Yes...well..not really...maybe sometimes. This question has plagued the photo industry for years. Many photographers, myself included, suffer from GAS syndrome..and no, Gas-X is not the cure. GAS stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. In other words, this is a "symptom" where photographers feel like they need the absolute best gear on the market today to do their job. I consider myself an acute GAS sufferer, as I just recently upgraded from a Canon T2i to 5dmk3
Now to the question. Does gear really have that big of an impact on the final image? Yes and no. I've created awesome images from my iPhone 4s as well as awesome images from my $3500 camera body. It all relies on the work the photographer is creating and his or her needs. For example, the photographers you see gracing the sidelines of every NFL game are using sub $10,000 camera bodies. This may seem absolutely insane to the average user, however, what these photographers need is not more megapixels or flip out screens. They need a camera that can fire off 100 pictures in less than 8 seconds with perfect focus on 90 of those 100 pictures. Do I need a camera that can do this? Absolutely not, but I can still dream.
As an advertising and editorial photographer, I'm shooting in controlled studio environments or on-location somewhere remotely exotic and beautiful. I don't need the ability to fire off 14 frames a second. Instead, I need a camera that has an impressive dynamic range (the range between shadows and highlights) and performs well in low-light. Hell, my T2i still did the job pretty well. Can you tell which camera was used in these two images?
I'm going to assume you can't. I wouldn't be able to either. Don't worry though, I'm not going to tell you which camera shot which. As you can see, both of these images look like they were created with the same camera. The only difference? A price of $2700. As I so often like to point out though, both of these images went through extensive, and I mean gigabyte per file extensive, retouching. My strength lies in all the work that goes into the picture after the shutter is pressed. Retouching aside, both camera's produced very similar results. This can be expected coming from a studio environment. Now one thing that my 5D does better is it's ability to shoot extremely clean images in dark environments. For example, you know when you're at a concert and snap a selfie and the picture looks spotty and downright uninstagram worthy? Well those weird spotty colors filling your screen is called noise, and most consumer grade DSLRs are just as bad as your iPhone when it comes to shooting in very dark environments. This is where gear matters, and I hate to even use the word "matter" because it's possible to take great low-light photos as well with cheap gear. Certain environments and situations sometimes call for a higher end grade of equipment.
I get a lot of questions about which lens I used for a certain shot and so forth. Many amateur photographers think that the lens and camera are everything. Just like the example I used earlier about professional sports photographer's cameras, lenses are equally as subjective. Before I go any further, quality lenses do make a world of difference. I've always put my money towards good glass before anything else, and I feel every photographer should do the same. Those gigantic lenses you see on the sidelines? Easily $12,000 and above. What I'm trying to stress through this post is that it's not about having the absolute best gear money can buy. Instead, it's about tailoring your photographic setup to the work you do.
So get out there and start shooting away. Only have an iPhone? Download an app called Snapseed. A powerful little photo editor for your phone. You'll be amazed what you can create with the camera that's sitting in your pocket. When you feel, and I mean truly feel, that your camera body is hindering your work, then it may be time for an upgrade. Don't feel bad about not having the latest and greatest camera and lens. The camera is only one pixel of the bigger picture.
Boy that was cheesy.