Do high output lights make sense?

Family Tanks

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I know I'm about to stir up some debate for which I apologize, but I really need to ask, why do reefers purchase excessively high intensity lights at such insanely high prices only to underutilize them? Let me explain.......

I am returning to this hobby after being in pretty deep back in the mid-late 90s, when I ran several LFS fish rooms. Back then we used VHO fluorescents and 175w halides for most applications and did very well. Granted, the new found availability of different kinds of SPS has created a need for marginally better lighting than what we had, however has the industry gone too far at this point, creating lights that both cost a fortune and FAR exceed the needs of most of our tanks? Does the industry suffer from GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) turning our hobby into something that's only accessible to a few? Or at minimum does the culture of over-equipping dissuade outsiders who get the impression that you need to have $$$$ to enjoy a reef tank?

As someone with a decent foundation of knowledge about coral/reef biology, but also a newcomer to the newer technologies now available, it strikes me as illogical to pay thousands of dollars for SUPER high output LED pucks which would burn most any coral if run full-bore and certainly the eyes of anyone unfortunate enough to look at them, only to run them at 30%, and still have to place them 24" (or more) above the tank, when you can pay 1/8th the price for for less powerful lights, and place them 3-4" above the water, still having good PAR on the rocks and not have all the light spill issues. I suppose our T5 crowd falls into the latter to some degree.

I see the popular justification of having that extra power on tap "in case", yet very few are running these porta-suns on full power. That's like buying a Ferrari to pick up groceries, just "in case" you needed to outrun Batman to the last gallon of milk. Seems a little Tim Taylor right?

There's also the justification of controllability, but again once someone finds the spectrum they like and is working, how often are you really adjusting them anyway? On the most part the only time I notice folks adjusting their lights over established tanks is when they realize they are running them too bright. (see point one)

I've also seen the justification that "a light that puts out 9 million PAR run at 5% will last longer then the light that delivers 200 PAR run at 100%", but the economics rarely support that. You could replace your reasonably powered lights 5 times before you paid for mini-supernova over your tank.

Anyway, I wanted to see how people felt about the idea that perhaps the industry has driven us to over-light our tanks in search of profit margin, instead of the actual needs of our tank inhabitants and certainly over the needs of fish-keepers. To be clear, I know there are some advantages, but do they justify spending $$$$$$$ on lights, when you can accomplish it with so much less under-utilized power at 1/10th the cost? Take the same argument to freshwater, and it becomes even more clear.....

Anyway, fun discussion.......
 
Orphek OR3 reef aquarium LED lighting

shred5

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I think you have some points. I am not part of the gota have generation.
I have been in the hobby a very long time and do not feel I need to keep up with the Joneses.
I buy what I need when I want.
I would rather be a trend setter than a trend follower.

As someone who works in the lighting industry I am not sure lighting has got better, It is just different. Led fixtures are loosing their efficiency in order to get rid of shading. Just look at the trends now. Every new released led fixture is more wattage than the last and now we are seeing led moving away from pucks and spots too.. All lighting has their weaknesses and strengths it is just the way it is. Best lighting uses multiple types.

Just saying I do not see any improvement in keeping reefs from 15 years ago. I see just as nice tanks then as now.

Price in the hobby is ridiculous. I have to laugh because most of the fixtures use off the shelf Cree leds and rip you for it. Yea I realize the market is smaller than what I specify fixtures for but holy cow. Imagine some of the jobs I do lighting for and they have thousand or more fixtures. The Job would never get built if I was specifying 800.00 fixtures. The lighting budget would be more than the building.

It is marketing to the got to have people. It the whole keeping up with the Joneses. The whole marketing of breakfast cereals to kids.

The answer to most things is buy what is in the middle and you will be fine.
 
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Family Tanks

Family Tanks

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I think you have some points. I am not part of the gota have generation.
I have been in the hobby a very long time and do not feel I need to keep up with the Joneses.
I buy what I need when I want.
I would rather be a trend setter than a trend follower.

