The RGB Critter 2.0 is an extremely bright, high-quality RGB LED color-changing flashlight designed for flow art. How would it perform for light painting subjects in night photography?
Created by Ants on a Melon, the RGB Critter 2.0 flashlight is popular with LED flow artists during shows, art exhibitions, events and raves. It’s also very popular with night photographers for light drawing, which some describe as light painting. (I use “light drawing” to indicate shining a handheld light source directly into the camera lens to create drawing and patterns, and “light painting” to indicate illuminating a subject with. a handheld light)
When I stumbled across the RGB Critter, my first thought was, “How would it do with illuminating or light painting subjects in night photography?” Although this isn’t the intention of the design, I was immediately curious. My evaluation of this flashlight is primarily for light painting subjects. It is not for flow art or light drawing which involves creating patterns by shining the light directly into the camera lens.
Note: Ants on a Melon sent us the RGB Critter 2.0 LED flashlight and accessories to review and keep. However, this is an independent review. All thoughts and feelings about this light are our own. We have not been influenced in any way.
- Fantastic, friendly and responsive customer support
- Extremely high-quality light
- Analog light output option that creates especially rich, vibrant colors while preventing strobing (great for video or long exposures)
- 39 high-quality color settings which are rich in color and retain detail when illuminating subjects
- Smart, durable build quality
- Raised silicone buttons for ease of use in the dark
- Many flow art features and accessories too numerous to mention
- A universal mount for many attachments and accessories
- Micro-USB rechargeable and with replaceable 3050mAh 18650 battery
Note: please remember that the flashlight was not designed for people who illuminate, or light paint, subjects. These cons may not apply for LED flow arts or light drawing.
- Three-button user interface can be confusing
- For light painters, it would be easier if there were a dedicated brightness control
RGB Critter 2.0 — Technical specifications
All technical specifications have been taken from the Ants on a Melon website:
- Length: 5.4″ (137.5mm)
- Diameter: 1.3″ (33mm)
- Weight: 8 oz (including the battery)
- Power: Replaceable 3050mAh 18650 battery
- Internal USB charging
- Can be used with USB power supply connected
- Aluminum Body + Silicone Shell (offered in multiple color choices)
- 3 illuminated buttons (button LEDs can be turned off)
- LED: Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) LED emitters (can color mix, color change, or color fade)
- 39 solid color options
- 93 adjustable presets (9,300 variations of presets can be achieved by simply holding the Rocket button)
- Built-in microphone for sound reactivity
- Built-in accelerometer for movement reactivity
- Max Lumens (color white): 170lm
- Max runtime at full brightness: 3hr (white), 6-9hr (all other colors and patterns)
- Max runtime at lowest brightness: 30hr (white), 6-9hr (all other colors and patterns)
- Threaded lens for twist-on accessories (over 100 options)
- Threaded tail for Critter Connector
- Lanyard loop hole built into removable aluminum End Cap
- Firmware can easily be updated using our RGB Critter Software
Ants on a Melon also sent me a couple of attachments for light painting. These were the Illuminator and the Illuminator Flex. They also included a soft drawstring mesh case for the flashlight, a micro-USB charging cable, Critter Key (to open up the tail to access the charging port and battery), and two spare O-rings.
RGB Critter 2.0 — Ergonomics and build quality
The build quality immediately leapt out at me. The body and buttons on the flashlight feel solid and classy. Remember too that this is designed for flow arts/performers while having long attachments affixed to it. They’re not going to use a light that is flimsy since they’re waving it around and occasionally whacking it on the ground or a railing.
The flashlight, including the buttons, is covered with soft rubbery silicone that makes gripping feel quite secure in your hands. It’s the most comfortable flashlight I’ve used.
RGB Critter 2.0 — In the field
I photographed the tree in my backyard as well as Old Car City USA in Georgia with the flashlight. I’ll start with the “real life” experience in Georgia first. Then I’ll get deep into the geekery with some comparisons and specific examples of lighting.
Real world light painting — Retaining detail in a forest filled with abandoned cars
I photographed on a December night with fog and light rain in Old Car City USA. The light performed well. The silicone covering was a welcome bonus, providing a grip that was quite welcome in the damp environment. Although the beam was narrower than the other light I’ve used, it never created an issue when illuminating the cars. The quality of light was pleasing. I will cover this in even more detail in the next section.
The RGB Critter 2.0 was able to retain the beautiful details of the cars no matter what color light I used. Retaining details can be an issue with other RGB flashlights.
