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  • Stephen Knight

Flashlight Review: Ants On A Melon RGB Critter

Updated: Jul 13

Ants On A Melon (AOAM) are well known in the light painting and flow arts scenes with products such as the Galaxy BitWhip. The RGB Critter was first announced on Kickstarter in 2019, which drew a lot of interest from light painting photographers, and has finally made it to the market. Is this the ultimate RGB colour changing flashlight/torch that we've all been waiting for?


Disclaimer


I purchased the RGB Critter and accessories during the Kickstarter campaign with my own funds.

Antsonamelon RGB Critter
Ants On A Melon RGB Critter

Design and Construction


The RGB Critter was announced in 2019, and drew a lot of excitement from the light painting community. Unfortunately, the project has been hit by many delays due to design changes, and supply chain issues caused by Covid. However, for anyone following the progress of the project, it is obvious as to why there are not many high quality commercial grade colour changing flashlights/torches already on the market. So, kudos to Joel from AOAM for for foresight and pushing along with the project.


The RGB Critter is a compact to medium size light, 137.5mm long, and 33mm diameter (including sleeve), aluminium body, and a silicone sleeve (with choice of colours) for grip. There are 3 buttons integrated into the sleeve, which can be illuminated. The light has Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) LED emitters, and can colour mix, colour change, and colour fade.


The RGB Critter contains an AOAM branded unprotected 3050mAh 18650 Li-ion battery. The battery OEM is unknown. Thankfully AOAM listened to early feedback, and made the battery user replaceable to extend the life of the product with better sustainability. Other included accessories are a micro-USB charging cable, Critter Key (to open up the tail to access the charging port and battery), and 2 spare O-rings. Due to the length of product development, micro USB is now a rather outdated, but still does the job. Charging time from empty is claimed to be 2 hours, and I found this to be accurate when using a decent 5V 2.4A USB-A power supply. The Critter Key is required to unscrew the tailcap and access the charging port, or replace the battery. I did find that the battery didn't slide out easily and needed some downward force (with my hand over the end to prevent the battery from flying out) to remove. The buttons pulse during charging, and blink every 10 secs to indicate full charge. Charging terminated correctly at 4.19V. The battery capacity was tested to be within +/-10% of claimed capacity. The RGB Critter can also be used with USB power supply connected, just make sure the cable is long enough. Whilst the instructions state to only use the included charging cable, the cable is rather short for my liking.


Unlike some other RGB lights I've tested, I experienced no issues with reliability. There are lots of accessories and light painting tool options, which for the first time in one of my reviews needs its own section of the review!


RGB Critter Optics
RGB Critter Optics

RGB Critter Tail Cap
RGB Critter Tail Cap

RGB Critter Charging and Battery Port
RGB Critter Charging and Battery Port

The RGB Critter uses an 18650 Li-ion battery
The RGB Critter uses an 18650 Li-ion battery


User Interface


The RGB Critter has three illuminated buttons on the side of the light. You will need to read the manual and watch demo videos.


Overview of the user interface:

  • 1 click on (with last mode memory), triple click off.

  • (Reverse) Momentary mode - when enabled, hold for off, otherwise on.

  • Lockout, factory reset, battery check, and button light on/off options.

  • Analogue or Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) modes.

  • 9 Programmable effects modes (known as Colour Modes) - includes solid colours, colour fade, rainbow ribbon, and various other colour patterns.

  • 56 default effects "out of the box".

  • Modes 1-8 have 4 customisable slots , and Mode 9 has 20 customisable slots to save programmed effects.

  • 39 colour options including 4 white CCTs, and black.

  • Special features menu - Strobe Speed, Accelerometer, Sound Reactive, and Brightness control.

The RGB Critter has a very impressive range of effects modes, including colour fade, and colour stepped modes, plus adjustable effect and strobe speeds. Out of the box there are 56 different effects (plus static colours) of which modes 2-8 have 1 default effect plus 4 memory slot effects each, and mode 9 has 20 effect. Some of which can have speed varied, strobe overlay with adjustable strobe frequency, and other changes saved into a programmable memory slots. The 39 static colour options is a big step up from other RGB flashlights. Thankfully, the RGB Critter also has last mode memory.


