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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've asked in another forum, but thought I'd ask here too, especially since I'm in Michigan & hopefully can find some friends here as well.

Mainly, I've wanted to set up my own reef for a long, long while, and I'm finally in the position to do it. Having lost all my notes/research from when I previously did this from a move, I've started collecting again, to measure costs, find the right setup/products for what I want, etc...

I'll probably be posting a lot here & asking a ton of questions, but I want to do this as right as I can. I understand I won't set it up perfect my first time, and not expecting it to be that, but I don't want to 'regret' anything I've done or waste money, time, or energy either.

To that end, my previous decision in lighting was Metal Halides, because I found the look of them a lot more pleasing to my eye than the T5's, and I was prepared to bite the bullet and try to find a way to deal with the heat with cooling fans & whatnot.

Well, as my situation finally has made it to the near-point where I can start actually doing this, and I begin researching again, I see LED lights are now the new & buzzing thing in the hobby. The few pics of aquariums I've seen under LEDs, sadly, aren't that impressive to me though I'm told that they can match what 250w 14K MHs (which is what I would be getting) can produce.

I've also been told that LEDs can be 'too bright', and hurt/kill corals, which I clearly do not want.

Furthermore, looking at LEDs seems to be more 'trial and error' unless you're an expert at the light spectrum, changing out bulbs & whatnot, to find the right 'tone' for your setup. I guess that's both good & bad.

I don't mind spending the initial money to invest, but, I've really not been able to find that much discussion or information on LEDs, the pros/cons, look at setups, or anything like that. I was wondering if anyone here could give me better intel, or at least, point me to some good discussions or information online to look into this more.

Fact of the matter is, if I can have the healthy tank without over light plus integrate moonlighting, and do it for a lower energy footprint and not worry about heating/fans just for my lighting, I'm willing to absorb the initial cost upfront. I just haven't seen a tank picture with LED lighting that makes me convinced it's the way to go, yet, when compared to MHs, sadly.
 

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i use a par38 i purchased over my 10 nano and LOVE it. the shimmer effect is awesome and my corals all are growing great!

the biggest problem people have with OVERlighting a reef are those 3w cree LED. They are GREAT for PAR values, but their optics are meant for deeeeep penetration. :secret:

that's why a lot of people use dimmable drivers on DIY kits because its near impossible to run those crees without bleaching corals (especially when they arent used to the lighting) along with a shorter photoperiod

i'll try to dig up some pictures for you when i get a moment.
 

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Biggest problem with LED's right now is the effective technology is so heavily marketed in over-priced fixtures and fanboy nonsense that it takes a rocket scientist to get through all the BS and get you into the real truth. Commercial fixtures in particular are swamped in PAR masterbating, and are sold with the brutal reality that most beginners buying these lights will be out of the hobby in 13 or so months. They don't sell lights to grow coral - they sell lights to make money.

When I first started building my LED fixtures three years ago first thing I noticed was took a fraction of the wattage compared to halides to grow coral, and the next thing I noticed was the color sucked. Everybody followed the formula of using cool-whites and royals, and the net result was crappy looking tanks with anemic looking color. However, nobody was interested in discussing doing it differently so the halide and T5 boys just sat back and laughed. It's the ugly baby syndrome - somebody posts a picture of a LED lit tank that looks bad and ten guys say "awesome dude" and I say "you actually have that crap in your living room?" Take 60 watts of LED's, bolt 40 degree optics to them, and hanging it 3 feet above a 55gallon tank will likely look pretty stupid. I'm with you dude - a huge percentage of LED lit tanks just look bad. Or, they want to brag about controlling colors and building dusk / dawn circuits. I could care less about that.

Then I started messing color combinations and thinking outside the box, and a bunch of others started doing the same thing. Using different wavelength LEDs, staying away from the Asian junk, usining concepts like power-clustering and having a bit of personal taste fixed the color issues. I recently built a 30watt test array using a select combination of LEDs I spent a year tweaking out, and brought it into a local reef shop for comparison. I easily beat every halide they had in the place in terms of both color range and 'pop', and the guys working at place agreed 100% with me their halides looked obsolete in comparison. Unfortunatley 95% of commercial fixtures are still using old school mixes. They want to make money selling to kids that think PAR numbers can displace good water chemistry. So, they use narrow optics and cool-white / blue based lights that create abnormally high PAR numbers that cause easy bleaching and have no color range.

