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  • Stephen Knight

Flashlight Review: Ants On A Melon RGB Critter 2.0

Updated: Jan 28

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 was released in April 2022. This is an updated review, which includes the improvements to the RGB Critter 2.0 launched in September 2022, plus multiple new tools and connectors available from 16th May 2023.


Disclaimer


I purchased the RGB Critter and accessories during the Kickstarter campaign with my own funds. I have been a Beta tester for the RGB Critter 2.0 and subsequent products.


5% off with code "KNIGHT".

Antsonamelon RGB Critter
Ants On A Melon RGB Critter

Light painting with the RGB Critter 2.0, 18" Katana Blade, and DIY Connector.
Light painting with the RGB Critter 2.0, 18" Katana Blade, and DIY Connector.

Design and Construction


The RGB Critter was announced in 2019, and drew a lot of excitement from the light painting community. Design changes, a pandemic, and supply chain issues delayed the release until April 2022. The RGB Critter 1.0 was a massive improvement over previous RGB flashlights and torches available for light painters, however the user interface was less than perfect, and finding the buttons was often tricky in the dark. Joel from AOAM invested considerable time and effort into making the RGB Critter the best it can be, and in September 2022, the much improved RGB Critter 2.0 was released. In May 2023 an extensive range of new tools and connectors has allowed for even more creative freedom.


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. In the RGB Critter 2.0, these buttons are slightly raised making them easier to find in the dark. The light has Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) LED emitters, and can colour mix, colour change, and colour fade. The retail price at the time of writing is US$130, plus shipping.


The RGB Critter contains an AOAM branded unprotected 3050mAh 18650 Li-ion battery. 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 (used to open up the tail to access the charging port and battery as well as remove the end cap of Modular Sabers), 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. 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 major 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 2.0's user interface (UI) is a massive improvement over the original. The RGB Critter 2.0 has three illuminated buttons on the side of the light. Ants On A Melon's website has an extensive online and downloadable manual. which is essential reason before using the Critter for the first time.


Overview of the user interface in the RGB Critter 2.0:

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

  • Momentary mode - when enabled, hold for on.

  • Navigation through 9 modes, enter/exit each mode to access more presets in each mode.

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

  • Analogue or Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) modes. Note: PWM is default.

  • 93 default effect presets "out of the box".

  • Speed can be adjusted for all presets (with memory).

  • Programmed effects can be saved.

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

  • Settings (previously known as special features) menu - Strobe Speed (10 speed/frequency settings), Accelerometer, Sound Reactive, and Brightness (10 brightness levels) control.

The 39 static colour options are a big step up from other RGB flashlights. The RGB Critter also has last mode memory. Only a single click is now required for on/off. Momentary is now consistent with other flashlights - hold for on.


The RGB Critter 2.0 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 now 93 different effects (plus static colours) of which modes 2-8 have 1 default effect plus 8 memory slot effects each, and mode 9 has 30 effects. It is possible to adjust the effect speed in 10% steps of all of these effects (with speed memorised). This results in 930 effect combinations, and that is before applying any special features!


The RGB Critter has an impressive range of presets. Source: AOAM.
The RGB Critter has an impressive range of presets. Source: AOAM.


The much improved settings (previously known as special features) menu makes it possible to overlay a strobe, with adjustable strobe frequency, or adjust the brightness level. You will need to refer to the manual for the first few attempts at using special features.


The user interface in the RGB Critter 2.0 is much easier to remember than the original product. I find that for basic use, I rarely need to consult the instructions when out light painting. The mode change indicators have also been improved, making it easier to know when the correct function has been selected. The only remaining tricky part of the user interface is programming, but I would expect that few users would need to perform this 'out in the field'. 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.


Be aware to disengage momentary mode after use. If the light is left in momentary mode for a few days, parasitic drain will empty the battery! Check battery level a few hours before light painting so that you have enough time to recharge the battery if required. In the unlikely event a Critter is unresponsive even after trying to charge (no charging lights), then 1) remove and re-insert the battery and try again, or if that doesn't work 2) remove the battery, charge for a few minutes in a dedicated li-ion charger, and re-insert.


