Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Lamy Safari Review

You always remember your first time....

writing with a fountain pen.  I, like a lot of folks, started with the Lamy Safari and after six months of extensive testing I can tell you that it is a sublime experience.  The pen has some drawbacks but the writing experience is quite amazing for the price.  It also makes an excellent starter pen for those hesitant about taking a dip in the fountain pen waters.

Fountain pens are intimidating.  They do not look like pens we are used to.  They write differently.  They can be exceptionally messy.  They are grown up pens, which is funny, because in many European countries you learn to write in cursive or joined up letters with a fountain pen.  But all of this work is totally, completely, and without question worth it.

The writing experience of using a fountain pen day in and day out is an exceptionally positive one.  I take a heaping of handwritten notes everyday, probably something like an average of 10 to 20 pages worth, far more than the average person, and over a decade of doing this my hands have started to ache.  The pressure needed to make a ballpoint or roller ball work is vastly greater than the easy, feathertouch of a fountain pen.  If you have tired, achy hands, you should really try a fountain pen.  Besides the hand health benefits, a fountain pen prompts you to write with more care and this results in superior handwriting.  The smooth glide of a nib across paper is one of those feelings that is so satisfying that it is almost primordial.  I can only think of a few simple actions (no, not that one you pervert...that is much more complex) that have that immediate positive feedback.  Snugging up two pieces of wood with ultra precise fitting joints is one such sensation, but even that is not like writing with a fountain pen.  I look forward to writing with the Lamy Safari.  Doing so is just plain, old fun.  And thanks to a very good price, a newbie friendly design, and lots of nib and ink options, the Lamy Safari is a good place to start.

Here is the Lamy Safari product page.  The Safari costs about $25.  There are a dozen or so colors, a few special edition colors, and a few variants.  The AL Star is the Safari with an aluminum body.  The Lamy Joy is a similar design with a tapered body tube and includes multiple nib sizes.  Here is a written review of the Safari.  Here is a video review.  You can get the Safari at Amazon and buying it through this link benefits the site and helps with giveaways and new ventures (such as the podcast):



Finally, here is my review sample:

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Twitter Review Summary: An ideal starter fountain pen that is good enough to keep around after you've upgraded.

Design: 2

Of course there are going to parallels, design-wise, between this WHITE minimalist pen and another WHITE minimalist gadget, but really that is unfair.  The Lamy design predated the iPod and just about anything white now is seen as aping the iPod's style.  So put that aside and just look the pen (it also comes in about a dozen OTHER colors and aluminum versions, so really, its because I bought a white version).

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The grip portion is excellent, the cap posts well, the window is actually useful, and the o-rings provide a tight fit to prevent drying.  I left the Safari uncapped overnight once, on accident, and it froze up.  I had to change the cartridge (which was almost out) and replace the nib, but it was easy to do.  The o-rings do work.  I also like the thick chromed clip.  It both works and looks fantastic.

The choice of plastic for the body is something of a concession to the price, as the aluminum version is a bit more money, but even at this price, I think they might have been able to get a higher end material in there.  Its not that plastic is bad, but it does gather dents and dings.  Here is the pen about six months after the above image was shot (isn't the new camera amazing?):

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The design, for all of its plastic-ness, is an excellent user friendly set up for ink changes.  I was unprepared for how fast ink runs out in a fountain pen.  I can probably get 20 cartridges in this thing before my Tuff Writer runs out.  But if you are considering a fountain pen you know they drink ink.  Thankfully, this is a cinch to clean.  I cleaned it out after every three or so cartridges.  I'd unscrew the body from the grip, pull out the cartridge, flush the grip and nib with water, dry it out and that was it.  I would send a puff of air through it a few times if it was really inky, but if not, I'd drop the cartridge in and go.  I know some folks wait a long time and have almost religious like cleaning rituals but my method has caused zero problems and it takes five minutes.  As a side note, never, EVER try to change a cartridge in your car.  Even if it is parked.  Never.  EVER. 

