About The MountainBorn

Memories of a life less ordinary…

Born under the blazing hot sun near the equator, raised in the frozen remote northern wilds, and now making our lives in the Tokyo concrete jungle for the past decade. We love blue skies, stationery, photography, design, 18th century British poets, afternoon naps atop sun-dappled tatami mats, autumnal food, latte art (and lattes), girls in high heels and guys in fashionable scarves.


Photography

Current

We’ve been shooting for a long, long time and use a wide variety of photographic gear. Here’s some of what we’re currently shooting with.

Full Frame Interchangeable-Lens

Our current full-frame bodies are the Leica SL2-S and the Sony A7rIV.

We use the Leica SL2-S for most of our general shooting, especially when its larger, heavier size and slower auto-focus performance don’t matter as much as its sublime user experience and amazing build quality. We most often pair it with the Vario Elmarit SL 24-70 f/2.8 for everyday and travel use and match it with our “3 prime” trio of APO Summicron SL 28mm f/2.0, APO Summicron SL 50mm f/2.0, and the excellent (and fantastically affordable, by comparison)Sigma 85mm f/1.2 DG DN for portrait/people-heavy work.

On the other hand, when we need top-end auto-focus performance and/or resolution, we most often reach for our Sony A7RiV. For wildlife/sports oriented work (such as our love of yabusame - Japanese horse-mounted archery) we most often match it with the FE 70-200 f/2.8 GM OSS, while for birding we usually add the large, but surprisingly affordable FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS occasionally with the 1.4x extender, and supported by the Wimberly Sidekick gimbal attached to a Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead mounted on a Peak Design Tripod equipped with the universal adaptorfor a relatively portable setup that still breaks down and packs up small enough to fit in many normal-sized backpacks.

For portrait work where the extra megapixels are required, we most often rely on the FE 85mm f/1.4 GM - we estimate about 80% of our “people shots” are actually taken with this combination. We round out the “holy trinity” of G-Master lenses with the FE 50mm f/1.4 GM and the Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM, the latter of which is also our go-to astrophotography lens.

We don’t often bring our full-frame bodies with us for landscape/outdoor adventures due to the bulk and mass - every gram counts when you’re hiking and camping for days in a row. However for trips or travel where we need the performance of a full frame body but a slightly smaller package than the Leica SL2 we’ll usually pair the A7rIV with the Sony 24-105mm f/4 G. While this is an excellent lens overall to begin with, when combined with the 61MP resolution and good high-ISO performance of the A7rIV we don’t find ourselves missing longer focal lengths or faster apertures at all - in almost all cases we can achieve our results by simply cropping in post or bumping the ISO.

Fixed Lens Full-Frame

After a tumultous love-hate relationship with the original Leica Q and then later the murdered out Leica Q-P Type 119 with its fixed 27mm f/1.7 Summilux lens, we ended up selling both of them in favour of the amazing, sublime Leica Q II a couple of years ago and have never looked back.

While much of the Leica Q II’s specs and overall design seem very close to the previous v1 and QP models, for whatever reason, the Q II is the one where the love affair really seemed to take off - finally, the magic that was for whatever reason off-and-on with the previous versions seemed to take full effect and the Q II has increasingly become our single go-to travel camera and “always packed and ready to go” one-bag travel camera.

It isn’t to say that all is perfect with the Q II - the price is still as ridiculous as ever, the lack of any ports on the body is bizzarely limiting, and the lack of in-body charging means that the gigantic plasticy power charging brick has to be carried for any extended trip negating much of the advantages of a one-camera minimal setup especially for one bag travel scenarios. Fortunately, we found the much smaller Nitecore ULSL USB battery charger that is capable of charging the battery in a much smaller usb-powered footprint, helping to keep the magic of this camera alive for us.

APS-C

In certain cases where smaller bodies and lenses are worth the trade offs over full-frame we rely on a combination of the Leica CL and the Fuji X-T30 for our APS-C solutions.

On paper the Leica CL seems like a difficult camera to like - it’s far more expensive and is missing important features (such as image stabilisation) common in virtually all its competitors and it suffers from a rather anemic lens lineup (all of which also lack stabilisation). Despite this, much like the Leica SL2-S, it makes up for it with an amazing, sublime user experience, surprisingly high image quality from the (relatively expensive) lenses and one of the smallest bodies around, which, when coupled with the equally tiny (albeit slightly slow) lenses, makes for a great all-around travel/hiking camera. We pair it most often with the Vario Elmar T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH for general travel/hiking use, often backed up with either the Summilux TL 35mm f/1.4 ASPH or Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN as a fast general purpose prime/portrait lens for photographing people.

We have a long-running love/hate relationships with Fujis, mainly due to the sub-par post-processing experience of RAWs from the Fuji x-trans filter in Lightroom, but it’s hard to beat the teeny-tiny size of the Fuji X-T30 coupled with the XF 16-80mm f/4 R OIS WR (24-120mm f/4 FF equivalent) for one-bag travel, backed with the equally portable XF 56mm f/1.2 R for close up portraiture work. One thing we love about Fuji is their willingness to put 90% of the feature set of their flagship bodies such as the X-T4 into their much tinier (and incredibly affordable) smaller bodies such as the X-T30.