The RGB Critter is one of an elite group of flashlights with adjustable strobe frequency. The special features strobe appears to be 50% on/50% off which is good (some presets have different strobe on/off timings). The strobe frequency can be varied in 10 steps from 1.25Hz to 120Hz, with most of these steps being very useful for light painters. As many of the 93 included presets already have a strobe effect, I haven't found myself needing to use the strobe settings too often.


The RGB Critter 2.0 has 3 slightly raised buttons, which make finding them in the dark much easier than the original product. The buttons are located quite quite close together, but thankfully the number of multiple button presses are far less than in the original. Some practice is required when learning the user interface, for example it took me a few attempts to get the fast triple click to enter/exit momentary right, but after a few attempts I got it.


RGB Critters shipped after 22/05/2022 are enabled for firmware upgrades at home to version 2.0 . This requires a Windows PC with USB(-A) 3.0 port. RGB Critters shipped before that date will need to be returned to AOAM for upgrade. Once upgraded, all future firmware updates can be done at home.


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

The RGB Critter 2.0 has slightly raised buttons.
The RGB Critter 2.0 has slightly raised buttons.

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

Beam and Output


The RGB Critter's RGB 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 reasonably priced RGB flashlight. 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 in conjunction with the Illuminator tool, DIY Connector (as a snoot), or Orb Tool (as a diffuser).


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 1000+ lumen white light alternatives. However, as coloured light tends to saturate camera sensors faster than white light, then coloured lights will appear far brighter than the claimed lumens (in this case 170lm) would suggest. The RGB Critter is the brightest RGB colour changing flashlight suitable for light painting. Some example exposures I use are:

  • f/8, ISO100 to ISO200 with the 24" Modular Sol Saber, and Lumi Saber tools.

  • f/5.6, ISO400 when using the BitWhip 200 tool.

The RGB Critter provides options for an Analogue mode, or Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) mode. If you want the "old skool" light painting look with PWM (which appears as very fast strobing) then you can use the default PWM mode. PWM mode is probably more useful for flow arts or EDM dancing use than light painting. If you switch to Analogue mode, then you get smooth colour fades with no visible PWM in sample photos. This is a massive improvement over other RGB flashlights. Please be aware that if the battery has been fully discharged, that the Critter may reset from Analogue back to PWM.


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. Brightness/runtime is interesting. Testing was performed with a freshly fully charged battery, with 100% being the brightness at 10 seconds measured by an Opple Light Master Pro 3.

  • White mode (RGB all on) - I measured a gradual increase in brightness during the first 10 minutes to 182% at 10 minutes. This is unexpected as most flashlights decrease in brightness during the first 10 minutes. Brightness then gradually declined to 133% at 20 minutes, and 93% at 30 minutes. I then switched the light off, turned it back on one minute later, and measured 213% at 10secs, which rapidly declined to 130% within one minute. Thus as with most white light flashlights, thermal limiting will come into play, and this may be affected by ambient temperature.

  • Red mode - I measured stable light output during 2 hours of testing with output being >96% of starting brightness. For the vast majority of colour and effects modes, I expect the RGB Critter to have a stable brightness.

RGB Critter beam profile
RGB Critter beam profile

Tools and Accessories


The RGB Critter comes with an increasing number of accessories, and and excellent range of compatible light painting tools. AOAM have put considerable effort into research and development to introduce a large range of new tools and connectors in May 2023.


Light painting tools and connectors include:

  • Modular Sol Saber - evolution of the Sol Saber with removable end cap, and ability to connect multiple Sabers or a Light Painting BladeHolder/Blade to the end. This opens up lots of creative opportunities. Available in various lengths from 8" to 47".

  • Modular Lumi Saber - a Lightsaber with various tube texture pattern designs. Honeycomb and Butterfly are my favourites. The texture is more visible if the tool is within 4m of the camera. Available in various lengths from 8" to 36".

