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There's an old joke: "All I ask is for the chance to prove that money can't buy happiness."

The photography equivalent is the joke of self-funded hobbyists using gear that the pros can't afford while saying that the camera doesn't matter. I suppose we should believe them, right? They should know. After all, they're carrying bags of equipment that costs as much as a small car, and spending six months' worth of rent – nay, mortgage – payments on trips to photograph waterfalls tumbling over cliffs into the ocean that's filled with icebergs.

But it's a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so of course it's worth carrying the good stuff. And they'll need to pick up that new lens soon, because in a couple of months they'll be flying to the other side of the world to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other photographers as they pursue their vision and make their art.

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Do I sound bitter, jaded, and maybe a bit jealous? I feel all those things, sure. And not everyone who says The Gear Doesn't Matter is using the latest generation 'full frame' something and five of the brightest lenses available. No, some of them are still using the previous generation cameras – though not many are farther behind than that. Nobody seems to decide that the gear doesn't matter when they're still using the second camera they ever owned and a couple of f/dark zooms.

Occasionally, but very rarely, I do meet someone who has had all the gear and given it up for a pocket camera or a middle-of-the-road digital system. Most of the time they're pretty decent photographers, too. But while I personally find them more interesting, I can't say that they're usually better, or worse, photographers than the crowd that mistakes their abundance for asceticism. After all, the gear doesn't matter, right?

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But equipment does matter.

Of course it does: I have closets full of it that isn't quite what I want, or what I need right now, to prove it. It doesn't replace what's actually important – something to be interested in, and something to say about it – but it makes different things possible. And maybe what you need to say takes four hundred megapixels and looking at wall-sized images with a 10x loupe to express. (I doubt it, but maybe.) And sure, if you're able to use your massive ecological footprint to record the last of a species or the last time the arctic ocean froze, I suppose using that basic camera that you bought on clearance years ago would just be silly. So you do you.

Having something to say is the most important thing in photography, and you can't buy that in a store. Sure. The gear is, at best, secondary. But owning different things does let me do different things. The photos I'm taking now couldn't be done with what I was using two or three years ago, and that was true two or three years ago, too. Going through uncountable equipment iterations hasn't given me something to say, or some unique way to see the world, but it has given me options and insights that I couldn't have had otherwise.

That I've only produced mediocre and unremarkable results is entirely on me – but I still used the stuff to get here and don't regret it.