Fluval Plant 3.0 LED Planted Aquarium Light: Product Review

Can An LED Light Turn You Into A Control Freak? - by
5 / 5 Stars

Short Take

Let our little goldfish paste give you a quick intro...

Whether you're just getting in to planted aquariums, looking to replace a stock light fixture, or are already a plant guru that just knows a great light when you see one, you're going to want to give this light a serious look for your next tank.

The setup for this light is fast.

The light combines a built-in Bluetooth app controller to allow the light to be controlled from your mobile device.

You can drop the light in your tank by accident without worrying about it being damaged.

It comes with a 3 year warranty, outperforming the competition by YEARS.

Finally, you can pick one up and be guaranteed to get the ease of purchase and amazing support from the folks at Aquarium Co-Op in the tiny event of anything going wrong.

If this sounds up your alley, both the new Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0 and the new Fluval Plant Nano are available right now from Aquarium Co-Op (assuming people haven't beaten you to the pump...they're tough to keep in stock).

For me, looking at the lights online seemed almost too good to be true, so I asked my wife Erica to drive down from Canada to the US to buy us three of these for our own tanks to see if they could live up to the big promises Fluval was making.

How do you think they held up? To find out, read on.

Looking for a review of the Fluval Spectrum Plant 3.0 Nano version specifically for small-sized tanks? Click here

Quick Navigation

Has Your Aquarium Ever Turned Into An Algae Farm?

If you've managed aquariums for any length of time you know that there's a real trade-off between having enough light to enjoy your fish and plants but not so much that algae turns the tank into a nightmare mess.

Algae can get out of control quickly if you don't have an adjustable light!

Since most fixtures aren't dimmable, your only choice is normally to either try to remember to turn your light on and off at the correct times to avoid too much light or to get an inexpensive mechanical timer (or more recently, bluetooth smart socket) to do the job for you.

That can work to get the algae under control, but on some tanks it means that you don't have much time to actually enjoy looking at your fish!

The new Fluval 3.0 allows all that timer functionality PLUS adds the ability to dim the light or change the colour type to reduce algae growth - all from the comfort of your cellphone or mobile device. On top of that, you can even customize the colours to make your fish or plants pop.

If that wasn't enough, you can even knock the darn thing into the tank and it'll keep right on humming with its industry-leading IP67 waterproof rating. 

The FluvalSmart app along with the FLuval 3.0 LED light is an awesome combination!

When you combine the feature set of the new light with the durability of Fluval LED products AND the kick-butt customer service and free shipping that Cory and his team at Aquarium Co-Op provide, well, let's just say that Erica and I have no regrets at all with our purchases.

Getting Into The Weeds (But Not the Algae!)

Is this Light for You?

If you're looking to either grow plants in your aquariums or want to customize the look, intensity and duration of a light so that you can maximize enjoyment of your non-planted aquariums, then the Fluval 3.0 is an ideal light for you.

If you're a proud member of the planted tank crowd, you'll love the ability to set exactly the duration and intensity of the light for two separate light levels for your tank (daytime and nighttime).

Additionally, you'll have the ability to to transition effortlessly and gradually between morning, daytime, evening and night.

You can grow your low light easy plants with exactly as much light as they need, or for high tech setups time your CO2 to come on midway through the morning transition and to turn off midway through evening.

It really doesn't get much easier than this to deliver exactly what your plants need.

If you're more into fish than plants, the Fluval 3.0 offers you the ability to individually alter the 5 bands of coloured lights (pink, blue, cool white, pure white, warm white) to bring out the colours in the fish you keep the best.

You can pick the levels of each band from 0-100% to best highlight blues on cardinal tetras, yellows and reds on bettas, greens on discus, bronze on goldfish, or whatever suits the fish you keep.

The colour spectrum balance on the Fluval 3.0 is amazing!

In addition, if you like to create mood effects in particular tanks you can control the overall light level to keep from scaring skittish fish, to allow the deep tannin glow of an Amazon biotope to shine through, or to make a Seriyu stone aquascape absolutely shine.

Lastly, the ramp timer allows a very gradual transition from darkness to daylight so you won't scare the heck out of your fish as they snap on to 100% like happens with a mechanical timer. If you've ever noticed your fish flying around the tank when the lights first come on, you'll know what I'm talking about (reference: their eyes don't adjust like ours do).

If you love to breed fish, the ramp function will be one of the most useful features you'll end up using. After all, there's really no point in carefully creating a custom habitat that perfectly replicates the wild territory of a sensitive fish only to have a non-dimmable drill instructor march in each morning with a bullhorn and snap the light on to 100% (it tends to wake the fish up on the wrong side of the bed !).