There are some very good commercial LED fixtures on the market that now have a good range of color and will compete with any halide or T5 in that respect. Ecotech Radion is one, but it's expensive. I really like the AI units, but due to their blue dominant builds they tend to look best over SPS tanks and when used in pairs or threes or fours. Virtually all the generic stuff you find on Ebay is trash; Dope lights where the factory in China swaps the reds for cool-whites and call it a reef light.

In terms of growth, royal blue LEDs along with all varities of whites emit huge amounts of energy at a peak 445-455nm, and taper off with a wider blue bandwidth than most other light sources. This results in low energy usage and high PAR, but can get you into trouble (bleaching) when you add optics or add in longer wavelength blue, like the some of the other AI units.

A big negative, and I'll be honest about this, is I haven't been thrilled about this forum's attitude towards LED's while some other sites have showcase tanks daily lit with LEDs that blow your mind and have SPS growth that's scary. Even local reef shops here on the West Side say "you can't grow corals with LEDs", which is news to some of us here like PJR with his monster monti caps.

So, that's my $02. It really depends on how big your tank is and what you want to do. As far as I'm concerned though I can send the best halides packing in terms of color and energy savings, but that's DIY. Commercial options are still a bit limited due to reasons above.
 

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there is lots of debate about LEDs some love them others not so much. I personaly like the LEDs the best advice I can give is to really research your LED brand before you buy. Most fixtures only use a white/blue combo and are either on or off, some have different cords for the white/blue lights to control them but I would steer clear of these as you dont have very much control over them. Stick to a dimmable fixture so you can control the amount of light they put out. Ive found with my leds that my corals are happier with a lower par value compaired to halides of T5s. Par really is only a good general guide not a rule.

If money isnt a huge factor in your choice look into the ecotech radions they are a bit pricy but really let you control the light they put out. Ive been using them for a little while now and have already noticed a drastic improvement in color over my T5s.

The key with LEDs isnt always more is better. IMO i think that is the major problem most people have with LEDs they try for a equal or greater par value from T5s or halides and start to bleach their corals.

Also look for a fixture with wider optics so you dont get the "disco ball" effect. a good optic will give you a nice shimmer effect much like a halide.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I appreciate the candor. I've looked on Reef Central which is the other forum I'm chatting on to get an idea on things, and they mainly just have listed what their chosen spectrum/setup is, or show pictures of their DIY but no pictures of the tanks.

From what I gather, it's a lot less expensive to set up your own DIY build than to get a commercial unit. Besides Ecotech, the other one someone else mentioned was Maxspect Mazarra. Maxspect seems a little more affordable, as well as customizable, including a mounting for a hood, which I'd love -- but I've only been told about them by one person.

I'm planning on setting up a 90 gallon, so would need 48" covered, and be able to reach 24" depth (well, probably 22" after sand added in?). As I'm certain I will probably want both SPS & LPS corals eventually, I'll want to get a lighting system that can hit all of these, make the colors 'pop'.

Another thing is all these pictures of tanks with hanging lights make me nervous, for fear not only of critters 'escaping', but mental images of my cat somehow jumping in as well - therefore I'm going to be getting a hood.

Now, I'm building my own stand/hood, found some really nice looking CAD blueprints/designs/instructions online I'll be following (and getting some help with), with the hood 'ceiling' being about 12" above the water. So, I'll certainly have the capability to do my own internal lighting. The problem there is -- pretty much, I've never done a DIY project before, I am not what you call 'handy'. Not for lack of skill, just utterly, utterly inexperienced. So I certainly have some concerns there.

I think you're right about the 'ugly baby' comment; a lot of people mention it, but there's no real place to get solid information, like I said, unless (like you) you tinker with it for a year+ to find results, or you're a pro with the light spectrum and have been in reefing for awhile and know what to look for. There's just no big discussion board on it, or wealth of information to compare like there is for T5's vs Metal Halides.

