PSA ON THE LAMENTATION OF THE OCD LED'ER

Battlecorals

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I remember when PFO released their new LED fixture, the Solaris, in 2006 at the IMAC show in Chicago. It was extremely expensive, it had no proven track record at all, and ultimately wasn't really refined enough to serve as a suitable replacement for halide or T5’s in any way. But it was darn cool! And it was a starting point.






Looking back, I can’t help but be extremely impressed at the lengths we’ve come since that fixture hit the market, only to fizzle amidst a swath of red tape, sadly taking PFO with it. But their initial innovations along with pioneers like Tullio Dellaquilla, who I had the pleasure of meeting that year at IMAC as well, served to pave the way for the modern concept of LED aquarium lighting as we know it today. And where PFO left off, the DIY’ers picked up, rapidly building and experimenting - adapting LED's to fit for success in light dependent reef systems. What was once a nearly ineffective novelty, has become an industry mainstay - with good reason. LED’s work, and they work well! This has been firmly established over the last few years. The once fiery debate over “do they” or “don't they” has been practically extinguished. It seems that one of the last true mysteries with LED success is simply “what do I need to do with them to get my coral to look good?”





I’ll admit often times the catalyst for some of my write ups is that I find myself answering the same questions, or very similar ones, frequently. One question in particular regarding LED use is leading the pack by a mile and that is, “How do you run your LED’s?” Specifically, how do I run my own led fixtures? A simple question with a simple answer. I run them all at 80-100% every channel, and keep the fixtures high off water. A lot higher than most - at roughly 18-24 inches. Seems simple enough, right? Mount them high, run them high, spread and coverage is great, and par is more than adequate. No muss no fuss, in fact, I don’t even use the internal timers anymore, relying on my old T-101 timers to turn them on and off each day. Just as if they were halides. Nothing to it, I swear.


But further then the quandary goes into exactly what is the “ideal” spectrum for SPS, and "how exactly do I get SPS to look alright? Under precisely what spectrum, duration, intensity, height, etc?" The perfect recipe for color spectrum being sought after with highly regarded, yet puzzling desperation. Convinced this elusive “perfect spectrum” will immediately "edenize" their tanks, solving any and all problems associated with coloration and vitality of their SPS.





Here's the thing. My honest and hopelessly unscientific answer since I fired up my first LED fixture, based entirely on my own trials, failures, and success, is this: There is no singular quintessential combination of slider locations and durations, or individual intensities, that will produce results beyond that of any other setting you can come up with. Literally, this setting does not exist! I am convinced that if your crucial water quality needs are satisfied, and your corals are acclimated properly to the light provided, they will adapt and thrive under any color combination you want to keep them under. You might want to read that last sentence again.

Here's the trick, and there is nothing to it. This is one of those rare instances in reefing where sheer laziness or even apathy will be absolutely beneficial. Your LED's, or whatever fixture you happen to have mounted above your reef, STOP MESSING WITH THEM!!! And I really mean that. Stop, stop, stop! The constant tweaking, and that search for “ideal” spectrum - you will not find it. It takes time for the results to show, there is nothing instantaneous. I could actually say you already have it. Believe me or not, by constantly messing with those sliders in your search for the perfect setting, you are only providing an unstable environment at best. Look at it this way. If you were running halides or T5’s, how obviously unnecessary would it seem to swap out bulbs daily. Experimenting with different colors and wattages to no end? You wouldn’t do it, plain and simple - and the same notion should be applied to your LEDs. Think of your light like you think about alkalinity. It is still all about consistency and stability and the more you apply that line of thinking to your LED's, I believe, the more will you find success with them.






I have been using LED's intended for aquarium use for a number of years now, and also have observed many of the nuances regarding spectrum and intensity, as well. I am 100% convinced that any color combination in modern fixture with halfway decent quality diodes, will ultimately achieve and provide the same types of results in our SPS. In other words, it literally does not matter to your SPS what color you rain down upon them as long as the intensity is satisfactory and spectrum is consistent day to day. I truly believe this. To have long term success with LED's, the key is stability, not ambiguous spectral chasing.