As someone who works in the lighting industry I am not sure lighting has got better, It is just different. Led fixtures are loosing their efficiency in order to get rid of shading. Just look at the trends now. Every new released fixture is more wattage than the last and now we are seeing led moving away from pucks and spots too.. All lighting has their weaknesses and strengths it is just the way it is. Best lighting uses multiple types.

Just saying I do not see any improvement in keeping reefs from 15 years ago. I see just as nice tanks then as now.

Price in the hobby is ridiculous. I have to laugh because most of the fixtures use off the shelf Cree leds and rip you for it. Yea I realize the market is smaller than what I specify fixtures for but holy cow. Imagine some of the jobs I do lighting for and they have thousand or more fixtures. The Job would never get built if I was specifying 800.00 fixtures. The lighting budget would be more than the building.

It is marketing to the got to have people. It the whole keeping up with the Joneses. The whole marketing of breakfast cereals to kids.

The answer to most things is buy what is in the middle and you will be fine.
"The lighting budget would be more than the building".... Exactly my point. $800 for a single LED puck? Really? NASA doesn't pay that kind of margin.
 

Waynerock

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I have 3 middle tier lights over my tank and they are dialed way back and Everything grows so fast it’s ridiculous. I think we all over-light our tanks way too much. I think because the lights today have gotten so good at producing exact useable spectrum we can get away with dialing them back. Just my opinion of course but it makes sense.
 

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jim_fitz

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I have 9 radions and run them at 90% on the high growth
its a mix of gen 3 & 4 pros

in winter the weak northern sun illuminates my tank directly due to it being low in the sky (i live near Liverpool, England)

that sun makes my lights look very weak indeed so often wonder if we do over illuminate ?
 
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Family Tanks

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I have 9 radions and run them at 90% on the high growth
its a mix of gen 3 & 4 pros

in winter the weak northern sun illuminates my tank directly due to it being low in the sky (i live near Liverpool, England)

that sun makes my lights look very weak indeed so often wonder if we do over illuminate ?
That's an interesting point, It's worth considering that when the sun is low, the color temperature of the light is more sympathetic to our eyes (more yellow), so it appears brighter. That said, the sun will always be WAY more powerful than anything we use, but it's also absorbed very, very quickly by sea water. While there are some examples, most of the corals, fish and inverts we keep do not naturally live under only 18" of water (some indeed do though). So, perhaps 200 PAR at 18" (.5 meter) in our aquarium, is somewhat equivalent to the PAR the sun is providing at 33' (10 meters) in the ocean. In a past life I was a professional diver, and I can say that down 30+ feet, the sun is not as nearly as intense as it may seem. It's also true that most all red spectrum is completely gone at that point, making the red channels in our lights also a bit suspect. Water is quite the reflector/absorber. I'd love to see some good data on this, but I suspect the fact that we can "burn" corals with LEDs at all, is a testament to this. If anyone has real PAR data taken in the ocean, I'd LOVE to see that. It would be an interesting read.
 
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8bulb tek light. All giessman bulbs. I prob run it 6 1/2hrs a day.
D
Very cool. Consider that the tropical oceans of the world receive +/- about 12 total hours of light per day. If some of us used our lights for 12 hours, our reefs would go haywire (at least with high power and a short morning/evening ramp). I don't know the answer, but I'm guessing it's a combination of less-than-natural chemistry in our tanks, and a lack of natural variability in the intensity of light from day to day (clouds, seasonality, turbidity, etc.)
 
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I have 3 middle tier lights over my tank and they are dialed way back and Everything grows so fast it’s ridiculous. I think we all over-light our tanks way too much. I think because the lights today have gotten so good at producing exact useable spectrum we can get away with dialing them back. Just my opinion of course but it makes sense.
Beautiful tank!
 

