There’s two clichés in photography that are as old as the hills:
“Gear doesn’t matter. The best photographers could shoot great images on cell phones!” or “Gear DOES matter, or the best photographers would be shooting on cell phones!”
Your feelings on which is correct will generally boil down to your own experiences shooting. For me personally, does gear matter? Does gear not matter?
Clear as mud, eh? But in my opinion—there’s that word again—both are equally true. Let’s face it, it’s easy to say “gear doesn’t matter,” but if you are looking to take the best photos you can take, the gear does matter on some level. The camera body has to be up to a some kind of standard, and the glass you’re shooting through has to be at a certain level of sharpness and quality. Now what is that standard? Personally I have my own standard. I don’t buy gear wondering what Brian Smith or Phillip Reeve would think of me of me for using it. I buy it based on what I think of me for using it. Have I done all the research I can, and am pleased with the sample results? If so, then I buy the piece of gear without reservation.
Generally, when it comes to my gear, I’ll tend to put more weight on the quality of the glass, rather than the camera body. This is why I’m content to shoot on a Sony a7RII, a7II and my original a7 while the rest of the “alphaverse” is obsessed with the a7III/a7RI|I/a9 because they are the latest and greatest. Do they have features I would love to have? Sure. Animal Eye AF is a no-brainer. The larger battery capacity and dual card slots sure would be nice. For me, however, it’s not enough to justify dropping serious money on a new camera body when my current bodies work just fine and I can put that money in glass.
By and large, in my opinion, glass is more important. Sure, you have to have SOME level of quality for the camera body, but I don’t necessarily equate “new” with “quality.” I’d be still perfectly content to shoot with my mk1 a7 in the field and still be confident it’ll produce great results, as long as the glass is up to spec. I feel you can have the greatest camera in the world, with the best sensor on the planet, but it can only see what the lens allows it to see. If you put a shoddy piece of glass on a great camera body, you’re still going to get shoddy results, and you won't be happy. There’s plenty of “high-end camera with low end lens vs. low-end camera with high-end lens” videos all over YouTube, and usually the low-end camera with a great lens will win out. Glass is king, as far as I’m concerned.
Now for the other side of the coin…
Gear also doesn’t matter, because if you don’t have a camera—any camera—you’re not shooting anything. Given the choice of no camera and a cell phone, I’ll take the cell phone every time. A good photographer can make something beautiful out of (almost) any tool they are given to make images with. Will their image be bokehlicious and noise-free? Probably not, but if the photographer has a good eye and is skilled, the story that image will tell through composition will more than make up for that.
I think at the end of the day, the point I’m trying to make is, yeah on some level your gear will matter. If you want to become a professional and and make a living off of photography you will need be mindful of the gear your are using. That doesn’t always come down to how much money you’ve paid, or how new the gear is though. But, you can’t let that rule your life as a photographer, or you’ll be miserable. Believe me I know, I used to worry about having the best gear. Contrary to what the gear heads will tell you, the latest and greatest doesn’t automatically make you a better photographer.
Your eye, your skill, and your passion are what will make you a better photographer. Work with the gear you have, and for goodness sake, get out there and USE your gear. Use that gear and love it until it starts to limit your vision, then maybe consider upgrading, depending on your budget. Be happy with what you got, don't second-guess it, and don't worry about keeping up with the Joneses and just take the best pictures you can take. Your love—your passion—will come through in every shot, and you’ll be far happier. I promise.
So I ask again: Does gear matter? Does gear not matter? And again I have the same answer…