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

We’ve been shooting for a long, long time and use a wide variety of photographic gear.

Full Frame

Our main full-frame body is the Sony A9, most often paired with the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM - we estimate about 80% of the shots we take with the A9 is done with this combination. We match it up with the Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA and the Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens for the full “3 prime” portrait kit. With just these three primes (or else just the 85 and 24 matched with good old-fashioned human foot zoom) you can make magic happen.

We actually don’t do too much landscape/outdoor work with the A9 due to the bulk and mass - every gram counts when you’re hiking and camping for days in a row. However for trips that will involve some outdoors but not full on multi-day journeys where we still want a full-frame body or full frame single-lens travel solution with us, we’ll pair the A9 along the Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS. While it is a consumer grade zoom, it’s hard to beat the very useful 10x wide-to-telephoto focal range and the variable aperture is partially ameliorated by the excellent high ISO capabilities of the Sony A9 sensor.

For wildlife/sports oriented work (such as our love of yabusame - Japanese horse-mounted archery), we’ll bring along the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS. This is actually not what we’d recommend for wildlife/sports these days - the Sony 70-200 f/2.8 or, depending on one’s wallet and sport of choice, the new Sony 400mm f/2.8 - are almost certainly better choices in terms of performance and optics, but the 100-400 will get the job done most days and without teleconverters to boot. (although you can certainly pair it with one if you feel like shooting the mooon)

Finally, for “Everyday Carry” full-frame, we use the Leica Q-P Type 119 with its fixed 27mm f/1.7 Summilux lens. This is actually the second version of the Leica Q we’ve owned - we used to own the original (non P version) and actually would recommend that over the Q-P. The latter brings a cool “stealthy” murdered out all-black look but the matte finish actually picks up scuffs and marks in an unpleasant way. Leicas are supposed to wear their bronzing and wear with pride, but in our opinion the smooth coating of the original Q handles aging in a more aesthetically pleasing manner than the matte scuff-prone Q-P.

We’ll be the first to admit that this camera represents a poor value for the money and the wide focal length and not-as-impressive-in-2019 max aperture of f/1.7 can take some getting used to, but there’s just something about the way it shoots versus the Sonys that makes us keep it - it’s a much more “connected” experience than the Sonys, which often feel like one is manipulating an interface rather than taking a photo. For this reason - along with its simply gorgeous physical design and heavy, reassuring heft - it constantly finds its way into our bag for everday full frame use, and even for occasional use for a single bag single camera travel adventure.

APS-C

We’re slowly in the process of trialing a move from micro four-thirds to APS-C as our “secondary” camera setup. For this, we deliberately chose the somewhat-long-in-the-tooth Sony α6500 and paired it with the Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS and the Sony E 10-18mm f/4 OSS for outdoor/hiking/travel usage. Normally this amount of coverage (16 - 105mm in full frame equivalent) is not as much as we would prefer (and is inferior to our up-to-now Micro Four-Thirds setup below) but there aren’t any particularly good native-E mount telephoto lenses for Sony APS-C bodies and we’ve noticed that more than 2/3rds of our outdoor shots are below 105mm, as are the majority of keepers.

The real reason we’re trialing a move from Micro Four-Thirds to the Sony APS-C bodies is the recent introduction of the Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN, 30mm f/1.4 DC DN and 16mm f/1.4 DC DN - i.e a high quality ultra-fast three-prime setup similar to what we shoot with on the full frame bodies. We’ve been in the game long enough to see Sigma pull themselves up from being a budget third-party copycat to producing some of the highest quality lenses on the market that often best the first party solutions.

Only time will tell if we end up fully moving to the Sony APS-C system or remain with Micro Four-Thirds or not, but in both cases, we appreciate how incredibly compact a three-lens prime portrait, or two lens ultra-wide + telephoto outdoor setup can be with these smaller bodies versus the full frame A9 and its gigantic lenses. They pack down into small tight dense pouches and can easily fit in even the smallest of one-bag travel solutions but still deliver excellent image quality.

Micro Four-Thirds

We got into the Micro Four-Thirds party pretty late in the game about two years ago, but when we did we jumped in with gusto. Much like with the APS-C systems we’re trialing above, we were motivated by the release of a trio of high-quality portrait-use prime lenses for the system with amazing image quality and brilliant wide open apertures.

In the case of our Micro Four-Thirds, this was a combination 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 that 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.

