Are LED Lights Good for a Saltwater Aquarium?
LED lighting technology has meandered its way into our lives across a variety of different applications. From everyday household lightbulbs to the headlights in our cars, LED tech is becoming the preferred technology for a variety of reasons. As it pertains to our aquariums, LED lighting is now the #1 choice for illuminating all types of aquariums, saltwater and reef tanks included.
LED technology has evolved considerably in the last 10-20 years, this holds true across the board and is especially true for our aquariums. While there are a variety of benefits to LED technology, the knowledge we now have in the way of applying this technology to our aquariums gives us the power to reap those benefits without any loss. In fact, we have gained some incredible insight into how important lighting really is for our saltwater aquariums.
Compact Form Factor
LED diodes are teeny tiny compared to fluorescent bulbs of days past. This means we can produce thin, compact light fixtures that are easy to mount without compromising any light coverage or output. Not to mention LED fixtures look much more contemporary and are visually less intrusive.
By controlling the spectrum and blending the light we can meet our aesthetic desires. In other words, you can produce the look you want. Whether it be a blanket of light that looks just like fluorescent T5 lights or a natural shimmering effect that rivals metal halide lamps, LED lights can do it. This versatile control over the spectrum and output also allows us to easily accommodate the biological needs of the animals, plants, and corals we keep in our tanks.
As a direct result of being controllable, LED lights are incredibly easy to use and give the user complete control over the spectrum and intensity. More advanced LEDs also allow for custom programming with daily schedules, weather effects, and even synchronization with natural lighting conditions in nature.
LED lights don't require bulb changes, produce minimal heat, and consume less electricity relative to competing lighting technologies. There is also a huge selection of fixtures with something to match any budget.
It's Not ALL Rainbows
While LED lighting is the most popular choice for lighting an aquarium, there are most definitely some quirks. These points are especially important when choosing a light fixture and making the best possible decision for your tanks.
Shadows and Contrast
Single point source style LEDs create a high-contrast environment that results in some heavy shadowing inside your tank. You can use multiple fixtures to combat the issue, build a hybrid light using LEDs and T5 lamps, or choose a panel-style LED instead. Hybrids and Panel style LEDs enable a spread of smaller LED diodes and blanket the aquarium with light from different angles which effectively reduces that shadowing effect.
Prices Vary Drastically
The price points for LEDs are incredibly varied and some of the most popular LED options are quite a bit more expensive compared to previous lighting choices. Don't feel pressured into these high-output, upper-end LEDs unless your tank requires it. Many of the mid-tier and budget-level LED fixtures will support a soft coral or mixed reef aquarium just fine which accounts for a majority of the saltwater reef aquariums out there.
Control Can Be Deadly
The ability to control the output and spectrum is pretty impressive but this also allows you to get into trouble. Without the knowledge of how to meet the needs of your corals, adjusting the spectrum and output can do more harm than good. Many manufacturers provide clear recommendations or even lock the controls to always stay within acceptable parameters. Each LED is different in this area so it is important to set up and tune your light correctly using the right spectrum settings and a PAR meter.
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