To change colors while the camera shutter was open to take a long exposure photo, I would shine the light away from the subject and select a different color. Then I would resume light painting the subject. During a two-minute exposure, this was not an issue when using just two colors.
Above: The RGB Critter 2.0 light retains an enormous amount of detail.
Quality of light
This is a notable area where the RGB Critter shines (sorry about the pun … it happens). The flashlight is capable of producing 39 different colors, all of them quite rich.
But it gets even better. The light defaults to outputting its light using PWM (Pulse Width Modulation). However, you can switch it to Analog output by pressing the On and Rocket Button. This results in even richer colors that aren’t prone to strobing during long exposure photography or videos. I used Analog output for all of these examples.
That said, I must say that the PWM Mode still produced beautiful colors that could be used for light painting subjects.
Above: I tested numerous different colors from the RGB Critter 2.0 in Analog Mode. I chose their most intense red and blue. Many digital cameras seem very sensitive to intense red light in particular, and it’s easy to lose highlights and detail with a red light. However, here, despite the intense red saturation, the details hold up beautifully. This is a high-quality light. To a lesser extent from my experience, it seems easy to lose highlights and detail with very saturated blue colors as well. However, it held up nicely as well. Click on the photos for a better look at the detail. There are several hues of green as well, and these render nicely. This particular one is the Stardust Green #37 setting (and yes, Stardust Green is a little dimmer than the other two, as this is the exact same illumination time and position of illumination). Nice!
Controls, menus and display
You control the RGB Critter 2.0 via three buttons. There are no menus or display. Consequently, the flashlight will “acknowledge” changes through different color flashes or pulses.
The buttons are raised silicone shells that are easy to find and press in the dark. In practice, I had no issues. Furthermore, they are backlit by LEDs as the default. This certainly makes it quite easy to find in the dark. When I had to walk through the frame of a long exposure photo to illuminate subjects, I found that I could stop the lit LED buttons from showing in the photo by either 1.) turning the lights off entirely, 2.) covering them with my hand, or 3.) blocking them from the lens with my body.
Finding the buttons and scrolling through the various colors was simple. Although there are numerous modes, for light painting purposes, staying in m1 mode and using its 39 solid colors is easy to do.
The challenge arises when you want to change the brightness. This involves pressing multiple buttons. See the RGB Critter 2.0 Light Painting Cheat Sheet below for how. to do this.
Since the RGB Critter 2.0 is not designed for someone light painting a subject, it’s difficult to criticize this aspect of it. However, many of us who light paint subjects like to change the brightness on the fly, so it bears mentioning.
A dedicated brightness button, or perhaps being able to assign a button permanently to brightness in m1 mode, would be ideal. However, many of us also use LED flashlights that only have high/low brightness controls to light paint using white light only, and we still manage to do good work.
Therefore, I’m thinking that if you have a flashlight that produces 39 high-quality colors via Analog or PWM output, including several different shades of white, you will adapt quickly.
Recycle times and battery life
I love having a micro-USB rechargeable flashlight. For night photographers who do light painting, it’s one less item that requires a specific battery charger. As a bonus, the RGB Critter 2.0 allows. you to easily replace its 3050mAh 18650 battery! The battery will fully charge in under two hours when plugged into a wall outlet adapter and under six hours when plugged into a computer port.
Each RGB Critter comes with one battery. This provides between three to nine hours of use at full brightness on each charge. More specifically, the battery will last three hours using the color white and between six to nine hours using all other solid colors and presets. Obviously, if you use the Brightness Control function to dim it down further, it will last longer. If you use the lowest brightness setting, the flashlight will last for 90 hours.
Due to the specific size of the battery, Ants on a Melon advises that you only use their batteries to prevent possible damage. You also should use their provided charging cable, also to prevent possible damage. They sell both on their website.
I’ve already dropped it on cement once from about three feet. This is not part of the Official Rigorous 101-Step Photofocus Review Protocol. I’m just clumsy.
No problem. Not a scratch. Use a lanyard around your wrist and you may lessen your chances of being like me.
I also used it on a damp, misting, and occasionally rainy December night in a forest with trees dripping water. The flashlight suffered no ill effects.
Illuminator and Flex
Currently, while the company has over one hundred different attachments, these are the two best attachments for light painting subjects: Illuminator and Flex.