The Micro Four-Thirds format also allows for the creation of some amazing lenses such as the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO - equivalent in length to a 24-200mm full frame lens, which when coupled with the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 ASPH (16-36mm FF equivalent) and a tiny body like the GX7M3/GX9 meant that finally multi-day outdoor adventures wouldn’t need to sacrifice image quality and reach in order to keep weight down to a reasonable amount. (and in fact, we’ve taken many a trip with just the Olympus 12-100 + GX7M3 combination and never once encountered a shot we couldn’t make due to equipment limitations)

For us, Micro Four-Thirds was both spurred on by but also emblematic of one of the key trends in our live underlying The MountainBorn - the idea that “good enough is very often good enough”. After years of clawing our way up the equipment ladder fastidiously scrimping and saving to buy newer and better equipment to finally arrive at the position in life where we own all the “best” flagship gear we always lusted after, we realised what we’ve always known in our heads but not yet in our hearts - equipment often doesn’t matter. To be certain, there will always be cases where you need the right gear for the right job - low light photography, work destined for critical portfolio/high-resolution print output, fast moving action/wildlife sports - but for the 95% of the photos we take that don’t fall into those categories - it turns out that good enoug is good enough - and micro four-thirds is more than good enough.

Micro Four-Thirds also opened our eyes to a world we never could have imagined: top notch stunning f/1.2 primes lenses for reasonable prices. Professional use high quality ultra-zooms with unmatched quality and miniscule weights. Feature-rich non-nickle-and-diming bodies with all the functions one could ever want and more - for less than the plastic craptastic entry level APS-C bodies of the “big three.” Equipment that doesn’t have to cost or weigh a lot but still delivers top notch results.

Much ink has been spilled about the slow squeeze on Micro Four-Thirds and there is some truth to it. But for now it is still an excellent time to consider M43 as a primary or secondary system and even as we trial other options we plan to hang on to our gear for a while longer.

1” Sensor / Everything Else

We also have a mix of 1” sensor and smaller speciality cameras we tend to use. The tiny Sony RX100 M6 is a constant companion and replaced the RX10M3 we used to own when we realised that we rarely took advantage of its hyper zoom range as most of our photos were well below 200mm.

The RX100M6 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. 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 its predecessors (including the Mark IV version which we also own and can even be used for astrophotography).

We also own and use the 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.

In terms of smartphones, we shoot with our Apple iPhone X, sometimes paired with the Moment Wide Angle and Anamorphic Lenses.

In the “everything else” category we own a sorely under-utilised Mavic Pro for drone work, a GoPro Hero 6 and a GoPro Fusion 360 which honestly we should sell because it turns out we’re not extreme athletes and watching us agonisingly pant our way up a mountain does not make for riveting 360 video.


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 70 different carry pieces, and probably add one or two each month.

As a result, 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 looks something like the following/

Backpacks
  • Arcteryx Granville 16L (2018)
  • Arcteryx Veilance Nomin Pack
  • Northface Iterrant Pack
  • Peak Design Everyday backpack 20L
  • Able Carry Daily Backpack (XPac) 20L
  • Aer Everyday Backpack / Tech Backpack
  • North Face Access Pack V2
One Bag Travel
  • Peak Design Travel Bag
  • Aer Travel Bag 2
Rolling Luggage
  • North Face 22” Rolling Thunder
  • Arcteryx V80 Rolling Duffle
  • Away Luggage The Medium (Aluminum Edition)
  • Tumi 4-wheeled brief
Messengers
  • Arcteryx Leaf Courier 15
  • Arcteryx Granville 10L
  • Arcteryx Fyx 9
Hiking/Camping
  • Hyperlight Mountain Gear Southwest 2400
  • Arcteryx Alpha FL 45
  • Arcteryx Bora 63
  • Patagonia Nine Trails 28L
Totes
  • Arcteryx Bianca 9
  • Peak Design Everyday Tote
Duffles
  • North Face Basecamp Duffle S/XS
  • Patagonia Black Hole Duffle 45L
  • Arcteryx Carrier Duffle 30L/40L/80L

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 a 2018 iMac Pro, 2018 12” retina Macbook and 2018 iPad Pro.

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.

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 Visconti Homo Sapiens Bronze Age EF, Visconti London Fog EF and Pilot Custom Heritage 912 EF being among our heaviest rotators.

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