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  • Stephen Knight

Flashlight Review: Ants On A Melon RGB Critter BT

Updated: Apr 27

The Ants On A Melon (AOAM) RGB Critter BT is the third version of the RGB Critter. Being the first "professional quality" RGB flashlight/torch for light painting photography and flow arts, the RGB Critter has revolutionised these scenes. The Critter BT adds Bluetooth app control, USB-C charging, and completely new user interface.


Disclaimer


The AOAM RGB Critter BT was sent to me for Beta testing and an honest review. The release version of the product and software may have some differences to the product reviewed.

Links in this review are non-affilate links.



Ants On A Melon RGB Critter BT
Ants On A Melon RGB Critter BT

Design and Construction


The RGB Critter BT is the third generation of the AOAM RGB Critter. Whilst the body dimensions of the aluminium body, and optics are identical to the RGB Critter 1.0 and 2.0, there are some significant changes that make the light much easier to use.


Changes from the RGB Critter 2.0 to RGB Critter BT include:

  • Completely redesigned user interface.

  • Bluetooth connectivity to the 'Ants on a Melon' app.

  • Raised RGB backlit buttons (can be turned off).

  • USB-C charging.

  • More stable silicone shell with raised buttons.

  • New protective tailcap design.


Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 150mm x 33mm (incl. silicone shell).

  • Weight: 225g.

  • Battery/charging: 3050mAh Li-ion 18650/USB-C charging.

  • Max runtime: 3 hours (white), 6-9 hours (colour).

  • Max lumens: 170lm.

  • Warranty: 1 year limited warranty.

  • Standard price: US$159 plus shipping.


The RGB Critter BT contains an AOAM branded unprotected 3050mAh 18650 Li-ion battery. This battery is user replaceable, which allows the light to be used beyind the lifespan of the supplied Li-ion battery. Other included accessories are a USB-C charging cable, and Critter Key (used to open up the battery compartment as well as remove the end cap of Modular Sabers). Charging time from empty took approximately 3 hours when using a 5V/2.4A USB-A to USB-C power supply. The backlit buttons indicate charging status. Charging terminated correctly at 4.19V, and the battery capacity was tested to be within +/-10% of claimed capacity.


AOAM light painting tools screw into the RGB Critter BT.
AOAM light painting tools twist into the RGB Critter BT.

The RGB Critter BT has a USB-C charging port.
The RGB Critter BT has a USB-C charging port.

The RGB Critter BT has a new protective tail cap.
The RGB Critter BT has a new protective tail cap.

User Interface


The user interface (UI) has been completely redesigned in the RGB Critter BT. Whilst most basic functionality in the RGB Critter 2.0 was fairly easy to use, practice was required to use the settings (such as changing brightness, and strobe frequency), and programming new effects was rather challenging. AOAM have taken this feedback into account when designing the RGB Critter BT.


Highlights of the new UI include:

  • Most settings are now controlled by the 'Ants on a Melon' app via Bluetooth connectivity.

  • App can control up to 10 Critter BTs.

  • Light on/off is controlled on-board the Critter.

  • Firmware updates via the app for future feature updates.

  • Charging and connectivity status are indicated by button backlights.

  • Deep sleep/power save options.

  • Playlists, and presets/modes within playlists selected in the app.

  • Lots of presets (40 in Beta version, more in release version) in "AOAM Playlists", and user customised "My Playlists".

  • Presets/modes can have speed and colours customised in "My Playlists".

  • Full RGB colour mixing (no longer limited to 39 colours).

  • Universal Settings page to toggle/adjust Autoplay (and Autoplay speed), Strobe frequency/speed (0.25Hz to 75Hz), Brightness, PWM/Analogue, Button LED Backlight, Lock Buttons, Momentary.

  • Group functionality allows multiple Critter BTs to be paired at the same time.

The "Ants on a Melon' app is available on Apple iOS devices, with expected shipping of the RGB Critter BT in June 2024. The Android app is expected to be available in Beta in July 2024. The iOS app requires iOS 17.0 or newer, and the Android app requires Android 14.0 or newer. Please be aware that the Critter BT will not function without app connectivity. As I'm an Android person, I had to borrow a friend's iPad to perform the iOS Beta testing, and I will be Beta testing the Android version soon.


Overall, the RGB Critter BT is much easier to use than the Critter 2.0. I expect the vast majority of RGB Critter users will massively welcome the change in user interface. For more complex functionality such as changing brightness, effect speed, strobe frequency, and in particular, programming new effects, the app control is hugely beneficial. I was able to program a new preset in less than a minute! It also allows for more visual clarity around which settings are enabled, such as PWM on/off. Some of the new presets are pretty cool as well.


Changing workflow to connecting the devices to the smart device, and using that smart device to change presets and settings may take a while to get used to. It is likely I will use a phone holder connected to my tripod or cold shoe. Bluetooth connectivity was tested to work up to 14m distance.


As the RGB Critter BT uses Bluetooth and e-switches, there will be some parasitic drain. It is recommended to use Deep Sleep mode when at all possible, and remove the battery if the Critter BT is unlikely to be used for more than a few weeks. Unlike the RGB Critter 2.0 where it was possible to get a few light painting sessions out of one battery charge, I would highly recommend charging up the Critter BT's before use. Parasitic drain testing will be performed on the release software version, and this review will be updated.


