The joy of macro.

Staedtler Mars micro 0.7mm mechanical pencil

Who doesn’t love a mechanical pencil? I already have several but could not resist this one when it was less than half price in our local Rymans.

Recently, I have been enjoying a revitalised enthusiasm for photography, prompted by the acquisition of a new Nikon Coolpix A900. New camera day! I was attracted by a host of exciting features, particularly the articulated screen, the ability to shoot macro from 1cm, a massive x35 optical zoom with Vibration Reduction, (Nikon’s anti-shake), 4K video, 20 million pixels, Wi-Fi connectivity and many more. It was some years since I last bought a new camera, if you do not include mobile phones and things have move on a lot in that time.

There are a few things that it doesn’t have, such as the ability to shoot in RAW, or a touch screen, which I decided that I could live without. Exposure compensation settings are readily to hand, as are white balance settings and colour adjustment. It is wonderful to be able to have white paper looking white, even if taken under artificial light in the depths of winter.

It is the ability to take macro shots with such ease, that I have found most exciting. Even hand-held shots seem acceptably sharp but with a small tripod, combined with a two second self-timer delay setting it is better still. Here is my new pencil again.

Getting up close with the Staedtler mars 0.7mm mechanical pencil.

Here is the production date stamp on the elegant black and chrome guilloche Cross Century II fountain pen:

Date stamp on the collar of a Cross Century II fountain pen.

Obviously it is tempting to try the other extreme and see how the telephoto performs. I tried a quick shot of the moon, with a manual exposure and a few stops of under exposure. This was the result:

The moon over London. The farthest subject that I have photographed so far.

Finally, one of the subjects that I wanted to photograph better, was paper. Not ideal with a mobile phone. I wanted to be able to capture the texture that you see, particularly under high magnification and with a low wintry sun slanting in to add contrast to the ups and downs of the paper surface. I shall continue experimenting with this but am always impressed and appreciative of the professional looking close-up photography that I see on fellow bloggers’ sites. Working during the week, there is limited time to enjoy the daylight hours at this time of year but sometimes it all comes together with a bit of sunlight at the weekend. Here was one of my early efforts. I used to think that Paperchase soft flexi notebooks had very smooth paper but under high magnification, the surface looks more like a newly plastered wall. Most of my fountain pens love it.

Paperchase note book. Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler, with Jinhao X450 medium nib and Aurora Blue Black ink.


A quick look at the Parker Reflex fountain pen.

I spotted this pen in the window of a shop selling mostly greetings cards and only a few pens, most of which were ball points. It was in a small grey Parker gift box, with the clear plastic lid and appeared to be rather dusty and in need of rescue.

Parker Reflex fountain pen

I was surprised to see this model currently for sale. I remembered the Parker ball point pens with this distinctive rubbery grip section. I had one which has lived in my camera bag, for some 10 years or so. It was good to use outdoors, for jotting down exposure details, when using old twin lens reflex cameras. I did not remember there being a fountain pen. I have had the ball point pen for so long that I had forgotten that it was called the Reflex and had to look that up.

I decided to liberate the pen which at just £11.00, was less than I had paid for two hours’ parking at London Gatwick Airport earlier that day. I was particularly attracted to the grip section, having been thinking a lot lately about the problem I am having in gripping the slippery but otherwise enjoyable Lamy aion. I had even toyed with the idea of buying rubber thimbles, as used by clerks in post offices for counting paper.

At home, I gave the Reflex a good wash. What I had thought was dust, was actually the result of the cap and barrel having faded in the sunlight, except where the barrel had been covered by the posted cap. You can see the tan lines. I flushed out the nib section with a bulb blower.

Examining the nib under a loupe, I was delighted to find that the tines were level, that the tipping material looked symmetrical and that all looked generally well. I have often found that inexpensive modern pens do not write well straight out of the box, due to poorly finished nibs. Not so with this Reflex though.

It did not come with a converter, or even a cartridge, or any paperwork, which makes me wonder about this one’s history. There is a date code, TII on the cap. This is a bit of a puzzle. I understand that T denotes a year ending in 5 (under the QUALITYPEN system, where Q is zero). The II means that there were two quarters of the year remaining and so this was made in the second quarter. The cap is also stamped PARKER, MADE IN UK. I have read that the Newhaven factory for Parker production in the UK was closed in 2011 and so if this pen was made in the UK, in a year ending in a 5, that would suggest 2005. Could it be that this new pen had not yet been sold in 12 years?

I inserted a basic Parker converter, with the slider fill and metal agitator ball. The converter pushed in nicely, but so deeply behind the long threaded collar that the entire clear plastic reservoir area was covered. Thus you could not see how much ink it was holding.

