Schon DSGN Pen – An Essential for Serious Street Photographers
This is part one of a four-part series I will be writing about auxiliary gear that I find indispensable to my street photography practice. Each article in the series will feature a different product and its potential benefits for street photography enthusiasts. Please note, I am not affiliated with any of these products in any way. We are not providing any affiliate links etc., only information and opinions for your consideration. If you’d like to purchase any of the products mentioned in this series, please visit the company websites independently.
Up first is the Schon DSGN (design) pen. Now, some of you may be wondering why a street photographer might need a pen. After all, we are not writers but photographers! Very true. However, I often like to take notes when I am out wandering the city and making photographs. These notes may be complex or creative, they might be simple or idiosyncratic – even incoherent. The point is, these are my personal notes, which help me to interpret my own work later on down the road. It may be about remembering a particular place, time, person, event, etc. Or, it may be about technical data in those times when I use an analog camera. Notes, therefore, are an integral part of my street photography practice. Now, when I make notes I need a reliable pen that will always work without a fuss. This is why I choose to carry the titanium Schon DSGN pen.
Schon pens are designed and crafted by Ian Schon, a young US-based independent pen (and watch) maker. When you hold one of his pens in your hand you feel the quality, the care, the passion that Ian invests in every pen. There is no off-shore manufacturing here. These heirloom-quality pens are hand-crafted to last a lifetime. Now, that may sound like marketing bunk or simple hyperbole but it’s not. Let me explain. Schon pens are made from solid barstock and consist of just three pieces. Yes, you read correctly, just three pieces! No springs, spacers, washers, gaskets etc. Nothing. Just three solid metal pieces and, of course, the ink cartridge. Given this simple and robust construction, the worst that can happen here is that you lose the cap! But, given that it quickly and securely posts to the pen, even that is an unlikely possibility. This is a pen you will actually leave to your grandchildren – seriously.
Copyright ⓒ Michael Ernest Sweet
Pen construction is important but it is not everything. A pen needs to work. Here Ian has also delivered. The Schon DSGN pen uses the ever-trusty Fisher Space Pen refill. Contrary to urban legend, the Fisher Space Pen was not developed by NASA but rather by an independent company, Fisher Pens, in the 1960s. Both NASA and the Soviet Space Program did, however, purchase these pens for their respective space adventures. The Fisher Pen Co. reportedly spent over 1 million dollars developing the technology. The result was a pressurized ink cartridge capable of not only writing in zero gravity but also in other extreme conditions such as underwater and in temperatures ranging from -50 to +400 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, these pens just work! Ian has received some criticism for selecting the Fisher Space Pen refill as the native cartridge for the Schon DSGN pen, but I feel this choice was an excellent decision. This pen is a performance pen, not an opulent writer per se. It’s not mean to be a Montblanc. Think of it in terms of a Ferrari and a Cadillac. This is the Ferrari. After all, it is a ballpoint pen, not a fountain or rollerball. The result, however, is dependable high performance in a variety of both normal and extreme conditions. And, contrary to many reviewers of the Fisher Space Pen, I think it is perfectly suitable for long writing sessions just as any ballpoint would be. Pen snobs balk at ballpoints, and often with little justification. I love fountain pens but I have never written with one without getting ink on my hands – never!
When I went to buy a good pen for my camera bag I agonized over the decision. In the end, it came down to the old debate about big-brand versus microbrand. Big brands like Montblanc offer history and prestige and, as some may argue, better resale value. However, the Montblanc I looked at, for example, had many parts (including finicky springs) and had a cap that was awkward to post. The pen also employed magnets, generally not something great to have around, particularly as I wear automatic watches. But in the end, it was the simplicity of design and hand-crafted care that sold me on Ian’s pen. It is not made by kids in a developing country or by unskilled and underpaid labor in China, but rather by a young entrepreneurial engineer right here in the USA. This pen started as a solid block of titanium and was hand machined into this stunning pen. It’s industrial, raw, and incredibly sexy. This is totally not your grandmother’s pen. If you want brand recognition and smooth resin buy the Montblanc. If you want an extremely over-engineered solid metal pen that will actually perform in any situation you can throw at it, buy the Schon DSGN pen. The Schon DSGN pen is a great piece of gear for any photographer’s bag!
Schon DSGN pens come in a variety of metals. Some are very light and inexpensive, such as the aluminum option at just $70 US dollars, while others, such as the titanium version, are heavier and more expensive. A titanium pen sells for $180 US. Given that the pen takes cartridges that virtually last forever and that the pen itself will outlive you, any of these price points are a modest investment for a tool that you will use multiple time a day.
What do I like most: The durability and luxurious feel of the solid titanium.
What would I change: I would like to see the pen ship with the fine cartridge and not the medium point. The fine cartridge is more precise, lasts even longer, and does not “glob” at the tip as frequently.
What do I wish for: I would love to see a model in solid sterling silver. I think such a move would allow the brand to delve just a little deeper into the “luxury” market. A silver pen would also be a genuine heirloom. I would be the first to buy one!
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