Sunday, 10 November 2013

Review: Porsche Design Mikado Pen

This article deviates from what I normally write, since it is not primarily about photography. However, I have included some details about photography here as well. For example, methods for product photography, and the effects of diffraction. If you are mostly interested in photo, you could skip to these section at the end of the article.

It is quite common to see owners of high value brand names to licence them out to other manufacturers. From photography, one of the most common examples is Leica. They are allowing Panasonic to produce cameras and lenses with the Leica brand name. This helps Panasonic sell more photographic equipment, while allowing Leica to capitalize on their brand name. Everybody wins. See the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 below as an example of Leica branding of premium Panasonic lenses:



In the premium car world, we see the same with many high end brands. For example, Ferrari is licensing their name to toys, electronic products, clothes and more. This surely generates a lot of short term profit for them, but risks lessening the perceived value of their brand.

Porsche is doing the same with their Porsche Design series. However, unlike Ferrari, they are mostly putting out high quality premium items. One example is their pen series, which is produced by Faber-Castell.

I have tested the Porsche Design Mikado Ballpoint Pen.

Box


The box has a white cardboard outer sleeve:



Removing the white sleeve reveals the black inner box, which is made from somewhat thicker cardboard:



The front flap is held in place with a magnet, not visible from the outside. This is a clever solution. Opening the lid shows the black foam which protects the pen from impact. The pen itself is covered in a plastic sleeve, which looks very cheap. The plastic sleeve ruins the premium experience when extracting the pen from the box:



And here is the pen itself:



The pen


Externally, the pen is made from glossy, polished steel. The most notable feature is of course the 17 steel rods which traverse the entire length of the pen, only connected in either ends.



The "Porsche" name is rather toned down. It has "Porsche Design P'3130 Germany" engraved around either ends of the pen, and "pd" is engraved in the rear end. Beyond that, it is quite anonymous.



The clip can be removed by twisting it one quarter turn. There is still a half sphere protruding from the end of the pen, preventing it from rolling on a smooth desk surface.

The refill can be found by unscrewing the front cone of the pen:



Operation


The refill is extended and retracted by twisting the pen. The steel rods provide the flexibility to lock the pen in either position, and a bit of force is needed to extend or retract the refill.



Writing


The pen is quite heavy to hold. The grip is better than one might expect. Holding the glossy rods does not feel slippery. However, this is hardly the pen to get for the best ergonomics. Writing with the pen works fine, though, even for prolonged use.



Conclusion


This pen has a very good finish, and a novel, interesting mechanism. It is not a pen for those who like the stealthy look, though. If you use this pen, you must be prepared for getting comments and questions about it.



It is said that items from the Porsche Design line reflect the Porsche cars in some ways. I can see the connections for items like the Tec Flex Pen, which borrows design elements from the hoses of a performance engine.

However, I fail to see the car connection for the Mikado Pen. I guess one could say that the rods reminds of spoked wheels, but Porsche is not known for spoked wheels at all. Anyway, the rod design is very eye catching, even without the car reference.

The pen is a bit expensive. Then again, it is a unique item, you don't find any other pens with a similar look. Porsche Design also has other novel approaches to the spring mechanism of pens, for example the Laser Flex Pen, in which the steel barrel itself is the spring.

If you are looking for an inexpensive, ergonomic pen, don't buy this pen. You should rather get, e.g., the Pilot G2, which is a nice gel ink roller ball pen. The Porsche Design Mikado Pen is more for people who appreciate the innovative form and function.

The photography


For photographing the pen, I used a cheap and simple macro soft box: A transparent bucket. I put the pen into the bucket, and set it on a table with the bottom facing the window during daytime:



Here, I am using the Panasonic GH3 camera with the Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 1:1 macro lens. I also tried to use the Lumix FL360 flash unit with a TTL cable, however, I ended up not using the flash.

The purpose of the macro soft box is to make the lightning more even. Without it, you would often get very hard shadows.

ISO 200, f/8, 1/1.3s, without flashISO 200, f/8, 1/60s, with flash

I found that using the natural light from the window gave the most pleasing results.

Diffraction


It is common knowledge that due to diffraction, on should not use the smallest apertures (large aperture numbers). Doing so can cause lower sharpness. This is due to a physical phenomenon relating to the size of the aperture and the density of the imaging pixels.

With Micro Four Thirds cameras, one should normally avoid using aperture smaller than f/8. Let's take a look at what happens if you do:

f/5.6100% crop
f/8100% crop
f/11100% crop
f/16100% crop
f/22100% crop

As you can see, stopping down the aperture increases the depth of focus. Only at f/22 is the whole pen in focus. At the same time, stopping down beyond f/8 does reduce the sharpness on pixel level, see the right hand images. Especially at f/22 does the sharpness suffer.

On the other hand, stopping down to f/22 makes the overall image more sharp, as the depth of focus increases. My conclusion is: Avoid stopping down to f/11 or smaller if you can. But if you need a smaller aperture to get the sufficient depth of focus (DOF), don't be afraid to use f/22.



2 comments:

  1. Porsche Design is not a licensee of Porsche, it was an another company established by a member of Porsche family: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porsche_Design

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