Although I love new technology and how it changes our lives, sometimes I hesitate to just jump right in with the newest tech. In our hobby one of the biggest changes has been the move to LED lighting. When I first started this addiction of a hobby the only options we had were metal halides (Mh) and VHO lights. After several years of running Mh lights I made the switch to T-5 lighting. T-5 lighting worked great on the tank I had, a 120g mixed reef, and I was able to keep and grow any coral or clam in the tank.
Earlier this year I upgraded to a 180g tank (pictured above). When I initialy planned this tank I wanted to go "old school" and put Mh lights over it. Don't get me wrong, I was very happy with T-5 lights, but I wanted the Mh look for this tank. So, long story short, I initially purchased and installed 3, 250w Mh lights (Radiums) over the tank. The tank looked great although the lighting was very intense. Of course throwing 750 watts of light over a tank you expect it to be bright, but it almost seemed too bright. In addition to this I started to have the typical temp problems associated with Mh lights. My tank would typically start the day off, pre-lights, at 78.5 degrees but by the end of the day the tank would hit 83 - 84 degrees. My controller was programmed to automatically turn off the lights at 84 so the lights shut off on a couple of occasions. I should mention that the enclosed canopy had two fans installed that did a great job of circulating air through the canopy. In addition to these fans I planced another, larger sized fan, over the sump located in the basement. This did an ok job of lowering the temp; at least down to 82 degrees. But at the same time this caused my evaporation to increase to 5+ gallons a day. Water is cheap but since winter hit the humidity in the house was causing a lot of condensation on all of my windows. This got me a little worried about water damaging my windows and the rest of my house. So, this left me with a few choises: I could buy a chiller, I could switch to different lighting (T-5 or LED), or I could let it go and see how the animals in the tank adjusted to the temp swings. The option of buying a chiller didn't seem like to good of an idea to me. Chillers are expensive, they create a lot of heat and they add to the electricity load. The last option didn't really sit well with me either. I purchased these animals and I feel like I have a respocibility to provide them with a home where they can not only live but thrive. That left me with the option of looking for different lighting. T-5 lights were a good option, I've used them before and I know they work well, but with yearly bulb replacement I decided to go with LED lights. Since one of our lfs, Nebraska Aquatic Supply, was a dealer for Ecoxotic I did some research on their lighting options and decided to to purchase three of their Panorama LED Retrofit units. According to Ecoxotic the Panorama units use a combination of 453nm blue LEDs and white LEDs to give an overall look of a 10k light. Ecoxotic also states that these lights will last 50,000 hours, no cooling fan on the unit so no noise and each unit consumes only 42watts. At a retail price of $348.00 for each unit it wasn't a cheap option, but since my Mh equipment was almost brand new I was able to sell it to balance out the expense of buying three units. Here is what they looked like when I got them in:
The actual dimensions for the units are: 8" X 9.5" X 2.5" H. According to the directions there are several different ways you can installed them. You can cut holes in the top of your canopy and drop them in. I really considered this install method because the heat sinks for the lights would be outside of the canopy, but my wife likes to put decrative things on top of my tank so this could have caused problems; plus I wasn't sure if I wanted them that high off of the water. I desided to install them by attaching them to the inside top of the canopy. By doing this I still have the option to lower them with out having three big holes in the top of my canopy. Here are some install photos:
The first photo shows the unit sitting in the canopy uninstalled. I took several measurments to try and ensure that the units were centered over each opening in the tank. I should mention that each unit also has a driver. Since the cords on the units were only 48" I decided to mount the drivers to the back of the canopy:
I also mounted a power stick to power all three of the lights. I thought about plugging in each unit to my controller to stagger how they came on, but I decided to just go with all on and all off at the same time. As a little side note they do offer a dimmable unit that works with several controllers, but I didn't go that route since they wouldn't work with my controller. Once I got everything mounted, which really didn't take that long, I went ahead and powered them on to see how bright they looked:
I was impressed by how bright they seem to be, but the real test was how they looked over the tank. Here is a pic of the canopy on the tank with the lights on, doors off and no camera flash:
Its hard to tell in the photo but the tank looked really good to me. So, what are the pluses and minuses of the panorama units? First off they are no where near as bright as my 250w Mh lights. I don't really consider that a bad thing considering in my opnion my tank was too bright to begin with. When my Mh lights were on some colors were washed out and I had several corals that were having a hard time adjusting to the amount of light. With the panorama units I think the colors in the tank looked much better. Colors were no longer washed out and I really like the overall color temp of the panorama lights. I should also mention that the panorama units were mounted to the top of my canopy and they could be lowered to increase their intensity. I sent a support message to Ecoxotic asking for the optimal height for these lights but I haven't heard back from them. Another big plus for the switch is the amount of electricity being used. With three 250w Mhs I was using 750w, but with the panorama units I am only using 126w! Thats a big savings in the long run, not to mention I won't have to buy new bulbs every 12 to 18 months ($270 bucks or so). Lastly I'm really happy to report I no longer have heat issues. Over the last couple of days, with the LEDs on the warmest my tank has got is only 78.6!
The real test now will be how the light dependant animals in the tank react to the new lighting. Will they continue to thrive? I will try and take some more photos of how things look now and update it over time. So far though I am happy with the switch!