Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fenix HP25 Headlamp Review

Click on the photo for a larger view
Fenix HP25 Headlamp


I've been an avid outdoors guy for years, fishing, hunting, herping (snake hunting) and wildlife photography. For some reason, many of my pursuits take me outdoors at night, especially the herping.  For years I resisted headlamps because for lack of a better term, they looked like birth control to me. Then one day while fishing with a friend about 8 years ago, we arrived before sun up. As we put our boat on the water in the dark, he slapped on a headlamp and started doing his thing while I fumbled with my handheld light trying to pull out back lashes, tie on lures, etc. He finally said, "here, try this". I reluctantly put on his headlamp and I've been a believer since then. Soon after, I went out and bought a cheap headlamp at my local WalMart and used it for many things but I longed for something better, more powerful. So I at the reccomendation of a friend, I got on Amazon and bought a Petzl Tikka headlamp; much better. While I loved the Petzl Tikka and it worked great for small chores around the house, reading in bed, great for early morning and evening fishing and as a focus assist light for photography, it still didn't have the power I was looking for. I tried it looking for snakes at night in the wilds of West Texas and it just didn't have enough juice. So after lots of research and reccomendations by others in the herping (snake hunting) community, I bit the bullet and picked up a Princeton Tec Apex; now we're talking. This light did it all. For years as a snake hunter, I carried around a florescent wand powered by a big, heavy 6V battery and always wished for something lighter but provide the light I needed, the Princeton Tec Apex provided that and worked great for all aspects. It even completely replaced the florescent wand for snake hunting. It would take a heck of a light to trump the Apex, read on...
The Princeton Tec Apex (left) and the Fenix HP25 (right)

The Petzl Tikka left and the Fenix HP25 right
Well, as I said earlier, in my "real job" in Law Enforcement, I rely on artificial light on a regular basis. The one limitation with head lamps however was that in a life or death situation, involving gunfire at night, wearing a headlamp provides your adversary with a grand, glowing target,...not good. So hand held light are a must; and I've used LOTS of them. I would imagine that I own probably 14 hand held lights / torches. Of those lights, the ones I find that I use most are my Fenix lights such as the Fenix  2 x AA L2D (now replaced by the E25) and the Fenix  CR123 powered TK30 (now replaced by the TK60), a real blaster of a flashlight! I can usually get by every shift with just these two lights; L2D for regular tasks and TK30 for search and rescue and tracking. These two lights have provided me years of reliable service. So my experience with Fenix lights made me curious about their headlamps. So along comes the Fenix HP25 Headlamp. It had both a flood light and a spot light that I liked so much with my Princeton Tec Apex. My Princeton Tec unfortunately, has had some issues as of late (bad switches and a broken pivot bracket) and I was in the market for a new headlamp and my very good experiences with Fenix made the Fenix HP25 a "no brainer". Well, it turned out Fenix was kind enough to allow me to run one through it's paces.
Left to right, the Nitecore Defender Infinity, the Nitecore EZ 123, the Fenix HP25 , the Fenix TK30, Fenix L2D and SureFire U2 Ultra

The new Fenix HP25
The back of the HP25 package with all the run time info (click to enlarge)

The Fenix comes nicely packaged with four AA's included. Upon opening the package and assembling everything, I was pleased that the HP 25's pivot point(s) are on either side of the head lamp as opposed to the Princeton Tec Apex (which eventually broke) which is centered. The Fenix's pivot points seem much sturdier and the pivot point on the right side included the insertion point of the power cable. Assembly of the straps were easy as where the provided cable guides. I was happy to see that the straps were sufficiently big enough to accommodate my big head, a minor complaint I had with the Petzl; it was always a bit tight. The HP25 is comfortable but snug where it needs to be.


The Fenix HP25 is powered by four (4) AA's and is opened and closed by a threaded tension screw. The battery compartment is protected by reverse polarity protection to protect the light from people like me putting batteries in backwards. I really like the feel of the threaded screw over the 1/4 turn closure of the Princeton Tec Apex . While I never had issues with the Apex leaking, the screw type closure of the HP25 definitely seems to close the compartment more snugly and gives one more confidence that it isn't going to leak. Also of note is that the female portion on the battery carriage is brass as opposed to plastic on the apex pictured below.
Battery carriers of the Princeton Tec Apex on top and Fenix HP25 on bottom
The battery carrier on the Fenix HP25 is well done and the batteries are not difficult to get in or out. I have to give the Princeton Tec Apex a small attaboy in this department because the carrier has holes in the opposite side of all four battery compartments allowing the batteries to be pushed out from behind instead of picking them out with fingernails (of which I have none). The Fenix only has holes in two, but this may give the carrier more strength in the long run, we'll see. All of the spring contacts on the HP25 are gold plated which was a nice touch. The carrier itself is hard plastic and the top cap is a rubberized polymer for sealing purposes. Placing them in the waterproof carrier and screwing it closed was easy with zero alignment issues. I like the over sized knob as opposed to the small coin-slot knob on the Apex. The Apex was sometimes difficult to turn closed without a coin or using the provided clip tool when my hands were sweaty. The large knob on the HP25 fixes that issue, well done Fenix.
 The question of comfort often comes up with the 4 AA battery compartments. I may be a little more tolerant than others but I've never seen it as an issue while out in the sticks with either the Apex or the HP25. Heck, my 10 year old daughter wore it the other night with no complaints. I guess if you where laying in bed reading books with this light, it might be an issue riding on the back of your head but then again, wearing this light to read while laying in bed is kinda like killing a fly with a sledge hammer. It can be done but it's kinda over kill. If laying in bed and reading books is your thing, I'd recommend a AAA head lamp like the  Petzl Tikka , Princeton Tec Fuel or even the Fenix HL10 . If you're the outdoor type, get the Fenix HP25 .

