As mentioned earlier, it really isn't a binary choice and perhaps it should be possible to poll the relative importance of elements. But this means it is necessary first to separate the "chain" in simplified relevant elements.
My current thinking in order of importance:
I think Subject is the least important, because with the right lighting and creative vision, any subject can be made to shine... For the same reason, Photographer is obviously the most important. Perhaps we should separate that also into "Creative Vision" and "Skill". The latter is not nearly as important as the former, and good lighting and post-processing can compensate a lot of ill skill...
1. Creative Vision,
Any thoughts on this?
Mind you, I'm not denying that certain contexts have different requirements. But even then you could argue about true value: You can buy 4 digital rebels for a single 1 series. The latter may be more dependable as a single unit, but having 3 back-up units obviously compensates dependability.
To refer back to the formula 1 metaphor: I'm not arguing that a formula 1 race requires a formula 1 car, I am asking whether the car is more important, or the tires. For some this may mean a state-of-the-art digital back vs a refurbished unit. If that's your flavor, the question might be: would you rather have a state-of-the-art back plus the old Zeiss lenses, or a refurbished unit plus digitar lenses?