Video

For vlogging, we pair the Sony a6600 with the Sigma Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN which is a magical combination especially with the astounding eye-tracking AF abilities of the a6600 (as well as its flip up screen and microphone in/headphone out jacks). We pipe the 4K output out from the a6600 through a BlackMagic ATEM Mini Pro and record directly into our 2020 16” Macbook Pro for an even faster workflow. For audio, we pair the combination above with the Rode VideoMic Pro+ - the auto power on/off function is truly a lifesaver (to say nothing of the audio quality), and occasionally, the Rode Wireless GO + lavalier mic for videos where we’ll be moving around a fair bit.

1” Sensor / Everything Else

We also have a mix of 1” sensor and smaller speciality cameras we also use when the timing and situation calls for it. A few years ago when our pocket camera suffered a tragic fall down the side of a mountain, we replaced it with the Sony RX100m7 as our ultra-compact pocket camera. Much like its predecessor, the RX7 comes with a strong list of pros, including its absolutely massive 24-200mm (FF equivalent) telephoto zoom, supremely capable 1” sensor, ultra-tiny size, auto pop-up viewfinder and ability to shoot RAWs - a long list to which it also adds a mic-in jack and built-in timelapse functionality. We’ve done entire outdoor hiking trips with only this camera for the entire journey and been well satisfied with the results. The list of cons include its ridiculous price, fiddly buttons, sad battery life and slower aperture than some previous RX models.

In terms of smartphones, we usually shoot with our Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max - the addition of a wide-angle camera is amazing and a life saver. Night mode still pales in comparison to Google’s magic in the Pixel, but it helps get the job done. When we’re doing the Android thing, we rely on our Sony Xperia 1 Mark II with its sexy profile and much-hyped triple cameras… that still takes worse photos than the iPhone, in our opinion.

For drones, we often bring along the teeny-tiny Mavic Mini - small enough to throw into almost any bag without thinking about but still providing the flexiblity to grab a quick aerial shot to mix things up even during one-bag travel.

For action cameras, we often bring along the GoPro Hero 9 Black for our outdoor adventures and road trips - the combination of built in hyperlapse and timewarp make for some awesome vidoes with almost no extra effort required (other than dragging our sorry butts up to and teeteringly across ridgelines up in the clouds).

Cameras We Used To Own

Micro Four-Thirds

Here’s the story - we absolutely loved and to be honest, still do love, Micro Four-Thirds. In particular, our much beloved trio of the stunningly built Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH., the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 PRO and the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 12mm f/1.4 ASPH coupled with the Panasonic GX7M3 (GX9 outside of Japan) and later on, the Panasonic G9 made us realise that being able to do serious portrait work didn’t necessarily require one to bring multiple kilos of heavy full-frame equipment - especially when traveling overseas with one bag or on mixed business/pleasure trips.

But as the years passed and smartphones got better and full frame and APS-C got better, and even pocket cams got better…. well, you know the story. We’d ended up accumulating so much Sony gear and the release of the excellent Sony 16-55mm f/2.8 G and a6600 meant that we were just not really bringing our M43 stuff out with us as much as we used to - and the 61MP A7rIV and the tremendous margin for cropping in post (to the point where you could crop out a full-sized vertical slice from a landscape-orientation image taken by the A7rIV and it’s just as big as if you’d taken a portrait-orientation shot from a normal FF body) meant that the compact ultra-zooms of M43 were not as much of an advantage as they used to be. And to be honest, we’d been burned a few times by the poor high ISO abilities of M43 in the past as well.

And with a heavy heart, we made the sad decision to sell off all our M43 gear at the end of 2019. Farewell our beloved companions - we shall miss you.

1” Sensor and others

We also own the original Sony RX0 for video, but freely confess that it wasn’t a wise purchase especially in light of the rest of the gear we already own and it has been collecting dust somewhere for almost a year at this point.

With the release of the tri-camera iPhone 11 Pro, we no longer find much need for our Moment Wide Angle and Anamorphic Lenses. (The anamorphic lens sometimes but honestly, we almost never remember to bring it with us these days)

GoPro Hero Fusion - we regret buying you, you expensive toy you. We forgot we’re not extreme sport parachute skydiving wingsailers. Our life is boring in 360°.


Bags & Travel

We travel extensively for both work and pleasure and are constantly trying out new gear in search of the ever-elusive “perfect setup”. At last count, in our dedicated “bag room” we had over 200 different carry pieces, and probably add at least one or two each month. We’ve also recently started a YouTube channel reviewing some of our bags which you can find here.

