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Reef System Lighting - What to Buy and Why

The Light Manufacturers' Marketing Game

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Reef System Lighting - What to Buy and Why

54g Reef Tank

Alex Olavarria
Let's stop and review. In Chapter 1 I addressed fish-only tank lighting requirements, including using pre-manufactured light hoods for these types of tanks, was well as the possibility of using them for keeping "some" reef life.

In Chapter 2 I covered the basic fundamentals of NO/Standard and VHO fluorescent tubes, such as how CRI or Kelvin determines a bulb/lamp's color frequency, how wattage is beneficial and why it's important, and fluorescent tube wattage comparisons. Depth simulation has also played a part in our lighting selection process.

Now that we have a better understanding of the basic principles of aquarium lighting, and the various methods by which they are presented to the hobby, we face the ultimate decision of what to buy for a reef system, and why?

The Light Manufacturers' Marketing Game

O.K., remember how I said that each company likes to tout its product as the savior of the marine community? Well, I can tell you that you will have equal success with fluorescents as well as PCs (Power Compact fluorescents), MHs (Metal Halides) and power stars (a differing bulb manufactured than standard MH). Marketing is nowhere more dominant than in this hobby.

The consensus is that if you have the disposable income to even THINK about setting up a saltwater aquarium or reef, then you have enough to plop down $495.00 for a powder-coat, German tensile steel light bar that looks like it came straight off the space shuttle!

Actually, for my first three years in the reef community I used Ultra-Lume 75’s and actinic light tubes. When was the last time you saw Ultra-Lumes advertised? Not sexy anymore. The fact that they work is irrelevant. Marketing, remember? Ask the folks that own Cyclone skimmers about advertising vs. performance and you'll begin to see my point. Now please, don't get me wrong. I like my toys as much as the next person, but think of how many more you can possess if you keep the second most expensive addition to your marine set-up, under control. That's right, a VHO package isn't cheap! Metal halides are even costlier, not to mention that steel light bar I mentioned a bit ago.

Choose carefully and plan ahead. Look toward the day when you wake up and WANT to cultivate SPS (Soft/Small Polyped Stony) corals, or the like. Unless you know that this isn't in your aquarium future, stick to standard fluorescents and spend the savings on upgrading or buying a great skimmer, not just one that you can afford now. Skimmers? Maybe a future article, but not here and not today. LOL! Right now I am going to have a serious discussion about using pre-manufactured light hoods for lighting a reef system, which is NOT a good choice!

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