The best advice I can give people is this: Dial in your fixture to a visual aesthetic that appeals to YOU! Get that color looking so good that every time you walk in the room you are taken back by just how happy you are with the actual appearance of the light itself. Then kindly remove or disable any app or apparatus you have to modify the light again. Believe me, 9.9 times out of ten your SPS will adapt and thrive under this combination you have chosen. As long as you just stop messing with the thing.








I know what your thinking.......


But what about a daily shift from white to blue and back, and lights that ramp up or down essentially creating the same kinds of inconsistencies I just rallied against? That’s a good question and a very valid concern. The same rules still apply. Once you are 100% happy with the the visual aesthetic of the cycle then stop tweaking. Corals will adapt to a consistent daily pattern for sure. As long as it remains consistent. In the wild, duration intensity and spectrum swing pretty dramatically as well, but the daily patterns remain relatively consistent day to day.



I know there are plenty of people on these boards a lot smarter than me, and with a whole lot more experience with the in's and outs and complexities of the science of LED's, and I encourage any of you to chime in with knowledge and insight you may want to add. The crux of this write up is based solely on my own observations of what has been effective, and what has not, and the many conversations I have had with people experiencing the same kind of problems over and over. Although, I really think people are getting it more and more. But if you are one of those, still struggling, trying to find the “right” spectrum, let your own tastes do the work and dial in that fixture to the setting that you find the most visually appealing. This truly is the trick to running LED's.


 

Ssteve

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Nice write up. I can attest to your methods working. After speaking with you about swapping from t5's to leds, I purchased a photo ton v2, took par measurements of the t5's, setup the leds and matched the par levels.

I ended up running the fixture at 80% on all channels and hung it 18" over the water. Very short ramp up and down with peak intensity lasting 7hrs.

I noticed no I'll affects on corals and about a month in I noticed a significant rise in alk demand. I'm assuming this is because the corals started adapting and growth increased.

This swap happened about 4 months ago now and over the last two months I have increased all the blue and white channels to 100%(left reds and greens at 40%).

Alk demand is at a all time high, growth and colors are better than they ever were under t5's. I never burned anything, never had alk demand drop off etc. my personal opinion regarding people's failures with leds is they have them too low and create extreme hot spots..... hence the massive push by manufactures to defuse the lights more and more and more.... example: radions have designed new lenses for the g4's, then they go and manufacture a cover to defuse the light even more.

Hanging my photon at 12" which is the max height the factory legs allow for I can shift the par meter just a small fraction of an inch and par shifts over 100 PAR! With the light at 18" the shift in par is less than 20 PAR.
 

LobsterOfJustice

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I think one of the things that held back the acceptance of LEDs for a long time was that they tended to be adopted by people just getting into the hobby and buying their first light fixtures, and a lot of the more experienced people stuck with the old tried and true methods. I understand why this happened, but in reality, it should have happened the other way around. You can slap a 250w MH over your tank at any reasonable height (~6"-18"), put in any bulb, run it for anywhere between 4-14 hours a day, and you will grow coral (including SPS) - any issues you have can not be blamed on the light. Thats exactly what newbies need. What newbies DONT need is complete control of intensity and spectrum when only a small portion of these customizable settings actually result in acceptable conditions for corals. That is something that very experienced reefers who already understand the nuances of an SPS tank should consider tinkering with as "icing on the cake" to get the extra performance out of their already successful systems. Giving these lights with this kind of control to newbies is like teaching a kid to drive in a lamborghini or learning how to shoot a gun with an assault rifle. So I think for years we were seeing the question of "Can LEDs grow corals as well as MH?" because most LED fixtures were in the hands of the wrong people. I've been doing this for 15 years and I still don't want that kind of responsibility/control, which is why when I switched to LEDs I went with Kessil.
 

Velcro

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Nice write up. I can attest to your methods working. After speaking with you about swapping from t5's to leds, I purchased a photo ton v2, took par measurements of the t5's, setup the leds and matched the par levels.

I ended up running the fixture at 80% on all channels and hung it 18" over the water. Very short ramp up and down with peak intensity lasting 7hrs.

I noticed no I'll affects on corals and about a month in I noticed a significant rise in alk demand. I'm assuming this is because the corals started adapting and growth increased.