Basic use, such as selecting an effect, is relatively easy to learn. More complex use (e.g. overlaying a strobe effect, adjusting frequency, turning off the button illumination, and engaging momentary mode) has a very big learning curve. I would advise bringing a paper or electronic copy of the well written manual with you on light painting outings, and practice using the user interface before going out light painting. I've actually drawn out my own flowchart to take with me when light painting.


It is possible to program and recall effects, which is potentially very useful for saving frequently used effects such as a faster colour fade, or strobe mode overlays on other effects. I am still exploring this functionality, and will update this review accordingly. The light also has useful options such as lockout, factory reset, battery level check, and button light on/off. The latter is essential for light painters.


The RGB Critter is one of an elite group of flashlights with adjustable strobe frequency. The strobe appears to be 50% on/50% off which is good. I tested the slowest frequency at 1.4Hz. The fastest strobe frequency that was visible to my camera (3rd fastest strobe setting) appears to be 250Hz, though due to overlapping light trails there could be some error in my measurement.


For a complex light with lots of functionality, the user interface is good, but there are some areas in need of improvement for light painting. Having a class leading range of effects modes is all well and good, but for many light painting scenes you need to be able to reliably turn the light on and off mid-exposure without moving out of the scene. Unfortunately, as with most other flashlights aimed at the flow arts market, turning the light on and off is the RGB Critter's main weak point. This is a list of user interface issues that I have found from testing:

  • Triple click for off - Turning on is easy, 1 click, and has last mode memory. Turning off is not so easy as it requires a triple click, which can result in wonky light trails, or failed clicks! A single click for off as per 95% of flashlights/torches would be preferred.

  • "Reverse" momentary - Once enabled, the light is on unless the "rocket" button is held down. This is the complete opposite of momentary modes on other lights, where the button is held down when you need the light on. This reverse momentary mode may be useful if you are doing lots of crazy moves with the light and don't want to be holding down the switch during these moves. However, if like me, you do multi-element light paintings with up to 5 flashlight/tool combinations, then momentary being the opposite to every other light is quite an annoyance and likely to result in mistakes. It also means that to prevent light being emitted from the tool once placed outside of the scene, you have to un-engage momentary, and then turn off, wasting valuable seconds. I would prefer momentary to be press for on.

  • Buttons are not tactile enough - when the button lights are turned off for light painting, they can be difficult to find. Combined with reverse momentary, this resulted in me accidentally changing modes instead of turning the light off on numerous occasions. This may require a new silicone sleeve design.

  • Other UI idiosyncrasies - the combinations of multiple button holds for some functions, button spacing being too small for adult fingers, squishy silicone buttons, and possibly some button hold times being longer than stated results in a high chance of accidentally changing the wrong setting, or entering the wrong mode when using complex functionality.

  • I can't find a way of starting a light trail at the same point in an effect for consistent light trails (e.g. always starting colour fades with Red when turned on).

  • Speed settings appear to reset when you cycle through the modes. Personally I don't like this, but others may not be concerned.

  • Whilst most people will use the RGB Critter on max brightness, changing to any other brightness levels not a simple procedure.

These issues are not a major concern for basic single element light painting. For multi-element light paintings (such as light plants or flowers, light drawing, or light calligraphy) these issues can cause a lot of user frustration. Hopefully future firmware upgrades can improve the user interface for light painting, notably the triple click for off, and reverse momentary issues.


The RGB Critter has a 3 button UI
The RGB Critter has a 3 button UI

Under the RGB Critter's silicone sleeve
Under the RGB Critter's silicone sleeve

Beam and Output


The RGB Critter's LEDs are not stated by AOAM. The optics appear to be a 20 degree TIR lens. The colour mixing is the best I've seen on a RGB flashlight. The beam profile has a 20 degree hotspot, bright 80 degree spill beam, and dimmer 150 degree outer spill beam, which I would class as "floody" due to the bright spill beam. "Throwy" optics with a higher candela per lumen ratio are generally better for use with light painting tools. Whilst some entertainment lighting can colour mix with a more throwy beam profile, this may not be practical in a suitably sized and priced RGB flashlight (as larger optics are typically required for more throw). The beam profile means that most of the generated lumens will enter the Sol Saber and Plexiglass Blade tools, though the spill beam will be attenuated with narrower input tools such as the BitWhip and Jupiter Rope. The optics makes the RGB Critter very useful for low to medium brightness coloured illumination purposes, but be aware that it is not covered by warranty when no tools are attached. The D37 diffuser from Kaidomain will also fit the RGB Critter.


