The title of this post comes from a reference to the game NBA Jam when the announcer would exclaim "Is it the shoes?" when a player did something spectacular. And of course we would all say in our minds "well of course not." After all, its the player's skill and athleticism that allowed him to do that 360 spin-a-rama jam and not a pair of shoes with a swoosh on them.
Oddly, we debate that idea when it comes to photography. Photographers will always say that its the skill of the person behind the camera that makes a great image. Those who aren't in to photography will often be heard saying "Great shot, you must have a nice camera". I'd love to respond with something like "That's a great cake, you must have nice bowls" but evidently that's considered rude by some people.
Kidding aside, there must be a reason that people associate great images with the camera used to create the image. You see, great photographers DO often have nice cameras. If you ask a lot of photographers you'll find that they didn't start with that nice camera. They started with point and shoots. They started with their parents cameras. In short, they started with what everyone else has access to. As their skills grew, they moved to a better camera and may have started using off camera lighting and adding accessories such as filters, nice tripods, and started putting some really nice glass in front of that expensive body.
But why bother with a better camera if its photographer that makes the shot? As a photographer's skills evolve, he understands more and more about what makes a good image. A lot of these things are on the technical side and are affected by the equipment you use. The equipment itself also has limitations. A 2 MP camera is not going to yield very pleasing 40 inch wide prints. So at some point, the photographer felt that his current equipment was limiting his ability to realize his creative vision.
I myself, recently purchased a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 lens and it is currently the most expensive lens in my bag. My kit lens (18-55mm f/3.5-5.6) has been giving me troubles but that's not the big reason I purchased my Tokina lens. In fact I could have just purchased a replacement kit lens for considerably less! I wanted something wider and faster though. Wider because I like to take landscapes and faster because I wanted to be able to take quality images in lower light. Are the images "better?" Probably not. Because its considerably wider I really have to learn how to use it to its full potential.
Like any tool, you need to learn how to use it before you can use it well.