If you don't mind me asking, blasterman, about how much did the final end product, tinkering & experimenting not withstanding, cost you? Does it work well, in your reef, for any LPS & SPS corals, or other critters? And what kind of bulbs/setup did you use?

Does anyone else here, also, have any other opinions? While I don't mind spending the money, I am for saving every penny I can, and I'm not opposed to spending more upfront to save more down the road -- but I also don't want to be disappointed with what I have on something as pricey as good aquarium lighting. Either with MHs, or LEDs I'm looking at some high dollars, so this is not an investment I want to play around with twice.

Ultimately and bottom line, I suppose, my question is this: Is either of those two brands proven & good for all critters in a reef, and with LEDs is a 24" single platform enough for my 90 gal OR is it easy/viable for someone with absolutely no experience in DIY/electronics/lighting to build their own at about half the cost and achieve good, solid performance that's safe & viable for all reef critters?

Additionally if I DON'T go with LEDs, I was thinking about going with something like this: IceCap 36" Reef Illuminations 2 x 250W Metal Halide, T5 & LED Aquarium Lght Fixture - AquaCave.com for lighting as it seems to have all the cooling fans, protection, reflectors, ballasts, and bulbs I'll need along with the awesome Moonlighting that I know I'll want. I presume this would be enough for my 90 gal with the 48 x 24 footprint, as well?
 

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with a hood a DIY build would be a very good plan if you are willing to take your chances with it. theres alot of things to consider when you make your own and really you wont save very much unless you do it perfectly right the first time. most of the DIY builds ive seen are either not so nice or cost way more that the owner wants to admit. you really have to know exactly what you want to make your own and save money. If you can get some one to help you it might be a good idea.

If you looking to save money remember that you have to replace bulbs on a MH/T5 light every 9m -1y so factor that into the cost when you consider a LED set-up.

dont get me wrong im not trying to sell you a certin lighting system but I went through the exact same thing as you a few months ago and after a LOT of research I did chose the ecotech radions. they have 5 different color LEDs compaired to the normal 2 or 3 each color can be controlled sepertly and you can program them with a computer. they work wirelessly with the vortech pumps (which are amazing). you would only need 2 over your tank to grow any type of coral and they only use 120w each at max power which you wouldnt really need. If you put them over your tank and you dont like the light spectrum then just hook them up to your computer and change it. they can also be mounted in a canopy.

I looked at the maxspect too but i never did find any glowing reviews about them and they wernt quite as customizable as the radions. they only bad thing about the radions is the programming is a bit buggy still. It works but its not perfect.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
No, I appreciate the info.

While I've yet to make a single purchase towards my aquarium yet, I've done a lot of research as well. I've also figured out by lurking on various forums and reading up on a lot of things, as well as going over a couple books, there's no one 'right' way to do things. There are a lot of different ways, depending on the results you want, and what you're keeping in your tank, and budget, and all that jazz.

I know things aren't going to go perfectly. Still. This is a huge investment, and I want as much information as I can get, before I go headlong into this. From everything I've seen, slow & steady builds a great reef, which is what I'm aiming for.
 

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Thats refreshing to hear, most people just jump in and make a lot of mistakes. when i started i have to admit I took it a bit too fast and made my share of mistakes. Its hard to wait but as the saying goes nothing good happens fast with saltwater.

My biggest reason for buying the radions was simply I didnt know what I was exactly looking for so why not get something that lets me change it if I dont like it.

there is no right way there are some wrong ways that you'll want to avoid but your already doing the right thing and doing your research. keep that up and you'll have a great tank in time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks again for the advice; if either of you could post (or direct me through links) to pics of your tanks with the LED lighting, I'd really appreciate it. I can at least get an idea for how it compares to MHs.
 

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dont have any good pics of my tank at the moment. My photos just dont do it justice. plus my lighting changes throughout the day. Ill see if i can get some decent pics but If your ever out my way you welcome to stop by and see it in person.

Alex
 

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Blasterman, thx for the kind words. We're now getting to the point of having monster acros to go with the monster caps!

The number of options out there are getting to a staggering total. Be patient and go look at some tanks... Find something you like by a reliable company and have some fun!
 
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