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Lighting fixtures for reef tanks have always been expensive. And there have always been higher and lower end options, but the average reefer doesn’t have thousands of dollars worth of lights over their tanks. Personally, I think LEDs are pound for pound the cheapest of the all of the lighting options we’ve used over the years (I started out with VHOs, then PCs, then halides, and now LEDs). The initial upfront cost for a modern LED setup may be more than what we used to pay for a fixture of any of those types of lights (a fixture made for aquariums, not a diy/retrofit job), but if it is, it’s not much, and when you consider inflation, the upfront cost is likely less. And then on top of that, you don’t have the ongoing cost of replacing bulbs and LEDs use less electricity to output more light (while it’s a minor consideration, it’s definitely the ‘greenest . Obviously there are higher end options, that’s true of any product category, but the average hobbyist is likely saving money with LEDs over other reef lighting options.

And that’s to say nothing of the customization that LEDs allow. I agree that most people probably dial in the spectrum and intensity that they want, but that alone is something that isn’t possible with other types of lighting. To change the spectrum you have to buy different bulbs, and dimmers are available on all those types of lighting. Also, the ability to program different spectrums and intensities to ramp up and down, to have a more natural lighting schedule isn’t possible with other lighting options.

The argument that we’re using more light than necessary is a whole other argument, but in terms of cost, I don’t think that on the whole LEDs are any more expensive that other lighting options, and in many cases may be less expensive.
 
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NoahLikesFish

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I know I'm about to stir up some debate for which I apologize, but I really need to ask, why do reefers purchase excessively high intensity lights at such insanely high prices only to underutilize them? Let me explain.......

I am returning to this hobby after being in pretty deep back in the mid-late 90s, when I ran several LFS fish rooms. Back then we used VHO fluorescents and 175w halides for most applications and did very well. Granted, the new found availability of different kinds of SPS has created a need for marginally better lighting than what we had, however has the industry gone too far at this point, creating lights that both cost a fortune and FAR exceed the needs of most of our tanks? Does the industry suffer from GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) turning our hobby into something that's only accessible to a few? Or at minimum does the culture of over-equipping dissuade outsiders who get the impression that you need to have $$$$ to enjoy a reef tank?

As someone with a decent foundation of knowledge about coral/reef biology, but also a newcomer to the newer technologies now available, it strikes me as illogical to pay thousands of dollars for SUPER high output LED pucks which would burn most any coral if run full-bore and certainly the eyes of anyone unfortunate enough to look at them, only to run them at 30%, and still have to place them 24" (or more) above the tank, when you can pay 1/8th the price for for less powerful lights, and place them 3-4" above the water, still having good PAR on the rocks and not have all the light spill issues. I suppose our T5 crowd falls into the latter to some degree.

I see the popular justification of having that extra power on tap "in case", yet very few are running these porta-suns on full power. That's like buying a Ferrari to pick up groceries, just "in case" you needed to outrun Batman to the last gallon of milk. Seems a little Tim Taylor right?

There's also the justification of controllability, but again once someone finds the spectrum they like and is working, how often are you really adjusting them anyway? On the most part the only time I notice folks adjusting their lights over established tanks is when they realize they are running them too bright. (see point one)

I've also seen the justification that "a light that puts out 9 million PAR run at 5% will last longer then the light that delivers 200 PAR run at 100%", but the economics rarely support that. You could replace your reasonably powered lights 5 times before you paid for mini-supernova over your tank.

Anyway, I wanted to see how people felt about the idea that perhaps the industry has driven us to over-light our tanks in search of profit margin, instead of the actual needs of our tank inhabitants and certainly over the needs of fish-keepers. To be clear, I know there are some advantages, but do they justify spending $$$$$$$ on lights, when you can accomplish it with so much less under-utilized power at 1/10th the cost? Take the same argument to freshwater, and it becomes even more clear.....