Illuminator is somewhat shaped like an oil sieve, while Illuminator Flex has a wider opening. Illuminator Flex, as the name implies, is bendable as well, allowing for further light painting opportunities such as changing the shape of the outgoing light. You can do great light painting of subjects with either. If you have to choose one, I would go with Flex for its wider opening as well as its, well, flexibility.
Above: Illuminator Flex and Illuminator. The Flex is the larger, bendable one. You can squeeze it to change the shape. Once you release it, it pops back into shape.
Above: RGB Critter 2.0. The left photo shows the Illuminator attachment while the right photo shows the Illuminator Flex attachment, here using the Default White setting. Now, bear in mind that I am light painting the tree by hand, so there’s some inconsistency. I illuminated the tree from the same three angles for the same amount of time, but of course, it’s never exactly the same. You can probably see where the light beam is wider and more of the scene is illuminated.
Above: RGB Critter 2.0. The left photo shows the Illuminator attachment while the right photo shows the Illuminator Flex attachment, here using the Blue #22 Setting. Like the previous example, it’s not an enormous difference, but you do notice that it is wider in these examples as well as in person when you are light painting. the subject.
Warm white light and beam
Above: The left photo is the RGB Critter (Warm White #34 setting). The right photo is a custom setting I have (RGB of 45 at 53% saturation at 7.5 brightness). I attempted to visually set the brightness of the ProtoMachines so that it appeared to be the same as the RGB Critter when I was aiming at both a wall and the ground. I illuminated the scene at the same angles for the same amount of time in both photos, largely to show the width of the beam. Take note that my custom warm white setting is warmer in part because I mistakenly left the saturation at 53% when I meant to lower it back down to 40% after my last photoshoot, just for the record.
Many of us who light paint subjects like warm white light for general illumination. I used these to look at how wide of a beam there is between the ProtoMachines LED2, which I use all the time, and the RGB Critter 2.0. As you can see, the ProtoMachines has a considerably wider beam. Is this better or worse? Like many things, it depends. It depends on what you are trying to illuminate, whether that requires a narrower beam or a wide beam, and your personal preference.
You can do great work with either. With a light that has a narrower beam, you would simply need to illuminate more of the scene, which could take slightly longer. On the other hand, if you were doing detail work with, say, car emblems, grilles, headlights, interiors, or other detail work, you might need to use a snoot with a ProtoMachines to match the RGB Critter.
The various white light settings have a slightly colored ring around the periphery of the beam, visible when you are shining the light on a white wall. The Warm White light has a slightly green ring, while the Default White and Natural White light has a slightly purplish-bluish hue on the periphery. In practice, I feel this is a nonissue since you are most likely more than several feet away from the subject you are illuminating and moving the light around. As you can see, this did not have an adverse affect on any of my light painting photos. To take the photos above, I held the camera and flashlight approximately one foot from a white door in the dark. All photos are shown here at 5500K.
RGB Critter 2.0 — Light Painting Cheat Sheet:
Using m1 mode for solid colors for light painting
When on, make sure the flashlight is showing a solid white color. Hold the Arrow Button until the LED pulses white a couple of times, then release. You are now in m1 mode, which is ideal for light painting. This mode contains 39 solid colors. If you hold the Arrow Button too long, the LEDs will start blinking, which means you have entered Programming Mode.
Switching between PWM and Analog output
When on, press the On and Rocket Buttons simultaneously but do not hold. You will see a flash for one second. PWM flashes white for 1 second. Analog flashes red for 1 second.
When on, press the Arrow and Rocket Buttons. This will cause white, red, green, then blue flashes to indicate that you are in Special Features mode. Also, the three button LEDs will start continuously blinking. Use the Arrow Button to navigate to white for Brightness Control. Then to increase brightness, press the Rocket Button as needed. This cycles through the 10 different brightness levels.
To save a Special Feature setting, hold the Rocket button until the LED pulses white 3x. The next Special Feature will load automatically once the setting has been saved.
To exit this Menu, hold the Power button until the LED pulses red and release. Your brightness setting is saved and activated. If necessary to go back to the solid colors in m1, do a Soft Reset and then activate m1 again to be sure.
Turn off Button LED lights
When off, hold Rocket Button for 1.5 seconds.
When off, hold Power Button until the flashlight turns on in m1 (color white). I use this function more than I probably need to, but it works for getting back quickly.
Got into “real trouble?” Perform a Factory Reset. When off, hold all three buttons for five seconds. This results in a rainbow burst.
How much charge is left?
When off, hold the Arrow Button for three seconds. Cooler colors = good, warmer colors = low.