Well, this is probably not what you want to hear ... but I wouldn't buy a tripod without going hands on. I bought a tripod about 8 months ago and it was a Manfrotto and I thought it was the cats pajamas. Until, a friend of mine was over and I used his tripod and I was blown away by how easy it was to use ... (but mostly what a dullard I was for not even knowing about it).
So, I sold my old one as punishment, and then vowed I wouldnt actually buy another one until I could try out a few and decide what I liked or didnt like. And low and behold, I am completely happy now. But the quest wasn't overnight. Actually the closest place I have to check out a wide variety of tripods is like 150 miles from my front door. They carried Gitzo, Manfrotto, Fiesel, and a handful of other brands too. The best part was ... they were all sitting out on the floor and I could try to collapse them and carry them and extend them and all that stuff. And when all was said and done, they price matched B&H ... so I was thrilled.
Now, my sticks of choice weren't less than 300$ so I won't mention. A couple things that I would have never known before going down this path though:
- They make tripods with center columns which level your head so you don't have to move the legs at all (really nice)
- They make a wide variety of barrel diameters for the legs. Some have an obnoxious diameter, and others are ticonderoga #2 ish thin. I had no idea.
- There are a zillion ways to make the snappy or turny doohickies which secure the legs
- Some tripods legs only 'lock' at specified angles and move freely outside of those angles
- Weight varies greatly. There are actually tripods which feel so heavy you probably couldnt stand to take them anywhere but the studio. Before I went, this wouldnt have been a consideration at all. By the time I left, I would say this was maybe second only to sturdiness.
- Height varies greatly. Sometimes I fully extended the legs and the column and thought 'Wow. If I actually mounted a head on here to shoot this would topple to the ground in the mildest of climates'
At the end of the day ... the one I selected only received modest B&H reviews, but you know what ... it really works well for me. But I think had I not actually fiddled with these up front, I would have been sending tripods back and forth to B&H or amazon like 10x.