Fit and Finish: 1

Along with the plasticky feel, the nib is not the greatest on the planet.  Some ink sweat is expected on all but the finest nibs (such as the one on Dowdy's Vanishing Point that he lent me), but this nib sweats like a whore in church.  That much ink also leaves a small ring around the collar for the nib:

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Its not a big deal and has zero impact on writing performance, but it is another sign that this is not the highest end pen on the planet.  Had I not had a chance to use the Vanishing Point, I'd probably never really be bothered, but coming down the mountain, so to speak, is a little rough.  

Carry: 2

The clip is sublime and the plastic body makes the pen both light and gadget friendly.  Unlike most of our gear, there almost zero chance the Safari will scrape up your smartphone screen.  It might happen with the clip, but it would be pretty rare.  Rarer than your flashlight or your knife, by far.  

Appearance: 2

Lamy's design aesthetic is clean, consistent, and minimal.  The Safari is an embodiment of that approach.  It eschews the complex and frankly overly ornamental look of higher end pens like the gold plated Pelikans and Waterman, in favor of a distinctly modern appearance.  I like the way the pen looks.  Everything is cohesive.  The nib, grip, barrel, and clip all work together visually to create a single, unified statement.  I can see how people might not like the too Mies van der Rohe appearance (this could be the pen used for the guest book at the Farnsworth House) for a traditional tool like a writing instrument, but those are the same people that dislike those "new fangled" one handed opening folding knives.  

Durability: 1

With the inexpensive plastic barrel comes a ding for durability.  I would have guessed, going into the review, that the nib would have been the issue, but it seems to have held up fine. I have lent the pen to lots of folks, many who have never used a fountain pen before and many who used it the wrong way, and the nib was fine.  The barrel is the weak link here.  Long after this thing has been pummeled into submission by my keys and other pocket bullies, the Tuff Writer will still be going strong.  This is not a hard use pen, a duty pen, or anything of the like.  Even for a fountain pen, the Safari is a bit of a wimp.

Writing Performance/Refill: 2

And here is why you put up with all of the attendant hassle that goes along with a fountain pen.  All of the ink bullshit, and cleaning, and proper use issues fall away when you write with a fountain pen and the Safari is a very, very competent writer, especially for the money.

Here is a little story to illustrate the point.  I was in court writing out documents with the pen (it requires so little force that I can take notes with it for hours on end with no cramping) and then I gave the pen to a person to sign the document.  They had never used the fountain pen before and they commented on how nicely it wrote.  They were genuinely surprised.  If you haven't used a fountain pen before you will be too.  

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It came with a vivid stock blue Lamy refill.  That looked good on white paper but on legal pads (a canary yellow of the cheapest stock) it did not pop the same way.  A switch to the blue black refill and I was back in business.  Here is a writing sample with blue/black ink:

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I got a medium nib, as I like thick, bold legible lines, and I have never been disappointed.  The page feel, that is, the feedback from the paper, is superb.  Every stroke is a graceful glide and the ink lays down with a fluidity that is addictive.  Its not that you will merely like writing with this pen.  This pen will make you want to write more.  I have all but stopped typing notes in my personal life, all personal letters are now handwritten.  If that is not a testament to how good a writer this is, I have no idea what would be.

This pen punches so far above its price in terms of writing quality is hard to explain and analogize.  Imagine if your $10 big box knife came with S30V steel.  That would be the equivalent.  Its not quite as good as the Vanishing Point, there is a noticeable difference in the force needed to start the ink flowing, but the Safari is pretty darn good.  This is S30V and the VP is ZDP-189. 

Balance/In Hand Feel: 2

I went back and forth on this one, but in the end I settled for the 2.  The only knock I have is the weight.  It is so lightweight that there is virtually no semblance of balance.  How do you balance a feather?  I also know that some people prefer hefty in their writing tools, but as someone that can easily take thirty pages of handwritten notes in a single day (my record is somewhere north of 50 during a jury trial), I want a lightweight tool.  The Safari's featherweight package and picture perfect nib with only slight pressure means this is as untaxing a pen as you find.  If your a stogie-sized lead stick sort of person, this is not your pen.  