Coloured LEDs are nowhere near as efficient as most 70CRI white light LEDs, and thus RGB flashlights are never going to be as bright as white light alternatives. However, as coloured light tends to saturate camera sensors faster than white light, then sometimes coloured lights can appear brighter than the claimed lumens (in this case 170lm) would suggest. Some example exposures I used were f/4, ISO400 when using the BitWhip, f/4, ISO800, +1.9 exposure in post processing with the Jupiter Rope, and f/8, ISO200, +0.4 exposure in post processing with the Sol Saber. Compared to other flashlights connected to a 2cm diameter plexiglass rod, the RGB Critter with Sol Saber is:

  • Equal to one photographic stop brighter (dependent on effect mode) than the RGB Light Excursion Deluxe and Ignis Color LED Torch - making the RGB Critter the brightest RGB colour mixing flashlight I've tested (though not by a huge margin).

  • One to two photographic stops brighter than the Threeworlds Concentrate C5.

  • One to two photographic stops less bright than a 1,200 lumen white light flashlight, colour filter, and plexiglass rod.

  • Equal to one photographic stop (dependent on colour) less bright than a Convoy S2+ with Osram CSLNM1 single colour emitter (on 35% mode), and plexiglass rod.


The RGB Critter provides options for an Analogue mode, or Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) mode. The Analogue mode creates smooth colour fades with no visible PWM in sample photos. This is a massive improvement over other RGB flashlights. My phone camera did detect some waveform rippling. If you want the "old skool" look with PWM (which appears as very fast strobing) then you can switch to PWM mode. PWM mode is probably more useful for flow arts than light painting.


Runtime is claimed to be 3 hours on white mode, and 9 hours on red, green, or blue, and this was tested to be fairly accurate. Testing during the first hour of runtime on white colour setting, showed that the output reduced to 80% of the max brightness by 20mins. Turning the light off for 10 minutes and turning back on returned the output to 95% of max brightness, which again slowly reduced to 80% output. I'm not sure if there is thermal management in play here (the light was only warm), or if this is due to battery voltage?



RGB Critter beam profile
RGB Critter beam profile

Tools and Accessories


The RGB Critter comes with a large number of accessories, and compatible light painting tool, with even more tools expected in the near future.


Optional accessories include:

  • Fyber Kit - amazing looking fiber optic costume kit. Wish we had these when I went out clubbing two decades ago!

  • Critter Connector for connecting 2 RGB Critters end to end.

  • Spare 18650 Battery.

  • RGB Critter Case.

  • Lanyard.

  • Pull String Bag.

Light painting tools include:

  • Sol Saber - plexiglass lightsabers in various lengths and options.

  • Orbit BitWhip - 5.5ft long layered end glow fiber, with either 140 or 200 fibers.

  • Jupiter Rope - 3 or 6ft side glow fiber optic cable.

  • Plexiglass Blades - 10 blade design options.

  • Acrylic Writers - available in 1/2", 2", and 6" lengths, 1/4", 1/2", and 5/8" diameter, and various finish options.

  • Orb Accessory - an opaque light diffuser.

  • Fiber Optic Dusters - 5 options (but no black at the time of writing).

  • DIY Connector.

I tested the Orbit BitWhip 140, Jupiter Rope 6ft, and Sol Saber 24" tools. The AOAM light painting tools all connect by screwing into the end of the RGB Critter. The warranty states that an attachment must be connected to protect the light, as a dented end may prevent tools from being screwed on. The screw connection appears to be metallic on the Jupiter Rope and Orbit BitWhip (with a bearing to allow the tool to spin), and plastic on the Sol Saber.


The Orbit BitWhip has 140 or 200 strands, split up into 10 different lengths. I found this tool very useful for light painting portraits, and the bearing based attachment is useful. It is best used in low ambient brightness conditions. The Jupiter Rope is 6ft long and 8mm diameter, and again is quite useful for light painting portraits. It isn't the brightest side glow fiber optic cable tool I've tested, so very high ISO, wide aperture, and very low ambient brightness will be required. The 24" Sol Saber appears to be of tough plastic construction, with a diffusion film inside. It has 360 degree light transmission, and has impressive light input to output ratio allowing for use in medium ambient brightness conditions. There are options for a Sol Saber with Pixel Light Material (PLM) which has light transmission only on one side. This may be useful for Eric Pare style circles behind a model, but is undesirable for freestyle or structured light trails. An removable end cap would be a useful addition for light painting. There is a noticeable light gradient in the tested tools which results in a very high chance of overexposed light trails in the first few cm at the input end of the tool, I fixed this by adding white masking tape to the first 5cm of the tool to attenuate the "excess" light.


