Choosing appropriate lighting for a planted aquarium can be intimidating. I think that for new hobbyists (or even old-timers), it can be difficult to wade through all the strong opinions, pseudoscientific claims, conflicting information, and marketing ploys surrounding aquarium light fixtures.
I’m not an expert on the subject by any means, but I don’t think you need to be an expert to make a successful selection. You can ask yourself:
- Is the light bright enough for plants to grow densely and with good colors?
- Is the light the correct color spectrum to encourage photosynthesis and look visually appealing?
- Is the light visually attractive, from a design standpoint?
- Can the light avoid overheating?
- Is the light relatively economical?
If the answer is yes to each of the above points, it’s probably worth purchasing. As previously mentioned, you don’t need to understand the science behind the light to make an informed decision (but it never hurts); all you need to do is observe the light being used on tanks that look appealing to you. Many people find inspiration from aquascapers on aquarium forums, Instagram, or from retailers with show tanks. If you can observe a light in action and confirm that it’s good at growing plants, it’s a good start.
I recently had the chance to test out the new UNS Titan light fixture on my UNS 60U (20g) aquarium. Opening up the package, I was immediately impressed by the high-quality and solid construction of the light. Of note, it has a serious heat sink (heat dissipating metal slats) - something that will stop the light from overheating and ensure that its LED diodes live a long life. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a growing number of new LED fixtures are showing up on the market that sacrifices a heat sink for an extremely slim profile. Unlike those short-sighted designs, Titan manages to incorporate the heat sink into a sleek design with clean lines.
Prior to putting the light on the tank, I plugged it into an outlet to check out the LED array. With 200 RGB diodes, it’s powerful- something I’m always looking for in a light. I was pleased to see that the individual diodes use true RGB technology (tiny red, green, and blue emitting diodes are arranged into one diode that appears to emit white light as a summation of the colors). Again, this stands in contrast to many other light fixtures out there that claim to be RGB, but in fact have a few large green, pink, red or blue LED diodes interspersed among an array of plain, whitish-yellow diodes. This shortcut unfortunately often produces a strange purple or yellowish cast to the lighting, something that is avoided with the Titan.
I used a UNS metal light hanging kit to suspend the light above my tank, at a distance of about 16 inches. Due to the powerful nature of the light, I figured I would start with this height and lower it if I needed to. My tank, which was previously illuminated by a Twinstar S series, took on a whole new feel. For one thing, the Titan had a more natural, slightly cooler tone with less of a harsh glare than I was used to; it had less of a purplish yellow cast and more of a true white/slightly greenish cast. Green plants look extremely vividly green under it, instead of a pale, yellowish green; red plants went from a purplish, shiny and warm red to a deep, matte and slightly cooler “cherry” or true red. My sand foreground looks much less yellowish as well. I’ve always had clear water, but something about the lighting spectrum on Titan makes it look even more clear.
Now to the real test: can it grow plants? It turns out that I didn’t need to lower the light to achieve my desired effect. I’m happy to report that my plants were soon vigorously pearling, and in the several weeks that I’ve been using the light, my high tech stem plants have been growing new buds in strange places, and have assumed an even more bushy, compact habit than usual. The colors have remained vibrant and the moss on my hardscape looks dark, intensely green and happy. All this was accomplished without an accompanying algae bloom.
I am very impressed by this light. The only criticism that I can anticipate some forum-types making is that the light isn’t dimmable; I’ve never understood why this is a concern for pendant style fixtures like the Titan that can be raised or lowered to the desired height, thus dimming or brightening the intensity accordingly. Overall, I appreciate the lack of glare and lack of “incandescent” appearing yellowish haze that characterized other light fixtures I’ve used (the Kessil A160WE Tuna Sun, in particular, comes to mind). It manages to be super bright and powerful without washing everything out, a truly rare feat; most important, the plants are thriving and look amazing under it. It’s also significantly more affordable than some of the other true RGB fixtures out there and is built to last. If you’re in the market for a new LED and are serious about planted tanks, the Titan is the way forward.