I did find a few software bugs during iOS Beta testing, and these have been passed onto AOAM to be fixed in the release version of the software. Most were already in the process of being addressed. I have also suggested two feature enhancements to AOAM for consideration in future firmware updates. I would like to see the ability to adjust preset speed from the AOAM Playlist page, and ability to advance between presets in a playlist using on-board buttons.


The RGB Critter BT has three raised backlit buttons/switches.
The RGB Critter BT has three raised backlit buttons/switches.


Screenshots of the app, showing Devices page, Playlists page, My Playlists page, and Edit/Update Mode page.


RGB Critter BT Universal Settings


Screenshots of the three methods of selecting colours - Grid, Spectrum, and (RGB) Sliders.


Light Painting and Flow Arts Tools


Ants On A Melon have a very impressive range of light painting tools. These include (but are not exclusive to):

  • Modular Sol/Lumi Sabers in various lengths.

  • Light Painting Blades and Blade Holders.

  • BitWhip - available in various lengths and number of fibers.

  • Fiber Optic Dusters.

  • Light Writers.

  • DIY Connectors.

  • Orb Tool (diffuser).

For the flow arts/EDM market, the following tools are popular:

  • Sol/Lumi Sabers in various lengths.

  • BitWhip - available in various lengths and number of fibers.

  • Jupiter Rope - available in various lengths.

I have been using these tools for a couple of years now, and quality is very impressive. The tools have a thread that twists into the end of the RGB Critter BT's body. Sometimes the rubber O-ring needs to be removed for this to be done smoothly. Some of the tools such as the BitWhips have ball bearings to allow the light whip to rotate. In over 2 years of use, my BitWhips have not lost a single fiber - impressive! Due to the Critter's optics, I wrap 5cm of white masking tape around the flashlight end of BitWhip and Saber tools to reduce the "hotspot" at the input end of the tools. This allows for a more balanced photographic exposure.


As many light painters have invested in light painting tools from other manufacturers, there are also various accessories from Ants On A Melon that allow for compatibility with tools from Light Painting Brushes, Light Painting Paradise, and generic North American T8 Tubes. Light Painting Accessories also make 3D printed adapters to connect the Critter to Light Painting Brushes, Light Painting Paradise, and Luminosify Choobs. There are currently no "official" options to connect lights other than the RGB Critter to Ants On A Melon tools.


Light painting portrait using the BitWhip 200 tool. Model: @belle_m_clare
Light painting portrait using the BitWhip 200 tool. Model: @belle_m_clare


Beam and Output


The RGB Critter BT's optics are the same as on the RGB Critter 1.0 and 2.0. The RGB Critter BT uses an undisclosed single chip RGB LED module, which allows for very good colour mixing. The optics appear to be a 20 degree hotspot TIR lens, with bright 80 degree spill beam, and dimmer 150 degree outer spill beam. I would class this as "floody" due to the bright spill beam. Whilst more "throwy" optics with a higher candela per lumen ratio would be more preferable, that isn't practical in a flashlight of this size.


The optics and beam shaping tools such as the Illuminator, DIY Connector (as a snoot), and Orb Tool (as diffuser) makes the RGB Critter very useful for low to medium brightness coloured light painting and night photography illumination purposes. As increasingly portable RGB COB lights are hot on the heels of flashlights for this genre of photography, I am delighted that the RGB Critter BT has full RGB colour mixing. This allows for much more flexibility on colours, and can allow for colours with less saturation. As the LED module is not RGBW, there is no HSI colour mixing, and mixed-RGB white light is low CRI.


Coloured LEDs are not 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 to be far brighter than the claimed lumens (in this case 170lm) would suggest. The RGB Critter is currently the brightest RGB colour changing/mixing flashlight suitable for light painting and flow arts. Some example photographic 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.


Pulse Width Modulation can be turned on and off. Flow artists may prefer PWM on, and light painters will generally prefer PWM off. There is some waveform rippling in Analogue mode (no PWM).


Runtime, and sustained brightness (which was excellent on the Critter 2.0) will be tested with the release software version, and this review will be updated.


The RGB Critter BT has the same optics as the Critter 2.0.
The RGB Critter BT has the same optics as the Critter 2.0.

RGB Critter BT beam profile.
RGB Critter BT beam profile.

Light painting using the "Brute Force" preset
Light painting using the "Brute Force" preset

Light painting using the "Pink Death" preset
Light painting using the "Pink Death" preset

Conclusion


Positives:

  • Brightest RGB colour mixing/changing flashlight for light painting and flow arts.

  • App allows for easy selection of colours, presets/modes, editing and creating new presets.

  • Impressive range of AOAM light painting tools.

  • Compatible with most other light painting systems (with appropriate AOAM or 3rd party connector).

  • USB-C charging.

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

  • Adjustable strobe frequency/speed and brightness.

  • PWM and Analogue modes.

  • Full RGB colour mixing.

  • 18650 Li-ion battery is user replaceable.

  • Firmware can be updated.

Negatives:

  • Cannot be used without Bluetooth connectivity and app.

  • Adjusting preset speed in My Playlist requires too many steps.


The RGB Critter BT improves upon what was already the best RGB colour changing flashlight available for light painting photographers and flow artists. The app control makes the Critter BT much easier to control than the Critter 2.0 once the devices are connected. Programming new or editing existing effects presets is also very easy.


The RGB Critter BT is available for pre-order with expected shipping in June 2024. The iOS app is now available. The Android app is expected to be available in Beta in July 2024.




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