Lighting is probably the most expensive, and most influential part of a planted tank. The rate of plant growth is pretty much proportional to the amount of light entering the tank.
After looking at my lights for a year, I decided it was time for an upgrade. I wanted to get more light into the tank, without increasing wattage=energy costs.
My setup was:
1 Advance electronic ballast was connected to two T8 bulbs (one Florasun and one 5000K bulb). Both looked really dim. I lined the gutters with mylar which isn't bad per se, just the angle wasn't quite right.
2 Helios 38W T5 bulbs/fixtures, 10000K. I really like them, but the missing reflector made them a little inefficient.
2 13W AHS fixtures, and 2 10W Walmart bulbs with mirror reflector. These four filled the space left by the 48" bulbs in my 60" long tank.
So I bought a Workhorse 7 ballast ($40), two reflectors made for T5's (2x $25 + $20 SH), and two T5 54W HO bulbs (2x $15 + 10 SH). All in all $150... I think T5 bulbs are more efficient than PC's, that's why I went this route.
Here is the comparison pic... before and after. You'll notice the four little fixtures. Actually
I figured out that the AHS fixtures had some kind of film over their shiny surface which I had not removed. Normally I am not that bad... So they might seem a tad lighter, after scrubbing and swearing for quite some time.
On top, the Helios T5 which I have not changed.
Below, first T8, now T5 with excellent reflector.
Below, one Helios which was replaced by a new T5 with reflector.
On the bottom, the Florasun, now driven by the Workhorse (big difference) and also I played - successfully - with the position of my mylar reflectors.
Light-wise, it made a huge difference. There was quite a bubble bath when I turned on those lights. Watt-wise, it's a little bit more, but instead of running all bulbs 13 hours a day, I run only the Helios and the 4 small fixtures the entire time, and the rest of the bulbs only for 10 hours.