Given our love of bags, the exact combination of carry solutions we favour tends to change at any given time and depending on the use case, but at the moment some of the bags getting a lot of rotation include:

EDC Backpacks
  • Evergoods Civic Panel Loader 24 v2 (possibly one of the greatest bags ever)
  • Evergoods Mountain Quick Draw 24 (possibly one of the best looking bags ever)
  • Evergoods Civic Halfzip 22
  • Bellroy Transit Workpack
  • Rofmia Shift Daypack V2
  • Mystery Ranch x Carryology Assault
  • Mystery Ranch x Carryology Escape
  • Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 24
  • Able Carry Daily Backpack (XPac) 20L
  • GoRuck x Huckberry GR1 21L “Slick”
  • Arcteryx Veilance Nomin Pack
  • Hyperlite Mountain Gear DayBreak
Sling Life
  • Rofmia Shift Shoulder Bag v2
  • Aer City Sling v2
  • Alpaka Gear Bravo Sling (11” iPad Pro)
  • Evergoods Mountain Hip Pack
  • Alpaka Gear Alpha Sling XL (13” m1 macbook Air)
  • Belroy Sling Mini (EDC + iPad Mini 5th Gen)
  • Modern Dayfarer Dayfarer Sling (EDC + iPad Pro 11”)
  • Arcteryx Arro 8 (EDC + iPad Pro 11”)
  • Arcteryx Slingblade 4 (EDC + iPad Pro 11”)
  • Code Of Bell X-Pod (EDC + iPad Mini 5th Gen)
  • Aer Sling Pouch (EDC + Travel Documents)
  • Peak Design Everyday Sling 3L/5L/6L (#cameraLife)
One Bag Travel
  • Rofmia Shift Backpack v2
  • GoRuck GRXC1 21L
  • Cotopaxi Allpa 28L
  • Heimplanet Monolith Daypack 22L
  • Heimplanet Travel Pack v2 28L
  • Belroy Transit Pack 28L
  • Evergoods Civic Halfzip 22
  • Patagonia Mini-MLC 26L
  • Bellroy Weekender 30L
  • Evergoods Civic Transit Pack 40L
Rolling Luggage
  • Rimowa Cabin
  • North Face 22” Rolling Thunder
  • North Face 30” Rolling Thunder
  • Tumi 4-wheeled brief
  • Louis Vuitton Horizon Soft Duffle 55 (when I’m feeling extra bougie)
Messengers/Totes
  • Rofia Boston Bag M
  • Arcteryx Leaf Courier 15L
  • Arcteryx Granville 10L
  • Arcteryx Fyx 9L
  • Aer x Oshmans City Messenger
Hiking/Camping
  • Hyperlight Mountain Gear Southwest 2400
  • Millet Trilogy 30 Dyneema
  • Arcteryx Bora 63
  • Mammut Trion Spine 75
Packable
  • Matador On-Grid packable daypack
  • Tortuga Outbreaker Daypack
  • Mystery Ranch In-And-Out
  • Hyperlite Mountain Gear Metro
  • Matador Transit Packable Tote
  • Matador On-Grid Packable Backpack
Totes
  • Matador On Grid Packable tote
  • Arceryx Veilance Seque Tote
  • Arcteryx Bianca 9
  • Peak Design Everyday Tote
Duffles
  • Misson Workshop Transit Duffle
  • North Face Basecamp Duffle S/XS
  • Patagonia Black Hole Duffle 45L
  • Arcteryx Carrier Duffle 30L/40L/80L

The Analogue

In the non-digital world, we’re partial to Rhodia DotPads, Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks and have a far larger collection of fountain pens than we really ought to, with the Lamy Dialog 3 EF, the Visconti Homo Sapiens Bronze Age EF, Visconti London Fog EF and Pilot Custom Heritage 912 EF being among our heaviest rotators.

For our EDC carry, we’re partial to our Field Notes, often coupled with the Bellroy x Fieldnotes Everyday Inspiration Cover and the James Brand Stillwell pen. For what it’s worth, the National Parks series are absolutely amazing (if only they were dot grid inside…)

Besides our love of stationery, we also have a fondness for watches which we use mainly to making sure we show up places on time, don’t miss flights/trains/boats and to timebox our work throughout the day. We’re certainly not horological connoisseurs but we do have a small mildly eclectic mix of a few choice digital and analogue watches. In our current collection:


Creative

The MountainBorn is primarily set in Sentinel and Whitney from Hoefler & Co, with Datalegreya for smallcaps captions and Source Code Pro for monospaced text.

The site is powered by Jekyll, created in Sublime Text with photography processed by usual suspects like Lightroom and Photoshop, all atop a combination of an iMac Pro, 16” Macbook Pro and iPad Pro depending on where we are at any given moment.

We use Cultured Code’s amazing Things across all our devices to keep us organised and get things done, Day One to keep our daily diary (and occasionally draft initial versions of posts) and Bear for all our productivity/note taking needs.

Finally, we love legos and firmly believe that the Lego Pirates series of the 90s was the single greatest theme Lego has ever created.