The Fluval 3.0 is almost completely programmable for a 24 hour light cycle

 

How Does the Fluval 3.0 LED Light Perform?

Since Fluval pretty much set the bar on light performance with the old 2.0, they did well to stick close to the proven recipe and concentrated mainly on upgrading the functionality of the light.

In terms of overall colour temperature, while the old 2.0 was a 7500k light, the new 3.0 is a more traditional 6500K. Though both will grow plants, this gets the 3.0 a little closer to the colour of natural daylight (approximately 5000-5800K in most places depending on their distance from the equator). Interestingly however, the Nano unit keeps the older 7500K spectrum).

To some degree you could theoretically customize the average colour temperature of the 3.0 yourself by biasing your custom mixes to favour either the "cooler" end of the spectrum (cool being over 5000K and represented by the Cool White and Blue sliders on the FluvalSmart app) or the "warmer" end of the spectrum (2700-3000K and represented more by the Red or Warm White sliders), and that might be an interesting experiment for someone.

In terms of raw light output, the rated lumen output and number of LED emetters is as listed in the little table below:

Fluval 3.0 Length Nano 24" 36" 48"
Lumens Produced 1000 lm 2350 lm 3300 lm 4250 lm
LED Emitters 63 148 232 336

 

Lumens are commonly used to evaluate light levels because they're easy to measure and can allow you to compare one unit's light performance to another simply, but they're actually not all that useful for measuring plant grow performance. That's because lumens measure the intensity of the light as perceived by the human eye, rather than what's actually available to grow plants.

To determine the usefulness of the light available to plants we need to turn to PAR (photosynthetically active radiation). PAR is a measure of the amount of light available to be used during photosynthesis (the process by which plants harness energy from light ), and while PAR itself isn't a perfect substitute, it's about the best we as hobbyists have at our disposal to use with commonly available measuring equipment.

Though Fluval hasn't yet published official PAR numbers that I'm aware of, our friend Cory at Aquarium Co-Op was nice enough to take some simple measurements in his preview YouTube video using an Apogee PAR meter similar to the one linked below (and a planted 125 gallon aquarium):

Using the Apogee PAR meter and his 125 gallon aquarium, Cory measured the performance of both an older Fluval 2.0 as well as the new 3.0 using 4 foot (48") light bars.

While the old 2.0 produced 32 to 33 PAR on that tank, the newer 3.0 produced 27 PAR at that same depth on that same day (1 PAR on just the red lights alone).

Fluval LED Fixture PAR Measurement at bottom of 125 gallon Aquarium (~18-20" deep filled with water and including substrate)
2.0 32-33 PAR
3.0 27 PAR
3.0 (red only) 1 PAR

 

It's important to mention that those readings are particular to his tank, his water, and his meter, but they're a decent means of comparing the new light to the old one.

Here are the PAR results that Fluval posted as their official values for the 2.0 for comparison:

Depth of Measurement Fluval 2.0 (24-34") A3990 Fluval 2.0 (36-48") A3991 Fluval 2.0 (48-60") A3992
3" (8 cm) 453 470 545
6" (15 cm)  252 267 288
12" (30 cm) 107 112 136
18" (46 cm) 57 66 82

...and finally, it's worth mentioning that Cara Wade disputes Cory's findings based off her testing with what she descibes as professional lab-grade sensors.

In a Facebook thread here, Cara reports that her findings showed the 3.0 putting out similar numbers to the 2.0. She didn't mention which fixture she used, but since she reported 69umol/m2/s at 18" I can only guess she had a 36" unit.

As such, though it stands to reason that it's likely that the PAR ratings dropped as a result of the lower number of emitters, there's still a chance that they may not have.

But Wait, Controversy Aside Isn't That A Lower PAR Reading From Cory's testing of the Fluval 3.0 Compared to the 2.0?

It is, and if true it's likely a result of the fact that while the new 3.0 is more functional than the old one, Fluval seems to have decided to keep the price of the 3.0 the same as the old light by trading the new built-in Bluetooth chip for a few less LED emitters. As an example of this, while the 48" Fluval 2.0 unit had 356 LED emitters, the new 48" 3.0 has only 336.

Though that trade-off results in the reduced light output mentioned above, and potentially won't grow all plants quite as well if they need the full strength of the light, I personally think the trade-off is more than worth it.

As Cory points out in his video the potential loss of 15% of the PAR isn't a good thing, but the light is still going to grow most low or moderate light plants that I want to grow. If I want a LOT more light it's going to require either a new or second light anyway, and if I had had the 2.0's output it wouldn't have made that difference up in the first place. To not have to pay a premium to get the extra LEDs in order to get the app is fine by me (remember, the old wifi controller the 2.0 took wasn't cheap), since the price is already getting to be towards the upper end of what I will comfortably pay for a light.