The extensive AOAM tool system is only officially compatible with the RGB Critter. This may be intentional, but is the opposite to other light painting systems that allow compatibility between hundreds of different flashlights/torches (including the RGB Critter) and their tool system. I see the RGB Critter and its compatible tools as being a fantastic gateway to colour changing flashlights and light painting tools, and it would be very sensible to purchase a selection of tools when you purchase the Critter. If like me you need multiple flashlights/tools to complete a multi-element scene (and there is no single flashlight that covers all light painting use cases) then you will probably need to use multiple light painting systems. The RGB Critter will unofficially connect to Light Painting Brushes (Universal Connector) and Light Painting Paradise systems, but the silicone/rubber interface isn't entirely stable, and the silicone grip can misalign with buttons. Using the DIY Connector does improve stability with the Universal Connector. Light Painting Paradise Fiber Optic tools slot into the DIY Connector quite well. T8 tubes, and the Lumenman Spira slots around the DIY Connector well. I did manage to fit the Antsonamelon tools into the Universal Connector the wrong way around, making the tools unofficially compatible with approx. 25mm/1" head diameter flashlights/torches.


Connector for Jupiter Rope Tool
Connector for Jupiter Rope Tool

Light painting portrait with the RGB Critter and Orbit BitWhip
Light painting portrait created with the RGB Critter and Orbit BitWhip. Model: @riley__aston

Light painting portrait with the RGB Critter and Jupiter Rope
Light painting portrait created with the RGB Critter and Jupiter Rope. Model: @riley__aston

Light plant with the RGB Critter, Sol Saber 24", and Jupiter Rope.
Light plant created with the RGB Critter, Sol Saber 24", and Jupiter Rope. Composite image.

Conclusion


Things I liked:

  • High quality construction and reliable.

  • Reasonable value for money.

  • Officially compatible with the extensive range of AOAM tools.

  • Unofficially compatible with Light Painting Brushes and Light Painting Paradise tools (though care is required).

  • Excellent range of default effects modes and colours.

  • Last mode memory.

  • Adjustable strobe frequency (with large frequency range, which can be applied to other effects).

  • Effects modes can be programmed and saved.

  • Brightest RGB colour mixing flashlight available (though not by a huge margin).

  • PWM is not visible in Analogue mode.

  • Good colour mixing.

  • Good instructions.

  • 18650 Li-ion battery is user replaceable.

  • Internal USB charging.

  • Can be used with USB power supply connected.

  • Firmware can be easily updated.


Things I didn't like:

  • Momentary functionality is the wrong way around (hold for off, instead of on).

  • Triple click for off.

  • Various user interface issues - tricky multiple button presses, buttons too close together and not tactile enough, hold timing issues.

  • I can't work out how to get an effect to start at the same point instead of from where it was last paused.

  • Noticeable light gradient - results in overexposed light trails at the input end of the tool, but easily fixable.

  • USB-C charging would be preferred over micro USB.


The Ants On A Melon RGB Critter is very impressive with a class leading range of colours, effects and features, and I expect it to be very popular with light painters. It is the brightest commercially available RGB colour mixing flashlight, and the first without PWM. Basic use is reasonably easy, but there is inevitably a lot of complexity to use more advanced functionality. Thankfully the manual is well written. I do have some reservations around the user interface, particularly when used for multi-element light painting - momentary is the wrong way around, triple click for off, and buttons are not tactile enough in the dark. The first two may be able to be rectified by firmware updates, and the latter may require a new silicone sleeve design. Despite some imperfections, the RGB Critter is the highest quality and best value for money colour mixing/changing/fading RGB flashlight available for light painting photographers, and is highly recommended.


Update 12/07/2022 - AOAM are working on firmware/UI updates and a new silicon shell that will hopefully address most of my concerns in this review. This review will be updated when these are available.


The AOAM RGB Critter is available here.


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