular in Asia.
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.
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 (LED equivalents such as this one from IKEA can be used instead; this Ikea version is neutral-coloured and produces quite alot of light). 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?