I have been writing with a Pilot Metropolitan medium point fountain pen for about 4 years. A good friend recently gave me a Lamy Vista fine point fountain pen. Sounds like a good excuse to write a comparison and review.
This is the biggest difference between these two pens. The Pilot wouldn’t look out of place in your great-grandfather’s desk drawer. It is a classic cigar-shaped pen. Mine is basic black, but they do offer more colors and some prints to spice things up a bit. Carrying it in your shirt pocket, it is unlikely to catch anyone’s eye. It is classic understated elegance.
The Lamy Vista is an eye-catcher. It is a clear-bodied Safari, which is a very modern looking design. It is also available in many colors. The distinctive Lamy clip in a shirt pocket will definitely catch someone’s eye, especially one who knows a thing or two about pens. People can be ambivalent about the look of the Pilot, but they tend to either love or hate the Lamy. It’s flashy and modern.
Fit, Finish, and Feel
Both pens are well-made. The finish is good and the fit is good on all the components. Both look and feel like the quality writing instruments from solid manufacturers that they are. Nothing wiggles that isn’t supposed to.
The Pilot has a brass barrel and cap that give it a great feel, with just a bit of heft (3.7 ounces) and the feel of metal in your hand instead of plastic. Everything about this pen defies its price tag. The cap fits snug with a pleasing click and is easy to post firmly on the barrel.
The Lamy has a good feel in the hand for a
plastic (ahem) acrylic pen. It is lighter (0.7 ounces) and the cap is sealed with a rubber O-ring that helps keep it in place and muffles the click of capping it. The cap also posts well on the barrel without difficulty.
The Lamy is not balanced when capped; it is cap-heavy. I am certain this is on purpose as there is rarely anything coincidental about German engineering. My hunch is that it is (at least in part) to let you set it on your desk clip-down. I’m not sure why you’d need to do this, but it is interesting to note.
Another tidbit about the cap: because of the slightly rounded finial, you cannot stand it up on the cap end, though you can on the other end. Not sure this really matters to anyone, but there you have it. You can’t stand the Pilot up any direction.
One important thing about a pen is for it to be there when you need it. I am on my second Pilot Metropolitan because I lost my first one; it slipped out of my pocket and was gone by the time I went back to look for it. Recently I have started carrying a couple pens in this little contraption I made to fit on the cover of an A6 notebook that I carry in a pocket.
While the bend in the Lamy clip makes it easy to insert into a pocket, it also catches on things. When pulling my notebook out of my pocket upside down one day, only the Pilot was safe and snug while the Lamy sat in my pocket waiting to be retrieved.
If you’re a uniform-type, the Pilot fits into the pen slots on a uniform sleeve easier because of its rounded end. The Lamy looks wider, until you get them next to each other and realize the Pilot is just as wide at its widest. They are within a millimeter of each other in capped length as well. So, though the Lamy fits, the squared end and straight sides induce more friction, making it easier to get just the cap when pulling it out of a narrow sleeve.
Both pens slide easily onto a manila file folder and hold tight even when shaken fairly vigorously. The clips perform equivalently, even though they are of markedly different designs.
The grip is the next biggest difference after appearance. The Pilot has a round and tapered plastic grip. I find it very comfortable to write with, though some find the metal step — the silver band — between the barrel and the grip to be uncomfortable. I write with the cap posted which gives the Pilot a nice balanced feel.
The Lamy has a triangular grip like you would expect from a penmanship pen. (They still teach penmanship in Germany. I miss the vast selection of fountain pens for children at the local Kaufland when I lived there.) The grip is flat where your forefinger and thumb rest and rounded underneath, and this alters my grip a bit. I tend to write with my forefinger and thumb touching, but the Lamy grip separates them a bit. This initially made me want to rotate the nib slightly to get it to lay flat with my grip, but after a page of writing, I was used to it. The Lamy’s grip is actually bigger than the Pilot, but the two flat finger grooves make it feel smaller to my hand.
Both do an excellent job of enabling you to put ink to paper. The nibs on both of these pens are top-notch steel nibs, making for very smooth writing. I currently have Noodler’s Heart of Darkness in my Pilot and the supplied blue cartridge into my Lamy.
The Japanese medium truly is equivalent to a Western fine. Ink can affect line width to some degree, so this isn’t a perfect comparison, but to my eye, they seem to be the same width. I added my go-to ballpoint, the Pilot G2 0.5 for a sense of scale that may be more widely known.
Both pens come with an ink cartridge and both have proprietary designs that keep you from using the standard international cartridges. The Pilot ships with a bladder type converter along with one cartridge, but the converter is not terribly useful unless you have your ink bottle handy, because it holds very little ink.
The Pilot cartridges are easy to refill, however. I have an old eye drop bottle filled with ink so I can refill on the go. Using a bent paperclip to remove the round bit that is pushed into the cartridge when you first install it on the pen makes it easier to refill and clean.
The Lamy has a window on each side of the pen to allow you to see if your ink is getting low, which is unnecessary on the clear Vista, but potentially handy on the Safari. To check your ink level on the Pilot, you have to unscrew the barrel, but with my normal use, I can go a couple of weeks before needing to refill.
The Lamy cartridges have a smaller opening than the Pilot cartridges, so my dropper method for refilling is not practicable. I was able to get a few drops of bottled ink into mine, but it is not a procedure I want to go through every time it needs refilled. I plan to either try a real syringe or a converter, instead. Piston converters are available for both pens, allowing you to refill from bottled inks without removing the cartridge.
Jetpens.com has the Black Pilot Metropolitan medium for $13.05 and the Lamy Vista Fine for $28.50. Other nib widths and colors only vary a couple of dollars for both pens. The Metropolitan comes in medium and fine, while the Lamy has a wider selection and replacement nibs.
Both are great pens and have loyal followings. To differentiate them from each other, it really comes down to appearance, price, and grip. They are different enough to not be in direct competition with each other, and I know many people who (like me) have both.