This swap happened about 4 months ago now and over the last two months I have increased all the blue and white channels to 100%(left reds and greens at 40%).

Alk demand is at a all time high, growth and colors are better than they ever were under t5's. I never burned anything, never had alk demand drop off etc. my personal opinion regarding people's failures with leds is they have them too low and create extreme hot spots..... hence the massive push by manufactures to defuse the lights more and more and more.... example: radions have designed new lenses for the g4's, then they go and manufacture a cover to defuse the light even more.

Hanging my photon at 12" which is the max height the factory legs allow for I can shift the par meter just a small fraction of an inch and par shifts over 100 PAR! With the light at 18" the shift in par is less than 20 PAR.
This has been my exact experience.
 
OP
Battlecorals

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I think one of the things that held back the acceptance of LEDs for a long time was that they tended to be adopted by people just getting into the hobby and buying their first light fixtures, and a lot of the more experienced people stuck with the old tried and true methods. I understand why this happened, but in reality, it should have happened the other way around. You can slap a 250w MH over your tank at any reasonable height (~6"-18"), put in any bulb, run it for anywhere between 4-14 hours a day, and you will grow coral (including SPS) - any issues you have can not be blamed on the light. Thats exactly what newbies need. What newbies DONT need is complete control of intensity and spectrum when only a small portion of these customizable settings actually result in acceptable conditions for corals. That is something that very experienced reefers who already understand the nuances of an SPS tank should consider tinkering with as "icing on the cake" to get the extra performance out of their already successful systems. Giving these lights with this kind of control to newbies is like teaching a kid to drive in a lamborghini or learning how to shoot a gun with an assault rifle. So I think for years we were seeing the question of "Can LEDs grow corals as well as MH?" because most LED fixtures were in the hands of the wrong people. I've been doing this for 15 years and I still don't want that kind of responsibility/control, which is why when I switched to LEDs I went with Kessil.
Excellent post! On point 100%
 

lou dog420

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Well said!! Im getting good growth out of sps right now that a year ago I thought my lights were inadequate. Wanted to replace them but didn't have the money. Kept good water quality, and the the lights running consistent on a controller , 100% intensity 8 hours a day , about 16 inches of the water to maximize spread. What do know, haven't touched my lights in a year and the corals love me for it!! Good article,and 100% accurate.
 

Caseyoidae

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I tried the leds. Just couldn't leave those dang sliders alone!! Switched back to my t5's and I do a lot less damage now even though thunderstorm mode was fun for me, inhabitants probably not so much lol
 

Abhishek

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I think one of the things that held back the acceptance of LEDs for a long time was that they tended to be adopted by people just getting into the hobby and buying their first light fixtures, and a lot of the more experienced people stuck with the old tried and true methods. I understand why this happened, but in reality, it should have happened the other way around. You can slap a 250w MH over your tank at any reasonable height (~6"-18"), put in any bulb, run it for anywhere between 4-14 hours a day, and you will grow coral (including SPS) - any issues you have can not be blamed on the light. Thats exactly what newbies need. What newbies DONT need is complete control of intensity and spectrum when only a small portion of these customizable settings actually result in acceptable conditions for corals. That is something that very experienced reefers who already understand the nuances of an SPS tank should consider tinkering with as "icing on the cake" to get the extra performance out of their already successful systems. Giving these lights with this kind of control to newbies is like teaching a kid to drive in a lamborghini or learning how to shoot a gun with an assault rifle. So I think for years we were seeing the question of "Can LEDs grow corals as well as MH?" because most LED fixtures were in the hands of the wrong people. I've been doing this for 15 years and I still don't want that kind of responsibility/control, which is why when I switched to LEDs I went with Kessil.
As usual , very well and amazing article Adam .

However , if using MH makes me a newbie so be it . Somehow , in my eyes , no tanks with leds have ever appealed to me as a MH lit tank - especially with radium or ushio bulbs .
I run MH and will still continue to do as long as they are made as I love the color rendition from them and more importantly , I enjoy running less heaters during the cold Minnesota weather ..

I have no doubt that if leds are good for you Adam, it's good for anyone in the industry because doubt anyone can question your ability to grow acroporas . Your article stresses upon the point of consistency with acros which is the single most important point .

