I think a lot of it depends on the photographs you intend to take.
If you make your living taking architectural photographs, you are going to have to spend lots of money.
If you take landscapes as a hobby, you can economize.
It's not just the lens model that has it's own "mojo" - it can be the whole company as well. Some people love Leicas, others love Canons. Some like German lenses, others like Hasselblads. It's about more than just numbers and measurements. Cars are the same way.
On the other hand, one copy of a camera may be more "lucky" for you artistically than another, even though both appear to be identical copies.
Ask any musician about their instruments. Sure, a master can make great music on a piece of junk - but it's not uncommon for a serious musician to try out dozens of horns, violins, guitars, or even mouthpieces, before they find "the one". I imagine that the same is true for painters with their brushes, or sculptors with their tools.
Although our education encourages us to do so, there's no need to pin these things down, like we might pin down a butterfly. When we do, we kill it, and it's no longer a butterfly.
The important thing is having the awareness to sense these nuances. They are not so different from the nuances that make great photographs.
I think the legendary jazz great John Coltrane said it best:
"You can play a shoestring if you're sincere."
Outside of structural failure, I think the same applies to most things in life, including LF gear.
I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
I'm such a gear head I always think in terms of my auto heritage. In the USA in the late 1950's when I was growing up the Europeans were making the most elegant little machines with dual overhead cams and compressors to get amazing power from tiny engines. In America not wanting to abandon our chrome plated battleships, we took a different approach. Since gasoline was flowing like water and the supply would never end we accomplished the same thing with brute force. 352 cubic inches not enough? Hell, we'll make it 427 then and put dual 4 barrel carburetors on it. Gas was 23.9 cents a gallon. Who cared if it transformed a gallon of the stuff into noise and eye watering polution every 8 miles.
I take the same approach with photography. While you guys are spending that extra $1500 bucks to get from 67 lppm to the magic 76, I keep adding inches squared at the back. Fault me if you like, but I'm having a hell of a good time. Burning silver Chloride like we used to burn gasoline.
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep..to gain that which he cannot lose. Jim Elliot, 1949
I agree with Ken on this.
If you think that a lens or a certain tool will "make you" as a photographer, then there's no limit to what you can investigate, try, noodle over, ponder, and get wound around the axel about.
If you find tools that you really like and "connect" with, then there's no need to explain or justify yourself to anyone.
If you really understand all this and can see differences between the various tools that are somehow important to you and your expression as an artist, then you are probably quite outstanding, and well beyond the abilities of many of us.
I agree too. Not only that, the perfect 'instrument' for one may not be the same for someone else. Camera example, my Toyo AII-L is beatup, missing paint, etc but functions smoothly and well and I know all of its quirks. Others might well turn their noses up at it but it is my favorite camera because I am so familiar with it and it feels right ....
Ted, Chris, in general you guys have the right of it. But, Ted, do you really think that, say, a Luminar will shoot no better than the equivalent Tominon?
The reason I went for a 110XL, 210 Sironar-S and a 305 G-Claron as my "sweet-three" even for shooting 4x5, was because I knew I would go to 8x10 one day.
A couple of years later I did go to 8x10 and my "sweet-three" for 4x5 are still my "sweet-three" for 8x10, although the 450 Fujinon joins the pack when the 8x10 is up on the tripod.
I've done ad hoc comparisons between the 150 Sironar-N and the 210 Sironar-S, I know that I like the latter a lot and the 150 gets left at home. It might be a lens-perspective thing as well as the added 'zing' whatever that may be ....
btw, my favorite Leica glass is the stuff from the early 50's, they have a beautiful 'look'. I neither can afford or desire the latest and greatest aspheric Leica designs because they don't look so good to me ..... and they cost 'stupid' money !