What we have heard time and again – camera doesn’t matter, the photographer does. duChemin does this with stunning proof. But like all claims, there are constraints, assumptions, and boundary conditions.
Yes, one can make stunning photographs even with a pinhole camera if one desires, but boy, will it make your life difficult. The state of the art in equipment you use also largely depends on the kinds of photographs you take. Slow cameras (bulky, medium format, slow-focusing, etc.) might be fine with landscapes, if you have excellent dynamic range and are placing your camera on a good tripod. Lower quality (lower resolution, reasonable dynamic range, etc.) might be fine if you are a street photographer concentrating on capturing the moment, where speed of focusing and weight/stealth of the camera matters more.
But even with these assumptions and constraints, camera technology (and to somewhat lesser degree, lens technology) improves over time. I pulled out my images from the approach to Monument Valley from December 2005 shot on the very first Canon Rebel, and was unpleasantly surprised to see incredible grain, lack of dynamic range and color casts that are near impossible to fix. Trying to push-pull the shadows or color balance resulted in harsh, garish, polarized colors and renders any editing useless.
So has sensor technology improved in the past 12 years and would an upgrade have mattered? You bet. I have upgraded twice in the last 14 years – moving from the original Rebel (bought in 2004) to the 50D (purchased 2009) to the 6D (purchased 2013), and I feel that to be a nice clip of keeping up with the innovations in the industry. Others have also pointed out an upgrade cycle of 5 years as being optimal. I am waiting for the highly anticipated 6D mark II, and may end up upgrading sometime in 2018.
As with everything in life, moderation is key.
Also published on Medium.