I recently posted some of the obstacles I faced running LEDs. I had put my old metal halide fixture back over the tank till I had time to mull over a possible solution. The notable issue is the nature of modular LED lighting: Modular lighting is a point-source design, and LEDs themselves are point source. Metal Halide and T5 bulbs produce light in 360 degrees. And the addition of parabolic reflectors introduces light from multiple angles. Refraction plays a big role in the success of these veteran light sources.
Meawhile, LED units rely on optics such as reflectors but mostly lenses; not a bad choice on units that cover the entire surface of the tank. But they fall short in small modular packages. I was suffering from heavy shading on staghorns and tabling Acropora. I shelved this issue until Summer arrived. The halides were pushing my tank up to 84 degrees mid-day, and the idea of adding a chiller didn’t appeal to my need for an efficient tank. It was time to stop procastinating, and tackle this LED thing.
I debated starting from scratch and going with a hybrid option. Perhaps metal halides with LED blue supplementation, or maybe T5 with LED. Ultimately, I decided on solving the issue with the lights I already have. I absolutely loved the look of the Mazarra’, and the color spectrum fit my desires. Maxspect put a lot of thought into the LED layout, and the tank had a natural hue that I don’t see so much with other LED fixtures. I put the Mazarra’s back into service, and went to work on the shadows.
The Maxspect Mazarra has the advantage of allowing you to adjust the angle of each module. This is a serious advantage over some other LED brands. I was able to relieve some of the shading by angling each fixture but the shadows were not entirely eliminated. I experimented with different optics (Maxspect includes 3 kinds). Ironically, I found that mounting the modules higher with narrow optics produced less shadows. I’m not a light guru, but it was a serious improvement over mounting the units closer to the water with 100 degree optics. I compromised and went with the default 70 degree optics.
I built a 6 inch frame around the top of my tank, resembling a false canopy. Not only did it help reduce light glare, but it gave me the opportunity to mount a light source at a 45 degree angle towards the aquascape. The 45 degree angle would illuminate the sides of the corals and hopefully reduce the harsh shadows. Initially, I considered a double T5 retro-kit. Then I discovered the folks at BuildMyLED. The product seemed perfect for my needs. I ordered one of their 14K light strips. Their design creates a nice distributed light source spanning the entire tank length. My tank is 72″ long, but I opted to go 60″ in order to fit it easily inside my false canopy.
The unit arrived about a week after ordering. The build quality is suberb. A quick trip to home depot for some L-brackets, and I had it mounted. The difference was astounding. To say that I was ecstatic is an understatement. The angular light source wiped out the harsh shadows and everything just came together.
The Mazarras gave me the punch for good growth and color from overhead while the BuildMyLED strip filled in the shadows and gave the denser staghorns the light they were missing. Corals shaded by larger corals appreciated it as well. Take my Pagoda Cup (Turbinaria) living in the shadows of my Green slimer as an example. Below is a video I made where I ramp the BuildMyLED strip up and down with the manual dimmer knob.
The intensity of the BuildMyLED unit is impressive. I don’t have a PAR meter, but I may borrow one to get some numbers. BuildMyLED stated that 3 of their light strips would grow and color up sps on my tank. Based on my impressions, I would say they are right. However, I’m also convinced they have a good market niche for supplementing the modular brands out there.
As far as modular lighting, I think it needs to change. I believe LED manufacturers should start moving their designs away from modular units. This includes the multichip pendants as well. I think distributed LED lights are the way to go. And more importantly, angular LED lights are absolutely the way to proceed. I think the folks at reefbrite had a great idea with the curved XHO LED units. And BuildMyLED has some really neat tank mounts to allow you to angle their fixtures.
I hope other brands take note. I’d love to see a unit with multichip LEDs in the center for punch, and angled LED clusters on outside pointed inward. I’m seriously considering a second BuildMyLED strip mounted on the back of the tank pointed towards the front. This would ensure that my corals are getting light from a 180 degrees.
If you are running smaller LED units(Including Kessils, Radions, and AquaIllumination), I would suggest you consider adding a BuildMyLED or ReefBrite strip. Alternatively, you could do the same with some T5’s. It makes a big difference. If you are starting from scratch, you could try going exclusively with BuildMyLED strips. I’m still very happy with my maxspects now though. I like using them to target my rockwork, and I really enjoy the spectrum they put out. They just needed a little help with the shadows.