Anyway, fun discussion.......
I agree to this. I have a 10 gallon with psudomugil in it just a lamp and sun and I get tons of growth no filter either. I wanna hopefully use floodlights because they are on par with halides and stuff but cheaper long term and more lasting/reliable imo. Also I wanna use live crushed shells/coral on top of live sand to get lots of microfauna. I feel like if you make a better ecosystem with biodiversity and higher nutrients you can get the same if Not greater levels of thriving than the glowing tanks With designer clowns and puck lights and 200$ powerheads that you run as strong as a 10$ powerhead
 

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Oh I forgot I’m gonna do a floodlight then 2 kessil 24w. The floodlight on the left Where my macros and mangrove will be then on the right where the corals will be I will put the kessils
 

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shading is why i think it is more important now with the high power but very much single point leds. The leds dont have the huge reflector of halides due to the inherent reflection they are made with. More are needed especially for sps tanks to deal with the shading but having a higher power fixture also lets people be more versatile, maybe they want to mount leds higher or angled at certain sections of the tank.
Side point, what the heck is a kessil 24watt light? Im pretty sure they dont come in that wattage anyway.
 
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Awesome points all. I 100% agree that LEDs are the greenest option, especially when you consider all the VHO tubes we’d trash every 6 months. I suppose my issue is how we (collectively) seem to be led (pun) to believe that somehow a $800 puck is inherently better for corals than a $150 one for average reefer applications because all the cool, but unnecessary specs. As my dad used to say, all a lure needs to catch is the fisherman. If it catches fish better, that’s just a bonus.


Over a 40” deep tank, the $800 light might make the most sense. But I’d venture to guess that most of us have tanks that are no deeper than 24” and the hobby would benefit from more viable $100 options (a more realistic price point for the technology) and examples of their effectiveness. I used to run a very successful reef in a 33 long with no more than 4 standard T8 tubes in shop lights.

All that said, I have LEDs for the low energy and the fun features, albeit a lower power, lower price fixture.
 

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Awesome points all. I 100% agree that LEDs are the greenest option, especially when you consider all the VHO tubes we’d trash every 6 months. I suppose my issue is how we (collectively) seem to be led (pun) to believe that somehow a $800 puck is inherently better for corals than a $150 one for average reefer applications because all the cool, but unnecessary specs. As my dad used to say, all a lure needs to catch is the fisherman. If it catches fish better, that’s just a bonus.


Over a 40” deep tank, the $800 light might make the most sense. But I’d venture to guess that most of us have tanks that are no deeper than 24” and the hobby would benefit from more viable $100 options (a more realistic price point for the technology) and examples of their effectiveness. I used to run a very successful reef in a 33 long with no more than 4 standard T8 tubes in shop lights.

All that said, I have LEDs for the low energy and the fun features, albeit a lower power, lower price fixture.
I absolutely agree that high price-point lights are unnecessary for the vast majority of hobbyists, and that there is this pervasive attitude (and it’s certainly marketed to
us this way too) that what ever you have isn’t quite good enough or that this new best thing will make your reef that much more successful. On one hand, I get that there are tech/gadget junkies who just appreciate new tech, but I feel like there are a lot of people in the hobby who obsess about equipment and chasing numbers and ‘perfection’ who have maybe lost what got them into the hobby in the first place, which is to appreciate the fish and corals. I feel like so many hobbyists looks at their tanks, and they’re thriving, but they just can’t leave well enough alone and have this drive to move on to the next best new thing. I think we’re probably all guilty of it to a certain extent, though I think given time you either move more in that direction, or you start to realize that after a certain point the returns are diminished.

So yes, I think most hobbyist would actually do just fine with a cheap black box LED from Amazon. It wouldn’t be the most aesthetically pleasing or the most feature rich light, but it would get the job done. But unless your budget limited, it’s best to consider what kind of reef you want/have and what kind of lighting you find appealing (the high contrast, high shadow spotlight vs the diffused, more even T5 vs something in the middle).
 
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If you are alluding to the new Kessil ‘super’ spot them I’m on record here as rather missing the point ..... unless you’ve a 40” tall tank. That’s a pretty small addressable market. Otherwise, I run a variety of radion and older Kessils, typically up to about 80%. Always figured that give me some headroom as the diodes fade.
 

Are your corals ever subjected to the open air with no water for water changes or tank maintenance?

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