  • BitWhip - 5.5ft long layered end glow fibers, with either 140, 200, or 320 fibers. Much higher quality than rival products I've used.

  • Jupiter Rope - 3 or 6ft side glow fiber optic cable. Requires dark ambient light.

  • Blade Holder/Light Painting Blades - 18+ plexiglass blade design options which connect via a newly designed blade holder. At 8mm thickness, these blades are very bright.

  • Acrylic Writers - light writers available in 1/2", 2", and 6" lengths, 1/4", 1/2", and 5/8" diameter, and various finish options. I regular use the 1/2"x 1/4" Acrylic Writer.

  • Orb Accessory - an opaque light diffuser.

  • Fiber Optic Dusters - 6 fiber optic brush options, including black and white.

  • Illuminator and Illuminator Flex - light beam modifiers.

  • DIY Connector - for connecting homemade/other light painting system tools, and for beam collimation/snoot use.

  • Small Tube Holder - for connecting 1" (25.5mm) diameter tubes or threads, or cone shaped light painting connectors - see the other light painting system compatibility section. Note: 3/4" or 20mm tubes are not stable in this holder.

  • T8 Tube Holder - for connecting generic North American sized T8 tubes (31.5mm outer diameter). More info in "other light painting systems" section.

  • Inverse Critter Connector - allows for the connection of a Critter at both ends of a Modular Saber.

  • Sparkler Holder - for the connection of sparklers to the end of a Modular Saber.

  • Critter Connector - for connecting 2 RGB Critters end to end. Combined with the Modular Sabers and Reverse Critter Connector, this has a lot of creative potential.

  • Tube to Critter Back Connector - a black tube which connects to the back of the Critter, that allows use of the Critter at arms length. Useful for light painting portraits.

Optional accessories include:

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

  • Spare 18650 Battery.

  • RGB Critter Case.

  • Lanyard.

  • Pull String Bag.

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 tools came with an O-ring for water proofing, though I found I needed to remove the O-ring for a tight fit. There is a noticeable light gradient which results in a very high chance of overexposed light trail "hotspots" in the first few cm of Sabers and BitWhips at the input end of the tool. This is easily fixed by adding white masking tape to the first 5cm of the tool to attenuate the "excess" light.


I have now been using AOAM light painting tools for a year, and I've been very impressed with the quality. My most used tools have been the (now Modular) Sol Saber 8" to 24", Lumi Saber Honeycomb and Butterfly 24", BitWhip 200, DIY Connector, various Light Painting Blades and the 1/2"x1/4" Acrylic Writer.


The extensive AOAM tool system is currently only officially compatible with the RGB Critter flashlight, though this may change in the future.


Connector for Jupiter Rope tool.
Connector for Jupiter Rope tool.

Masking tape can be used to eliminate tool "hotspots" if required.
Masking tape can be used to eliminate tool "hotspots" if required.

The new modular Sol Sabers can connect to small light blades such as the Baby Circle.
The new Modular Sol Sabers can connect to the AOAM Light Painting Blade Holder and Blades.

The new Blade Holder.
The new Blade Holder.

Light painting portrait with the RGB Critter 2.0 and BitWhip 200.
Light painting portrait with the RGB Critter 2.0 and BitWhip 200.


Light tunnel created with the RGB Critter 2.0 and Crown Jewel blade.
Light tunnel created with the RGB Critter 2.0 and Crown Jewel blade.

Light painting with two 8" Modular Sol Sabers, Blade Holder, and Mini Triangle Blade.
Light painting with two 8" Modular Sol Sabers, Blade Holder, and Mini Triangle Blade.

Light painting using the Tube to Critter Back Connector, and 24" Modular Lumi Saber Honeycomb.
Light painting using the Tube to Critter Back Connector, and 24" Modular Lumi Saber Honeycomb.

The Inverse Critter Connector, and Critter Connector were  used to connect three Critters and Modular Sol Sabers.
The Inverse Critter Connector, and Critter Connector were used to connect three Critters and Modular Sol Sabers.