That all said, if your heart is committed to the maximum output possible from a fixture, Aquarium Co-Op and a few other vendors still have a couple of the older 2.0's around. If you're interested you can buy them here, but you'll pay the same as a 3.0 and you'll end up needing a timer of some description as well.

In terms of a timer for a 2.0, as stated earlier I can't in good conscience recommend the Fluval Wifi LED controller (though it's an option if you're willing to fight with it), but instead I'd go for either a Bluetooth smart outlet  if you have a lot of spare plugs...

...or a mechanical timer powerbar with room to add constant-on plugs for filters or heaters (I still have a bunch of these for my non-smart aquarium lights).

 

Click here to buy the older Fluval 2.0 from Aquarium Co-Op 

The FluvalSmart Mobile App

So We've Established That We're Trading a Little Bit of PAR Output For a "Cool App"...Let's See The App in Action Then!

That's a whole subject in and of itself, so I created an entire article about using the app. Just click here or on the image below to get a detailed look at the FluvalSmart app.

In a nutshell, it's a good app with the potential to be great with a few small tweaks, and a huge improvement over the old  Fluval 2.0 Wifi Controller (the old wifi controller isn't compatible with the new 3.0).

FluvalSmart Mobile App

 

Questions About the Fluval 3.0

What's the Warranty Like?

One of the best parts of the 3.0 is that it comes with a 3 year warranty. You may have to order from an official dealer like Aquarium Co-Op rather than a sketchy "back of a turnip truck" source on Ebay in order to claim that warranty however, so do be careful in your quest for the lowest price possible.

If you bought direct or from a supplier like Dr Fosters and Smith that makes you handle your own returns more than 60 days from time of purchase, you can get details of the return by clicking here. Quick summary: unless it's dead on arrival or shortly thereafter, you're basically on your own.

If you order from Aquarium Co-Op however, they'll take the light in trade, send you out a new one, and handle the return for you.

It's yet another reason to support them, and the great return policy is why Cory sells these and not lights like the Current Satellite series (whose warranty is only one year, and who make returns hard for dealers to handle for you).

How Much Clearance Above the Tank is Needed?

Not very much...about an inch or so.

Photo showing clearance required for Fluval 3.0 above aquarium

What's the Life Expectancy of the Fluval 3.0?

50,000 hours is the theoretical life of the LEDs, which works out to about 6 years. That number is a lab figure however, and generally assumes you don't actually turn them on and off (which I'm prone to do on occasion).

Practically, the life expectancy should still be a number of years in reality, and the light comes with a 3 year warranty that hints at its expected lifespan.

Is the Fluval 3.0 Submersible, or Will it Be Damaged by Splashing Water?

Water intrusion may be a weakness of other lights, but it's not a weakness of this one!

A number of people have dumped them into their tanks intentionally to test the "IP67 water ingress protection", and it's passed with flying colours. Scroll down to the YouTube review from Robot Aquariums to see one happily sprayed down in a shower, and keep right on working.

Accidentally dunking the light, whether on purpose or by accident, won't be an issue with the Fluval 3.0.

Other lights are even vulnerable to water spray from sponge filters etc, however, so do continue to be careful with other brands (not a concern here though).

How Wide of a Light Beam Does the Fluval 3.0 Project?

The LEDs used here are known as "120 degree" LEDs, which is a pretty comfortable viewing width on most tanks.

That spread means that it can handle a relatively wide tank front to back, and it targets at least an 18" front to back aquarium depth. 

This ideal can vary based on how high above the tank bottom you suspend the light (greater distances allowing for a wider tank), but just remember that the effectiveness of the light drops off quicker at greater heights.

Most LED lights are very directional, and the 120 degree choice was made to avoid some of the dead spot issues that other fixtures can create when the light is either too short for, or not versatile enough for, the average aquarium.

How Hot Does the Fluval 3.0 Get in Operation?

Though it's not hot enough to be uncomfortable to hold, I did find the light to get surprisingly warm in operation. It's apparently designed to get a little warmer to accommodate the choice of LEDs, but being used to lower-powered setups I did at least notice the higher operating temperature .

The full aluminum shell is durable, but also acts as a heat sink to get heat away from the LEDs where it can otherwise cause damage, so that's a plus.

Since the LEDs themselves are not causing the heat to be generated like a fluorescent bulb would be doing, there shouldn't be any issues with the 3.0 causing your tank to warm up (heat rises and all that good stuff).

Are the Mounting Brackets Durable?

