Often I hear of conversations that people have regarding amateur photography. Unfortunately a lot of those conversations seem to end of with the sum total of all thoughts saying, "You should invest in a nicer camera and you'll take even better photos." This is the biggest myth amongst those that start out in photography, the side effect of which cheapens the craft that professional photographers strive so laboringly to perfect.
Mind you, I'm not a professional photographer by any stretch of the imagination. I'm what they call an advanced amateur. Hell, more times than not, I think my photography sucks. That doesn't stop me from enjoying it when I take my camera in hand and spend an afternoon traversing the city in search of that one shot that will make it all worth it. And as you can probably infer, it also doesn't stop me from wanting to get better.
When it comes to skills vs. gear, skills win every time. I've seen some stunning photography taken with a point-and-shoot or camera phone having a lower megapixel count and it comes out beautiful. I've also seen what would have otherwise been beautiful imagery, if it were not for the lack of subject, focus or lighting, or exposure, taken with decent digital SLR cameras.
The trademark of a photographer who is in charge of their craft is they understand that technology is supposed to help you, but not do it for you. If you can't take a decent photo at 5 megapixels, what makes you think 16 megapixels is going to somehow magically make you better? Megapixels have nothing to do with how in-focus your photos is, or help you take your photo at the correct exposure. That is the photographer's job. The only thing megapixels do is determine how large of an image you can print. What good is a 20" x 30" print of a poorly composed image?
There are times you need to step up to a more adequate set of equipment. That's one reason why I chose to step up from a D40 to a D7000. At the time I was very heavily into my 55-200mm lens and I started noticing a lot of nasties in my photos when cropping shots in post. That's probably not the best reason to upgrade, but I have to honestly say I don't have that as an issue now.
The main reason I opted for a D7000 versus something like a D90 is because I wanted to force myself to get better. This may sound backwards, but it was my way giving myself motivation to learn how to use a camera properly.
Photography was always something I've been interested in - I never was able to afford a decent camera until recently. I decided that if I was going to drop almost $1200 on a camera body alone, I was damn well going to learn to shoot the thing in manual (the way nature intended)! Because of that (and because of my naturally talented wife's patience in teaching me the basics), I am a much better photographer today than I was when I started out with a Kodak camera shooting 110 film.
All of these semantics to arrive at my point, which is: yes, it's true that sometimes it's the gear that's inadequate and sometimes it's the operator's skill that's inadequate. The trick is be honest with yourself and to know which it is that's holding you back. Unfortunately, from what I've seen in my experiences, there are a lot of under-skilled blaming it on the equipment, rather than face the fact that all they really they need some basic instruction to hit the ground running.