Sebastião Salgado used basically the same 35mm cameras for much of his career. I have seen 40" prints from those 400ISO film images and they are stunning. I think you would agree his is also a master photographer, yet came to a different conclusion. Some photographer like buying the cutting edge gear. It is part of their practice and relationship to the medium. Others, equally successful, don't. Both groups can make high-quality images. Why?I hear you but why these successful photographers would spend so much money on their gear? There is no bias BEFORE they purchased the gear. We often ask about it in our Magazine and their answer is always the same: to make great prints! These are people who make their decisions based on highly rational and business-like considerations. And if what you said was true it wouldn't make any sense for them to spend this money. They are already well-known, successful and the gear itself doesn't excite them as much as it excites us. It would be nice to hear from some of them. It just doesn't make any sense to me that such people would buy expensive gear to have "confirmation bias." I guess the idea of "great looking print" could also mean different things to different people. Great conversation!
P.S. In regards to Clyde. He got the GFX 100 because his large format cameras are very heavy and he needed a break. Why would he spend this much money on the GFX 100 if he could get just an iPhone? We both have to agree, he is a master printmaker.
I think where this become extremely complex is where does quality come from? I would suggest it is in the perception of the image, not simply the technical characteristics. But this perception is really complex--I view my work differently from that of others to the point where it is not equal judgement. For example, I shot 35mm B&W TriX, but I never could get the quality I was satisfied with, but I only see great images in Salgado's work. A technical limitation on my part? Perhaps? Or perhaps it is more of a cognitive evaluation where I am dropping some of those processes I use to evaluate my work in a technical sense, but don't apply to other's. When I walk around museums, all I see is high-quality photography, regardless of the age in which it was produced. What about those images and my perception of those images that lets me see their value and not their deficits?
It is a fascinating problem. Personally, this has freed me from pursuing equipment beyond simply having cameras I enjoy to use. I am trying to see my photography in a different way. I also noticed as I advanced in technical skills, my work has lost some of its aesthetic power. Perhaps it is less spontaneous? Perhaps I am not seeing the factors that made my earlier work successful? How do those technical skills affect or diminish my ability to see? Not sure I have the answer, but there is more to photography than meets the eye.