Thankfully, and unlike cheaper competitors, the extension legs used to adapt the light to longer tanks are machined very nicely and seem quite solid and durable.

They adjust easily, but don't collapse at the slightest touch if you happen to bump the light cleaning out the tank or changing water.

Can it be Suspended from Cables?

Not without custom hardware or a little DIY.

Can the Blue Light Ramp Down From Say 20% to 0% After a Couple of Hours or Can It Only Be Completely On or Completely Off?

Only on at some level or off right now, unfortunately, though as noted above in the article this might be a feature for future free updates of the app.

I'm Also In Canada, When Can I Get My Hot Little Hands on a Fluval 3.0?

All Fluval will say as of the time of this writing is "Fall 2018". It might do you well to check their website to keep an eye on things (or your favourite social media channel).

When Will the Light Be Available in Europe?

They're not even hinting there yet, so as above check their website to keep an eye on things.

How Does the Light Know What Time It Is?

This is set by the phone or tablet you use to program the light.

You don't need to set the time manually, but you may need to re-export the program to the light after each time change if you want the light to be on the "new" time change.

Can the New FluvalSmart App Work with the Old Wifi Controller for the 2.0?

Nope, the older Wifi controller works with the 2.0 light but over Wifi (as the name implies).

The newer app works with the 3.0 lights over Bluetooth, and the technologies are unfortunately not cross compatible.

How Does the Light Handle Dimming the LEDs?

It actually doesn't dim the output of the LEDs, but instead rapidly flashes the light on an off.

It can make for some funny visual effects when recorded on video as a result, where the frame rate of the camera makes the light seem "flickery".

Does the Fluval 3.0 Come With a Physical Remote Control?

No, though there's a manual control button, the mobile Bluetooth app replaces previous physical remote controls.

Reaching Out To the #FishFam For Other Opinions

Since my opinion is only one in a sea of many, I've included a number of other reviews that I found during my own search for info on the 3.0 prior to buying it.

Cory McElroy From Aquarium Co-Op on the Fluval 3.0

We've already seen Cory's video earlier, but watch it again here if you're so inclined.

AquaPros on the Fluval 3.0

  • AquaPros approved!
  • commented that it's always nice to have more power than you need with the ability to dial it back

Ashik Banjade on the Fluval 3.0

  • had a Finex Planted+ 24/7 that was sadly half functional at time of the video, in that some of the LEDS were burned out (remember, the Fluval 3.0 has a three year warranty compared to the 1 year of the Finnex)
  • was expecting a physical remote, but didn't realize that the app replaced it
  • was pleased that the adjustable legs replace previous double sided tape mounts required by other lights
  • gave a good comparison demo of this light compared to the broken Finnex
  • commented that the form factor seems good, and it sits on the tank well 

Robot Aquariums on the Fluval 3.0

  • a fun, playful review
  • shows the light being dunked in the shower to show off the IP67 waterproof rating

So I'm Interested in the Light Itself, But What Was It Like to Order From Aquarium Co-Op?

Look for a detailed article soon to outline exactly what it was like, but in a nutshell it was a pretty straightforward and pleasant experience.

Unfortunately, Cory doesn't ship directly to Canada (please bug him on my behalf to let us carry Aquarium Co-Op gear in Canada, since we've offered in the past).

That means in order to order Fluval 3.0 lights, his house brand foods, or EasyGreen fertilizer for delivery to Canada you need to order off his website and have the items shipped to a location in the United States for pickup.

For our part, we chose At The Border Storage in Montana as the closest place to ship to, which for us is about 4 hours drive away.

Erica and her mum drove down on Friday since she had the day off (At The Border Storage is only open on the weekend one day per month), picked up the 3 packages at a cost of $5 each, and drove them home. The only additional charge she encountered at the border was to pay 5% GST since we live in Alberta.

Shipping from Aquarium Co-Op to Montana was free since the order value was over $75.

There was no real fuss, the tracking numbers worked well, and I used Facebook Messenger notifications to keep in touch with shipping the whole way (thanks to Allie and her team in shipping at Aquarium Co-Op!).

Summary - So Is The Fluval 3.0 Plant LED Aquarium Light Worth It? Should I Be Worried That #fluvalstrippin?

In my mind, the 3.0 is absolutely worth the money they're asking for it...this is definitely a good bang for your buck.

The light itself is incredibly well built, waterproof, customizable to the degree I need it to be, uses modern tech, and is priced competitively.

 All in all, I'd highly suggest going over the Aquarium Co-Op and picking up a Fluval 3.0 or two (or three as we did).

Drop me a note in the comments if you do!

All Hail The Sky Gods!

 

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