With Parker converter inserted, (the ink reservoir being entirely covered by the threads)

I decided on a royal blue ink to match the barrel colour and chose Aurora Blue. It wrote nicely, smooth and with ideal ink flow! That is often the gamble, part of the risk and thrill of buying a fountain pen. I enjoyed trying it out on various notebooks. At 132mm long unposted, the pen is a good length and pleasant to use. However, the cap is very light and posts securely and deeply and I prefer to use it posted, for that extra length, weight and comfort.

The rubber grip section works well. It has an unusual finish, like cross-hatched tyre treads. If you want any more grip, add snow chains!

The nib appears to be the same as in the currently available Parker Vector fountain pen. You do not expect marvels at this price level but if you are lucky enough to have a Vector style nib that performs well, it can be a real joy, with lightweight and effortless writing, if you just want a simple writing tool, to write without much flex or character.

Viewed in profile, the nib and housing are reminiscent of the Parker 45 fountain pens that I used through my secondary school years and give a very similar writing experience.


This is an entry level cartridge-converter type fountain pen (although neither cartridge nor converter was supplied in my case). The pen is a good size and has a light plastic body, but features an easy to grip rubbery section. The cap simply pushes on and off with a snug fit, over the chrome ring behind the rubber grip. The pocket clip features a modern look Parker Arrow. The clip is sprung, making it easy to use. The cap is not airtight and this might be due to a design decision to reduce risk of choking, or perhaps to avoid pushing air up through the nib each time the pen is capped. The stainless steel nib in my model is a Medium. The threads on the section are plastic and very long, needing about ten twists to unscrew the barrel.

Specifications (approximate)

Length closed: 141mm

Length opened: 132mm

Length posted: 155mm

Weight, capped and with converter: 14.5g

Uncapped: 10g

Cap: 4.5g


The Parker Reflex is a good answer for anyone who likes the Parker Vector nib but who wishes that the body was slightly wider and that the grip was fatter, easier to hold and more comfortable. I am delighted with mine and think it was excellent value.

Parker Reflex fountain pen, next to a Lamy Safari

Happy Fountain Pen Day

In recognition of today being Fountain Pen Day, I thought to do a short post about one of the pens that I have with me today.

This is the Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler, red chase. This was one of my happy purchases from the London Pen Show last month.

I had long been interested in the Crescent Filler and enjoyed reading of its associations with Mark Twain. The current model is not quite the same as the one from the original Conklin pen company that he would have used. I did spot a vintage black Conklin crescent filler at the same pen show and noticed how much thinner it was than the modern one.

At a very attractive show price, I came away with two of these, one in orange (or coral chase) and one red chase.

Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Fillers, in coral chase and red chase finish.

The beauty of these pens is the lovely nostalgic feel of dipping into a bottle of ink, squeezing the crescent-shaped filler button slowly a few times and allowing the sack to fill, before locking the button again by twisting the collar back again.

The only downside is that you cannot see how much ink the pen has. There is no ink window. Also the barrel is glued to the section and so you cannot unscrew it to gauge the ink remaining. (Actually, on one of my models, the glue seal had been broken and so I was able to open it, but even then you cannot see through the dark rubber material of the ink bladder).

One thing to remember when washing these pens, is to avoid allowing water in to the barrel, through the slot where the crescent filler sits. This is because the bladder has a dusting of talcum powder to stop it sticking or rubbing on the filler bar.

If you do unscrew the barrel, then the metal filler bar can be removed. I was impressed at how long a bar there is, to press on the ink bladder and so this helps to get a good fill. To put it back again, with the crescent pushing out through the slot, you will need some tweezers. A Swiss army knife came in useful here.

Quite how much ink it draws up, I have not yet measured. However, I did find that, with a medium nib, I wrote 37 pages of an A5 size journal on the first fill, which I was very happy with. That was the coral chase model, with Diamine Oxblood ink.

My red chase Crescent Filler, prior to nib swap with a Jinhao X450.

On the red model, this came with a Conklin Fine stainless steel nib. This turned out to be slightly catchy. On close inspection, it seems that the left tine was fractionally longer than the right so that in normal writing, on side strokes from left to right, the proud edge was snagging on the paper. I need to have a go at it with my handy micro-mesh kit, also bought at the same show.

Meanwhile however, I was delighted to read that the nibs of the crescent filler are easily swapped. The nib, feed and housing can simply be unscrewed from the section. Alternatively you can extract the nib and feed, which are friction fit, by pulling them out carefully, taking care to avoid damaging the fins of the feed, or distorting the nib itself.

Yesterday evening I swapped the nib with one from a Jinhao x450. I have not swapped the feeds, but just the nibs.

I now have the red crescent filler, with a lovely Chinese Jinhao x450 medium nib and filled with Aurora Blue-Black ink (same pen show as well), which I am enjoying.

Coincidentally, I had to visit the China Visa Application Service Centre in London today, to pick up my visa for a trip to China later this month, so it was good to have my red crescent Jinhao-nibbed Conklin for company.