One of my fellow faculty offers an alternative assignment in his advanced class. Instead of working on a project of some sort over the course of a 16 week semester, a student may choose to shoot (develop and contact) an entire roll of 135-36 film every day. 7x16= 112 rolls, 4032 exposures in four months. This forces the student to carry the camera with them everywhere they go and look through it constantly, thus teaching them how to really see through the camera. By the end of the 16 weeks, their photographic vision through the lens is far more refined than before. The great photographers don't take one shot and leave, they shoot and shoot and shoot, then edit. The more they shoot the better they get.
David Hurn says you don't just wander around shooting everything in sight. You make a list and shoot until you get everything on the list.
On Being a Photographer by David Hurn/Magnum & Bill Jay
The sample chapter will hook you in.
Freeman Patterson says shoot a roll of film before you get out of bed in the morning. Shoot everything you can and learn how to "see".
Look at common objects in a different manner.
Battling gurus mean nothing.
Shoot what you want, when you want. Make your own decisions.
Being a photographer is an evolution. What you do today you may or may not have 5 years ago.
Different camera formats equal different shooting styles. You don't shoot an 8x10 the way you shoot 35mm.
Your original premise is too faulty to reach any kind of conclusion.
There are thousands of brilliant photographers shooting today in digital and analog. The difference is everyone is bombarded with images today that nothing seems special.
If you're trying to compare the so called greats of yesteryear, they were greats because there were so few (in comparison to today) of them shooting and their work seemed special and unique. You can also add in the nostalgia factor to their work. In the 1950's great photography was only seen in magazines like Life, National Geographic and a few others, and even then there was only something spectacular every few months. TV sucked so the images were not impressive. Occasionally a local newspaper had a great photo, but not often.
Add in the fact that people didn't travel, so a great photographs would open up whole new worlds to the viewer. Today, people have literally seen everything. We are jaded.
Your original premise is wrong. There a people on APUG that are better than Ansel Adams. There are probably better street shooters than HCB. There are better portrait photographers than Karsh. The only difference is, nothing is special anymore.
And this has nothing to do with analog or digital. And motor drives have been around since the 70s.
I didn't like reading David Hurn, because he was telling me if I keep doing it my way I will never amount to anything. I swear I will not ever tell anyone their approach is a waste of time.
But there are some specific clear instructions that I can take, even if I don't take the entire philosophy.
The Canadian photographer Sherman Hines who did a few books back in the 80s of scenic parts of Canada once discussed his philosophy. He said he could never work like Ansel Adams, parked for hours/days waiting for the perfect shot.
He said he could take ten rolls of film of different subject matter while Adams was still sitting waiting for a shot that may or may not appear.
Some may say, well I've never heard or Sherman Hines so why would I care what he thought. Well, his work was pretty great, but the difference was he shot color.
Surrealism like black and white will usually win out over color.
The moral to the story though is, do what you feel.
Also Hines shot with a Pentax 6x7 and Adams with a 4x5/8x10 (5x7???).
* r-a-s-p-b-e-r-r-y *
We only learn to see by doing. Some learn more quickly than others. I claim no "vision".
I would say that the original argument is faulty for a different reason, and that is the assumption that the "greats" got there by their photographs. They didn't, they got to noteriety through someone else bringing their work to everyone's attention. People here don't seem to like Alec Soth's work, but why is he famous now? Someone in an important gallery saw his work and submitted it to the Whitney Bienniel, launching his career. Without that he would probably still be a lab tech in Minnesota. Ansel Adams was just a guy with a camera until Steiglitz decided to show his work in his own gallery. There are a ton of great photographers that nobody has ever heard of, and there are a few terrible ones that everyone knows because somebody promoted their work to a large audience.