Aquarium lighting has come a long way. There are now many, many different types to choose from. For sure, different lighting systems have different capabilities. The one that is best for you all depends on what you plan on keeping in your tank.
If you don’t plan on keeping any photosynthetic organisms (corals, tridacnid clams, macroalgae, etc.) in your tank, then any light will work. All you have to do is find something that will properly illuminate the entire tank; this can either be T5’s or LEDs. So, things are pretty simple if you plan on only keeping fish! That being said, some people still install higher-end lights on their fish-only tanks and that is so they can make the fish look their best and give an overall nicer look to the tank.
Aquarium Lighting: LEDs!
Here’s where we dive into the various types of lights you can choose from when you plan on keeping coral. Coral requires a high intensity and specific spectrum of lighting, so buying any light or using a light you had for your freshwater tank probably won’t work. Bluish spectra have been proven to generally help provide the best growth in coral. Most LED lights that are made for saltwater aquariums provide a full spectrum of lighting including blue, violet, white, green, red and even UV. When it comes to what percentage you should run each color, it all depends on the look you’re going for and what you’re wanting out of your coral. Many hobbyists run heavy blue and violet in their tank to give that glow and make the coral look better. Some people run 50% white LED lighting to help with coral growth.
The majority of hobbyists are now running LEDs in their tanks as they are the new-and-improved form of lighting; however, staying old school still has its benefits. There are still plenty of people out there that run T5s in their aquariums and sometimes they will even combine them with LEDs to have the best of both worlds. You will see that many aquaculture facilities use majority LEDs and even a mixture of LEDs with T5 for prime coral growth. The only downfall with T5 bulbs is that they usually require replacement every 6 months as they will usually go down in par rating and won’t offer the same quality of lighting for your corals. Even with this being the case, T5’s are still a great source of lighting for your coral as long as you still offer them the full spectrum and a range of colors.
Most people have switched to LED lights so they don’t have to worry about frequent replacements. Also, most LED lights now offer an app that allows you to program your lights to your specific needs. However, some people may argue that LEDs cannot offer the same quality that the best T5 bulbs have to offer. Some people also like the ease when it comes to T5s as there isn’t any programming involved and you just simply turn your lights on and call it a day. It all depends on what best fits in to what you’re looking for in your tank and the type of time you would like to spend tinkering. Some people like being able to program each color, while some people just want the light to do everything on their own.
But wait, people still use halides?
Yet another option is metal halide. Particularly when reflectors are used, this is a good choice of lighting if you have a deeper aquarium. Halides can be one of the more expensive options due to all of the equipment required to set them up (not to mention electricity consumption); nevertheless, they offer an amazing spread and can penetrate deeper into the water column ensuring everything gets proper light. Additionally, they create a beautiful, naturalistic shimmer effect. On the other hand, they also generate a lot of heat. Depending on the type of halide you’re running, you may want to consider a chiller so it doesn’t heat up the water column too much.
People run halides with LEDs or with T5s for a nicer and more colorful look. Whichever light you decide to run in your aquarium, all three of these options have potential. Most people in this hobby have made the transfer to LEDs as they are the most versatile means of lighting up your tank. However, there is nothing wrong with staying old school! There is a bit more maintenance required with T5 and halides such as the frequent replacement of bulbs, but in no way does that mean they do not work as well as LEDs.