But I simply love the old plug and play of MH to give them up . I shall gladly remain newbie for the rest of my lifetime in the hobby with MH.

Regards,
Abhishek
 

seastar

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Fantastic article and backs up something I've thought for the few years I've been in reefing. I don't have even a fraction of your experience so I appreciate reading something along these lines after I read thread after thread of people saying they're constantly tweaking theirs. I always feel like despite my intuition telling me otherwise I'm being lazy or something.
 

BoomCorals

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Nice write up Adam. I use all LED for my coral and have no problems growing even the most stubborn of sps.
 

Mohammad D. ALMUTAIRI

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wonderful read really, a spot on something neglected by people.
we all as humans tend to be "CONTROL FREAKS" the moment we get the chance to or even giving the opportunity to tweak or get control of something we'll just not stop! EVER!
this is why the old debate of MH vs T5 vs LED never ended and shall not do so very soon. in the old age of reefing! people got no control on the lighting aspect of things, it's either MH or T5 or MH+T5 with on single way to deal with it ON or OFF, Low or High! that's why people tended to set it up and forget about it, never tweak or ramp up or down, change colors or even try to Spectrum frenzy everything in the light.
so Corals tend to get used to that lighting and LIVE with it.
now the age of controlling everything in the hobby is just started and we are seeing it getting into people heads and our FREAK DEMONS coming out to play and tweak and can't stop, from the lights into the wave makers moving to the return pumps and even the food itself.

I think it will take more time for people to control themselves instead of the gadgets hocked to their tanks so that they understand that sometimes hock it up and for get about it is the best thing to do for the thrive of your reef tank and get some peace of mind.
 

reeferfoxx

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I'm a huge fan of LED and really appreciate this article. Lets keep in mind, as long as scientific data shows that there is a optimum spectrum for best coral growth, folks with the ability will fidget. Though I think extensive spectrum control is a gimmick and spectrometers are expensive. If anything a more affordable spectrometer for the hobby should be available for those with control.
 

volivier

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Adam, I'm using your radion schedule LOL Now you tell me pick a time of day when I like the looks and use that all day? You're killing me ha. And I never have figured out how to set all those sliders, but I agree if I tried and messed with it every day, nothing in my tank would be happy.
 

jamesfc27

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Adam, what's your thoughts on running uv and blues only for the entire photo period? I've been hearing people doing that more and more since Jason fox's presentation on his system.
 

Bouncingsoul39

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There is actually scientific research that specifies which spectrum corals will thrive at, so to say "it doesn't matter" is patently false. The Zooxanthellae that provide the energy for Corals need light in the violet and blue wavelengths. BRS has a few youtube videos on lighting that explains all of this in detail and the spectrum put out by the ATI blue plus bulb closes matches what corals crave. Not to say that is the only thing that doess, but come on, there is plenty of science out there to just completely pretend it doesn't exist is not great for the hobby. Honestly, it's kind of irresponsible considering people look to you for advice.
If your point is that people shouldn't get hung up on having the intensity and color settings perfect, well you're wrong there too. Anyone who has an LED that allows them to adjust intensity and spectrum should absolutely make an effort to have sufficient intensity for their corals to thrive AND the spectrum that is both pleasing to eyes and keeps the corals happy and growing. A responsible thing would be to recommend people borrow a Par meter from their local reef club or LFS and tune their LED to the known recommended Par values for the corals they want to keep. All of that information exists. It's really not a mystery. Lastly, for a hobbyist, it is not practical keeping their lights so high above the tank. Way too much light spill into the room. Anyone who tries to run their Radion Pros or whatevers LED at 80-100% intensity at a normal height will just straight up fry their corals so that whole thing needs a "kids don't try this at home" disclaimer too.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3962463/

http://www.advancedaquarist.com/2012/10/aafeature
 

Rufus’ goofs

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Great write up, Adam!
I believe you've really nailed it on the head.
One can play with their lights three times a week, and the corals will never adjust to it. But if you leave it alone, (even without ideal intensity and spectrum) they will adapt and thrive and not continue attempting to relocate/reevaluate what zooxanthellae needs to be in what part of the coral.

Thanks again for sharing your experiences and finding with us!
 

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