In a literal sense, of course equipment "matters", but that's not the point that most people who say "equipment does not matter" are trying to make.
Bad workmen blame their tools, so the mediocre photographer explains his or her mediocrity on the fact he or she does not have a good enough camera.† Therein lies the root of the problem - the belief that all one needs to release the Ansel Adams trapped inside is a better camera, lens or other gadget.† Its not true historically and its not true now.† In that sense, equipment does not matter nearly as much as the sad gearheads on dpreview would like to believe and I'd be mighty surprised to see a contrary view receive support here.
Quentin, you have it about right: it takes both the tools and the ability to use them. Where I think it all goes up its own ass is where great claims are made between models so similar as to be practically the same: D200/D300 comes to mind. As I answered elsewhere on this site to that very question, if you are really able to cross your heart and say that the D200 is not good enough for your skills, then get the D300. But, to extend that here, if you really are better than the D200, I think you should forget the D300 and await the one after the D3 or, perhaps, funds no problem, get the D3 and also the next one up that comes along.
Can I get better shots from Leica M-whatever than I can with Nikon F3? Certainly not, as I have no DEEP experience of the Leica. But, with experience of both, my last employer (M3, if you need the detail) did exactly that and embraced the new Nikon F. Not so much a CAMERA choice but a system one, rangefinder v. reflex.
I think Michaelīs reaction was quite surprising, for him, must have been something he had for dinner last night; we all get those moments! I think the main problem is that he seemed to have taken a very literal interpretation where, to me at least, there was but one point being made: it IS the photographer who matters and the camera need but be good enough. I agree utterly that nit-picking and pixel peeping are hobbies in their own right, that great photography is a cerebral event, hardly an overwhelmingly mechanical one.
But then, a whole group of little industries depends upon photographic circles of confusion for its very being and the bucks they bring in, so not a lot is going to change, whether by word of mouth, through magazines or clubs or even the internet. Everbody has an axe to grind, a field to plough, a cash cow to milk. Just make the most of the educated opinion you can form for yourself.
Buenas noches - Rob C