Making the T5 Changeup in Reef Aquarium Lighting

t5-lighting-switchRecently, Paul Grant decided to switch up the lighting on his 240-gallon custom reef tank. Originally, five Aquaillumination Vega Color fixtures were used to power his SPS-dominated reef. He decided to make a changeover to an ATI Powermodule. The Powermodule is a T5-dominated lighting system with LED supplementation.

No spotlight effect

The main reason for this changeover was the significant spotlighting from the LED fixtures. While point light sources are wonderful for the shimmer effect, they can also lead to dark spots in the reef. If those dark spots happen to be on a portion of an SPS colony, that spot may start a die-off that could threaten the whole colony. T5 lighting, in comparison, is much more evenly balanced across the entire length of the bulb, so much less spotlighting and shadowing occurs.

Coral color enhancement

In my greenhouse at Tidal Gardens, I light mainly with LEDs for aesthetics and energy savings. I noticed, however, that some corals, especially LPS, develop better colors under T5 fluorescent bulbs. Corals that are red in color tended to develop a rusty-orange color under various LEDs. Under T5s, those same corals developed a more aesthetically pleasing blood-red color. At this point, I decided to switch over a few of the LPS-dominated tanks to fluorescent bulbs despite the increased energy consumption and bulb replacement costs.

Compare and contrast

It had been years since I’d done any shopping for T5 bulbs, so I felt largely out of the loop as far as the different brands went. Once Advanced Reef Aquarium started carrying the ATI brand of T5 bulbs, I decided to make two videos displaying the differences in these bulbs.

It was very interesting to see the difference in these bulbs. Some of the corals looked like completely different specimens depending on how they were illuminated.

Factor in the effect of lighting technology

Consider this the next time you make a reef-lighting purchase, whether in-person or online. It is practically impossible to determine what a coral will look like once it is in your tank. A single difference in lighting technology can have a dramatic effect on the appearance of a coral. This is not even considering how the coral may change color once it is introduced to new surroundings.


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About Than Thein

Than Thein is the owner of Tidal Gardens and Advanced Reef Aquarium. Than's love for all things underwater began early on when dogs and cats were strictly off limits, but a fish tank? Sure! What started with a 10-gallon goldfish tank eventually turned into a 5,000-gallon greenhouse coral propagation system. In addition to coral aquaculture, Than's other hobbies include scuba diving and underwater photography and videography.


  1. Great videos thanks for the great post

  2. Mike Johnson says

    Thank you for the videos. Just in time as I’m fixing to order new bulbs for my 8 bulb T5 fixture. I picked 3, 5, and 7; and chose 3 as “liked best”.

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