Grip: 2

It is so simple and yet so effective.   Have you ever ridden in an Audi?  What about a BMW or a Mercedes?  They are plush cars, but their seats are, well, a bit stiff.  This is no different.  No padding is something you should expect on the Safari, after all a GERMAN pen.  Even without those additions (or perhaps because of their absence) this is a pen that feels superb between your fingers.

Barrel: 2

There is nothing crazy here.  A simple faceted pair of sides and an elegant and useful ink reservoir window.  This is where the Safari gets its minimalist appearance from and the pen is all the better for it.  As for the window, well it actually does work.  Most pens with windows like this have such small windows that they are all but decorations.  

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The Safari's is plenty big.  One drawback with the barrel, the window and the plain white appearance does make it look an awful lot like a pregnancy test, as one person pointed out.  Blue black means it is a boy and pink means its a girl.  Or something like that.

Deployment Method/Cap: 2

I don't like caps, but if you HAVE to have one, make it a good one.  The Safari's is quite nice.  It posts very well, easily and securely.  I also like the way that the pen feels when the cap is posted, still very well balanced (again for the weight) and just the right size.  So many pens with caps screw this up that I think that is the root source of my cap hatred.  But here the cap is great. 

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

The Lamy Safari is known by pen addicts everywhere as one of the best, if not THE best, starter fountain pens on the planet.  Mine has served me very well for the past six months or so and I truly enjoy writing with it.  I'd argue that it is better than many of the other starter pens because unlike those pens, this is sufficiently unique and well made that you will keep using it well after you have bought pens twice or ten times its price.  Even after handling the Vanishing Point, which is clearly a superior tool, I still like the Safari.  And when the budget model is something you come back to even with pricier alternatives available you know you have found a real winning piece of kit.  If you write at all and don't need a King Kong proof pen, give the Safari a try.  

8 comments:

  1. Tony, thanks for all the reviews. You may want to try changing the nib (pull old one out, push new one in, as simple as that) for a while to the Lamy 1.1 Italic nib and see where that gets your writing with some line-width differentiation between downstrokes and side-strokes.
    Should be available in any good pen shop that stocks Lamy, or of course, the net.

    Best Regards
    Epicurean

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  2. Great review! I need to get one of these or a Kaweco.

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  3. I have 2 of those so far and I really like them, but then I refuse to pay more than about $30 for a pen, so it's comfortably within my budget. I haven't had any problems with them at all. I did have to get a replacement for the 1.1mm nib. It was defective and they sent me a new one right away.

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  4. On another note, this review got me back on track to look into tactical EDC pens again. I asked a friend, who is a pimpin` pen collector and maker snob, what his most reliable EDC pen he has always carried? He ended up recommending to me the Caran d'Ache economy line rollerball which averaged about under $30 US a pen. He ended up giving me two of them, one of which was the one he had been carrying for over 15 years. All during that time he only needed to replace it with refills when it ran out of ink. He referred to the refill as being the real heart of the pen. The casing was just window dressing. The pens write real nice and smooth and are pretty stout. They are simple, unassuming, and just perfect for EDC.

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  5. I think the Safari has a well balanced feel to it. It also writes very well.

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  6. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK! I thought nothing would be appreciably better to write with than the Pilot G2 but then I bought this knife on a bit of a whim. This thing writes so nicely I've been writing nearly non-stop for two days getting to know the pen and the fountain pen world.

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  7. I got one of these on a lark a few months ago and after 40+ years of fairly atrocious handwriting, this pen got the writing process to make sense to me.

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  8. I just got one and the nib is scratchy. I contacted Lamy to ask what to do and they said that I needed to pay them $9.50 and shipping to have them "fix" a brand new pen. What a crock of a company! Don't think I will every purchase or deal with them again! I am trying to at least get a new nib from them without having to pay for them to back up their product. . .

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