Budget Light Recommendations with unusual criteria?

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Fish Fanatic
May 4, 2009
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TLDR just read the bolded parts.

I’m looking for a budget light below $100. I’ve been looking at recommended lights a lot, but I keep finding recommendations for high tech super bright lights, or lights for fish only tanks where live plants aren’t even a factor. For my tank, I have fish and I also have low to medium care live plants in a lowtech tank. It’s not that I don’t care about the plants – I just put them second after the needs of the fish, and I have fish species with special light preferences that come first. But the plants are still part of the equation, if that makes sense. I was hoping that the people on this forum would be able to give recommendations that take that into account.

The light is for my low tech, low maintenance 40 gallon breeder (36 inches long by 18 wide by 16 deep). I’ve got 4 fish species in here that get stressed under really bright lights – Honey Gourami, Cherry Barbs, a Bristlenose Pleco, and Corydoras Catfish. I’ve also got a Super Red Cockatoo Cichlid and Harlequin Rasboras that will likely adjust to whatever light I get. There’s a lot of hardscape, some fake plants, and some hardy live plants all mixed together. I have mostly easy live plants – Java Fern, Anubias, Cryptocoryne, Dwarf Lily, and Christmas Moss. Cabomba, Ludwigia, easy Rotala species, and patches of Sagittaria subulata is about as high maintenance as the plants in this tank get. I have smooth sand substrate because that’s what best for all of my bottomdwelling fish, even though I know it’s limited my plant choices. I just add root tabs for substrate fertilizer. I only occasionally add Flourish Comprehensive fertilizer, and don’t mess with CO2 at all. I’ve been in the hobby for well over a decade, and I just wanted a simple tank with hardy, adjustable critters and plants for this setup.

My priorities for the new light in order of importance:

1) A variety of dimness settings or brightness settings

4 of my fish species get stressed under very bright lighting. I intentionally make shadowy areas of the tank with caves and floating plants as well as brighter areas so the fish can always have a choice of where to be, but the bright areas can only be so bright or the fish will start avoiding the bright spots and I want my fish to be able to have the whole tank to use. If there are varied dimness settings, I can find a dimness setting that doesn’t bother the fish while still keeping my particular plants alive.

2) The option to turn the lights down to 0 or completely off at night
I’ve heard that there’s been some eye deformities in Guppy fry with some of those 24/7 lights that have dim but constant light, so if it’s a 24/7 light I want to be able to dial the light down to 0 during most of the night or just have an option to turn off automatically. I think my fish might sleep better that way, too. Complete dark will also make the active times for my diurnal fish and nocturnal fish more segmented, which I rely on for my feeding schedule.

3) A reliable, consistent timer that you can program to be on for roughly 8-10 hours
Since this is my intentionally low maintenance tank the ability to have a good timer/scheduler that stays consistent and can be carefully programmed once and then keeps working would be great. Since most of my plants are slow growing, they aren’t as good at out competing algae. So a light that I can set to be on for a total of 8-10 hours on to limit algae growth would also really help with overall tank maintenance. Especially since I have so much hardscape and some fake plants mixed in, which look awful when covered with algae and have a lot more crannies to clean than the tank glass does.

4) Daylight Kelvin rating of 5,000-6,700 K or the ability to adjust the amount of white/blue/red light.
I’d like a good kelvin rating for plant photosynthesis, a daylight setting for the fish’s comfort, and one that shows their natural unaugmented coloring. That means 5,000 to 6,700 K. If the light is more in the blue spectrum (8,000 to 10,000 Kelvin which would be suitable for a saltwater tank but not so much a freshwater planted tank) I’ll want to have the option to adjust the red/blue/green lighting levels to make the light a bit warmer and closer to natural daylight.

5) Sunrise Sunset Options and/or Ramping
My Corycats in particular are really sensitive to sudden changes in light, and I feel bad seeing them get spooked every morning and night even going just from dim moonlight blue to bright white light like my old light did. Fish in general might appreciate having gradual changes, but I feel like the Corycats will have an actual uptick in quality of life if every day doesn’t begin with “ahhh bright light run panic run! Ow I ran into the cave wall too hard again.”

6) PAR Rating adequate for low to medium difficulty plants, good color spectrum for photosynthesis
I won’t have any high light plants in this tank, so I don’t need a really high PAR rating. Since I don’t have a plant substrate, lots of fertilizers, or any CO2 light is not going to be the limiting factor for plant growth in this particular tank. If I’m choosing between making sure my low-light preferring fish are happy vs. PAR for plants, I’m choosing the fish every time. But if it’s possible to get a light with a good PAR rating without being too bright for my lower-light fish species’ comfort, that would be ideal. Of course red and blue spikes for the plants are good, as long as the overall Kelvin rating is still daylight. If there’s not as much of a green spike or you can adjust the amount of green spectrum light so the light doesn’t produce a spectrum that’s good for algae growth more than plant growth it would be a bonus but not a requirement.

I know a list of just features can be impractical, so I found some candidate lights, if anyone has had these or just the brands in general I’d like to hear your experiences with them:
Beamswork Vivio Full Spectrum LED Timer Adjustable Dimmer Aquarium Fish Tank Light Freshwater 36"- 40"
NICREW Full Spectrum Planted LED Aquarium Light, with Timer, for Freshwater Fish Tank, 36-48 Inch, 25 Watts
Hygger Auto On Off 36-42 Inch LED Aquarium Light Extendable Dimmable 7 Colors Full Spectrum Light for Freshwater Planted Tank Build in Timer Sunrise Sunset
Finnex Planted+ 24/7 HLC Aquarium LED Light, Automated Full Spectrum Fish Tank Light, 36 inch, Sleek Silver (HLC-36)

New recommendations would be great too.

Sorry this is so long and has errors. I’ve spent a few days researching this on my own and now it’s 2 a.m. But my current light is busted and I don’t want my live plants to be in darkness too much longer, so I wanted to post this tonight.
I have no experience with any of these lights.

From your criteria description in your list there are only the hygger and finnex that are filling your demands completely. both the beamswork and nicrew are missing important points you mentioned.

The hygger seems to have mixed reviews and often mention a dysfunctional timer. From your list I would pick the Finnex.

I can also add another brand: AQQA that has fully separate 20 levels dim control for each colours and a completely programmable 8 periods DIY mode.

It Ramps-up and dim-down between periods and with the uses of a short moonlight lapse at the end of the day. It gives a very realistic light variation from dawn to dusk.

AQQA Aquarium Light,Multi-Function Fish Tank Led


It is a power house. I'm using mine at 20% on a 5 gallon tank at the moment and it is strong enough.

But it's price and flexibility makes it a very interesting choice.

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