So here’s the deal. You don’t need expensive kit to get started. It’s never about the kit. You should aim to start by learning the substance of whatever creative journey you are hoping to embark on. I repeat, it’s not about the kit.
Ok, lets backtrack a little bit.
It’s my experience that whenever I have wanted to try something new I head to the web to see what people who are good at that thing are saying.
“I want to start taking more photographs”
Lets take my recent journey into the rabbit hole of the photography world as an example. I started of with a very basic knowledge of photography. As in, I’d heard the words; ISO, aperture and shutter speed before – But I wasn’t a 100 percent sure what they meant.
So that’s where I went, watched couple of tutorials on YouTube (this one by Sean Tucker is great if you’re interested), and tried to pick up as many of the basics as possible.
It soon became clear that I was gonna have to buy a camera (‘clear’, even though I walk around with a very capable camera in my pocket everyday, but we’ll talk about that later). This is where things went a little south. I went deep into the review world, Mirrorless vs DLSR, Fuji vs Canon vs Sony color science. All the lenses that a beginner needs in order to get started. Never mind the fact that I had yet to take a single picture, I was considering dropping some serious cash on all these things that I was being recommended.
Luckily I stumbled upon a lovely little series on YouTube by the photographer Matthias Burling. On the face of it this is just another camera review type channel, but the “Cheap and forgotten camera” series of videos he has made over the years was a real eye opener. In video after video he spoke of genuinely cheap cameras, often old and always used, and exhibited the wonderful results he was able to achieve. Seriously, the pictures are lovely. Moreover, he seemed to be able to channel his style through the images almost regardless of the equipment he was using.
This was a real eye opener for me as much of the equipment he was using had long been forgotten by the other reviews of the world. Too old and “bad” to waste time on. But it was clear from the results that photography was more a function of the photographers skill then the camera he was using.
This is something that I believe to be true for almost all creative endeavours.
(I only say “almost” as I’m sure someone could come up with an exception to this rule)
The Hard Truth
So here’s the thing. Virtually every person who makes content on the internet is trying to sell you something (myself included). While the good ones have a philosophy and a message they genuinely believe in. At the end of the day even the most well intentioned person also needs to put food on the table.
The easiest way to make money from your audience is to sell them something. The more expensive the product, the more money the affiliate will make (through the joy of affiliate marketing).
Now there’s nothing wrong with this. That is literally the mechanism by which this site functions. But this is something that you as a consumer of content need to keep in mind. Understanding the incentives at play will hopefully give you a better and more genuine view of what you are being told.
You are, receiving a sale pitch. Treat the pitch with the skepticism that it deserves. Even if it is coming from an internet personality that you like.
So What do I do?
I think there a few things that can be used as a good rules or thumb when thinking about trying something new. Of course these are not one size fits all solutions, but more guiding principles to enable you to focus on what’s important and not get distracted by the shiny stuff.
Use What You Have
As mentioned in the photography example. Often times we already have, or have access to, the equipment that we need to get started. Using your phone to take pictures, borrowing a friends spare guitar, or just sketching with a ballpoint pen is a totally valid starting point to learning the respective skills.
To learn the basics, and build a foundation in any area, you only really need basic equipment. This has the added benefit of saving you a bunch of money if you get bored of this new passion after a few weeks (we’ve all been there).
Equipment is a tool. You can always upgrade when the tools you have become limiting, but it’s really difficult and expensive to do the opposite.
Be Wary of Reviewers
Now I have nothing against reviewers online, but this is just something to think about. Putting aside the fact that often times their income is tied to you buying the equipment they talk about, their reviews are colored by their position.
Reviews are almost exclusively comparing the equipment at the very cutting edge. The very best on the market. That’s fine. But I don’t need the best 50mm lens there is, I just started taking pictures (and frankly I can’t afford it).
Also, if you spend all your time using and talking about the best products there are, then of course things that are a little below this or more affordable are going to look trash.
Basically, when a car reviewer that drives a Ferrari says the new Civic you are thinking of buying is slow. Maybe don’t give their opinion to much weight
Go For Old Top of the Line Stuff
This is great for those of us that have a bit of an itching trigger finger when I comes to purchasing equipment. If you’re the kind of person that needs the “pro” equipment, by all means. Go for some older models or used kit in general. This is often a great way to gain access to all the professional features that are on offer, without breaking the bank.
And remember, just because there is a newer model doesn’t make what is replaced obsolete. At this point, technological improvements are often incremental. So you stand to gain a very similar experience at a discount.
Beholden to Equipment No More
So that’s it. The equipment doesn’t matter. Go out and learn the substance of the art that has taken your fancy. Lay a foundation of knowledge and understanding, using equipment as a tool and not a crutch.
It’s more fun that way anyway.
For what it’s worth, I did end up buying a camera. But it cost me about 10% of what I may have spent if left unchecked. It’s 10+ years old, used, and everything I need to learn this new skill. Also, look how pretty.