The well done battery carrier of the Fenix HP25. Note the large screw down knob
The Princeton Tec Apex on the left and the HP25 on the right

The power switches on the Fenix HP25 are separate; one for the spot light and one for the flood light.
HP25 Switches, Flood on the right, spot on the left
One of my current problems with my Princeton Tec Apex are the switches. When new, they didn't provide much feedback and were a little tough to operate but they worked well for about 4 years. During those four years however, they progressively became tougher and tougher to activate. Currently. none of my kids nor my wife can activate them. Fortunately the switches on the Fenix HP25 seem a little better made. You activate either switch my holding them for approximately one (1) second to turn them on or off and quick taps when they are on to scroll through their various power modes. A three second depression of the spot side will activate the "SOS" mode. These switches provide good clicky feedback and hopefully, years of reliable service like the rest of my Fenix lights.  The power switches on the Fenix HP25 are on the top of the light as opposed to the bottom on the Princeton Tec Apex . the Fenix also has a protruding plastic lip on top to protect the switches in the fully closed position.
Switch comparison, Princeton Tec Apex on the left and HP25 on the right. I  like the HP25 switches better. You'll note that the pivot on the Apex is broken as well so I had to torque down the pivot screw to make it usable.

Well this is where it all matters for most folks. Just how well does it work, how bright is it and how usable it it for various applications? Well, I've had it now for 2 weeks and I can report it works GREAT on all counts and brighter than any head lamp I've used or own. Thus far I've used it for night-time photography, herping and fish netting at night (sleeping fish are much easier to catch). My daughter likes to go out occasionally at night and collect fish from our local rivers for our huge aquarium and the HP25 worked great for this.

The flood light is the best I've used on ANY headlamp. It's unbelievably smooth throughout the beam and the run times are hard to believe:
Flood Turbo: 180 lumens / 4h 40min
Flood High: 90 lumens / 10h 30min
Flood Mid: 45 lumens / 24h
Flood Low: 4 lumens / 206h

In Spot Mode the Burn Times are advertised as: 
Spot High: 180 lumens / 4h 30min
Spot Mid: 90 lumens / 10h 30min
Spot Low: 45 lumens / 24h
SOS: 90 lumens

Of course using the spot and flood together will significantly shorten these times.

I'm happy to report that I used the spot and flood separately and together occasionally for almost four hours three nights ago before I had to replace the batteries. To say I was impressed with the Fenix HP25 is an understatement. The run-time beats my Princeton Tec Apex by a long shot. I would feel confident going out for a night of herping (snake hunting) with two good sets of batteries (8 AA's), one set in the headlamp and one extra in the pocket. I use the flood light option for walking and looking 90% of the time and switch on the spot temporarily to look into crevices/caves and up onto rock faces of rock ledges or road cuts. So in short, like I discovered with my Princeton Tec Apex, to make a good herping light, you need a flood AND spot light. The Fenix HP25 has both, they're both BRIGHT and they're both smooth with very little artifacts. I may have found my perfect herping light with the HP25.

While doing macro photography at night, a low level flood light is desirable for focus assist to leave your hands fee and my Princeton Tec Apex headlamp worked good for this. One variable is the power that is needed for focusing. This mainly depends on the distance from the subject to the camera sensor. Fortunately, the HP25 has four different power settings and has worked great for night-time photography. To all the photographers out there, if you haven't invested in a good headlamp yet, do it now! You'll wonder how you ever got by without one at night or in low light situations. The advantage of LED's of incandescents is that LED's provide a much "whiter" light than the yellow hue of the old incandescents. LED quality varies however, some cheaper ones giving off a blue tinge and some giving off a yellow tinge. The aim is pure white in most cases and the HP25 with it's Two Cree XP-E R4 LED's creates a very nice almost pure white with barely any perceptible yellow for photography purposes.
Equipment check for a night-time photography hike, Spyderco Gayle Bradley, Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Fenix HP25

The following are shot of spot only (on bright), flood light only and spot and flood together. All shot at 25 feet. The Camera was a Canon 40D / Canon 24-70 f/2.8L shot at f/5.6 at 2 seconds on ISO 400. There were no adjustments in the brightness or hue in post processing.

It worked great for hunting American Green Tree Frogs in central FL
Illuminating subjects for focus assist works great with the HP25. The head lamp was still illuminating during this shot.


If haven't figured it out yet, I think Fenix has a winner with the HP25. For the outdoorsman, the fisherman, the hunter, the herper (snake hunter), photographer, caver, hiker or camper, you'd be hard pressed to find a better light in this price range; heck at any price range. This is just one awesome BRIGHT headlamp with great run-time. Fenix must read the various forums and pick up on things that people have liked and disliked about headlamps because they seemed to really have nailed this one. It's spot light has a heck of a throw for a headlamp; more than sufficient for most outdoor activities. The flood light like previously stated is the best I've used. It's dang near perfect in my book for walking around, hiking, working at night, and herping. The Princeton Tec Apex (Albeit an older model) used to be my favorite. The Fenix HP25 has now taken that crown. This is one great light.... It will be getting LOTS of use. Fenix continues the tradition of being one of the best bang for your buck lights on the market.