Compatibility with Other Light Painting Systems


AOAM's growing range of light painting tools is excellent, and highly recommended. However, many light painters are already heavily invested in multiple light painting systems, so I have also tested the RGB Critter for compatibility with other light painting systems:

  • Light Painting Brushes (LPB) (Universal Connector) - LPB tools fit snugly inside the new AOAM Small Tube Holder, and can be held in place with the screws (this may cause some minor cosmetic scratches). The Universal Connector also fits on the outside of the AOAM Small Tube Holder if all screws are removed. Lightpaintingaccessories also makes a 3rd part Critter to LPB adapter.

  • Light Painting Paradise (LPP) - The LPP "All in one adapter" slots over the AOAM DIY Connector allowing for use with all Light Painting Paradise tools. The Light Painting Paradise Single Round Adapter also fit fits on the outside of the AOAM Small Tube Holder if all screws are removed. Lightpaintingaccessories also makes a 3rd part Critter to LPP adapter.

  • Lumenman - The Lumenman connector fits around the AOAM T8 Tube Holder. The Spira slots perfectly around the AOAM DIY Connector.

  • T8 tubes - connectivity for generic North American sized T8 tubes (31.5mm outer diameter) with the AOAM T8 Tube Holder and T8 Tube Cap. Unfortunately T8 tubes are not of a consistent size, and taping can add to the thickness, resulting in incompatibility with some light painting systems. YMMV! Lightpaintingaccessories also makes a 3rd party Critter to Luminosify adapter.

  • Light Blades - the new AOAM Blade Holder has a 9.5mm jaw, plus long and short screws. I have successfully tested it with a single light blade, or stacked light blade thicknesses between 3mm and 9.5mm.


The new Tube Adapter allows the RGB Critter to be connected to Light Painting Brushes tools.
The new Small Tube Holder allows the RGB Critter to be connected to Light Painting Brushes tools via two methods.

The new T8 Tube Holder allows for compatibility with T8 tubes.
The new T8 Tube Holder allows for compatibility with North American T8 Tubes.

Conclusion


Things I liked:

  • Brightest RGB colour mixing flashlight available for light painting.

  • High quality construction and reliability.

  • Reasonable value for money.

  • Officially compatible with the extensive range of AOAM light painting tools.

  • Compatible with most other light painting systems (with appropriate connector).

  • Basic use is fairly easy.

  • Excellent range of default presets and colours, with adjustable effect speed.

  • Single click on/off, with last mode memory.

  • Momentary mode (the correct way around!)

  • Adjustable strobe frequency/speed and brightness with 10 steps.

  • Effects modes can be programmed and saved.

  • Stable brightness levels for most effect modes.

  • PWM and Analogue modes.

  • Very good colour mixing.

  • Good online instructions.

  • 18650 Li-ion battery is user replaceable.

  • Internal USB charging.

  • Firmware can be updated.

Things I didn't like:

  • Whilst the RGB Critter 2.0 UI is a massive improvement over the original, some advanced functions can be tricky to use/remember.

  • Noticeable light gradient - results in overexposed light trails at the input end of some tools, but easily fixable with white masking tape.

  • Parasitic battery drain if left in momentary mode.

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


The Ants On A Melon RGB Critter 2.0 flashlight is very impressive, with a class leading range of colours, effects and features. It is the brightest RGB colour mixing flashlight suitable for light painting, and the first without PWM. The new user interface and raised buttons in the RGB Critter 2.0 are massive improvements over the original Critter, with the most commonly used functions being fairly easy to use.


As the number of conventional flashlights suitable for light painting photography has been in rapid decline in the last few years, then using the RGB Critter with AOAM's extensive range of tools is a very compelling option for maximising creativity.


The RGB Critter is the highest quality and best value for money RGB flashlight available for light painting photographers, night photographers, flow artists, and EDM dancers, and is highly recommended.


5% off with code "KNIGHT".


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