Thanks for all your information suggestions. And @
JRneuroanatomist I totally forgot about the type of head. I'm thinking of getting a ball head oopsed to the others which I've forgotten - I heard that the one where it lets you pan isn't typically for cameras as it was mainly used for video cameras but the manufacturers made that a feature since we can also record videos using our cameras.
Yes, a ballhead is the way to go for still photography (unless you're using a supertelephoto lens - 300/2.8 and up - in which case you want a gimbal head). Better ballheads have a panning feature - for panoramas, not really suitable for panning when shooting video, where you really need a fluid head.
And I'm looking to get the non-carbon fiber tripod first as it's more sturdier/heavier/stable - it won't fall down if you accidentally bump into it. I've also read that a couple od people have resorted to tying a sandbag to the middle just to hold it down in case there's a gust of wind which might knock it down. And I've read countless reviews/comments which concerns me about the Manfrotto tripod (190 and 055 lines) something about the rubber feet wearing out easily and/or breaking and not having spikes.
I wouldn't say non-carbon fiber is 'more sturdier/heavier/stable' - it's just heavier. Compare the 055XPROB aluminum to the 055CXPRO3 carbon fiber - the CF version supports 15% more weight than the aluminum version, but it's 30% lighter. For the 190 series, the load spec is the same, but the tripod is lighter. In terms of stability, a 0.6-1.5 pound difference is not going to make any difference in whether a tripod blows over or gets knocked over - it's the 5-10 pounds of gear sitting on top that affects that. In fact, carbon fiber transmits vibration less than aluminum, so in that sense the CF versions are more stable.
Haven't had any problems with feet on my Manfrotto tripod or monopod. Spiked feet are available from Manfrotto distributors (including B&H, Amazon.com, etc.).
Honestly, the only meaningful disadvantage to a CF tripod is that they cost more.
I heard Gitzo tripods were really good and a lot of professionals use them. I haven't researched anything from them, but roughly how much do their good mid-range tripods cost? It's not in my budget but I'd like to know, I'm a little overwelmed by all the different and many brands and option heads there are. And there's also of the matter on whether I need to buy a wembley plate for my 70-200 lens for the tripod mount since it's so big and heavy. I can't really think of any shooting situation where you would need to mount a 70-200 lens on a tripod?
Gitzo is the L-series of tripod legs. Their ballheads, not so much. That's why all the better tripods (including Manfrotto) are sold as legs separate from heads. The 'best' combo would be a Gitzo 3-series and an Arca-Swiss, Really Right Stuff, Acratech, or Kirk ballhead. That combo will set you back about $1K.
I can think of lots of situations that call for mounting a 70-200mm on a tripod. If you're using an Arca-Swiss system (all of the above heads I mentioned use the same plates, Wimbereley place are Arca-Swiss, too), then you'd want a compatible plate on your 70-200mm. Any time a lens ships with the tripod foot included, that means it's heavy enough you'll want to mount it by the foot, not the camera body. Wimberley plates are excellent, but Kirk, RRS, etc., are all great, too.
If you want a mid-level system, pair Manfrotto legs with one of the heads mentioned above. Manfrotto also makes an excellent head which I currently use, the 468MG - it's a hydrostatic head, which uses hydraulics to lock the ball in place, very tightly and with minimal effort. I have a Wimberley C-12 clamp installed on my 486MG, a Wimberley P-5 camera plate on my 5DII, and Wimberley lens plates on the tripod feet.
If you'll use the tripod a lot and plan to shoot in portrait orientation, consider an L-bracket for the camera. That's one area where the Arca-Swiss system is much better. Manfrotto's L-bracket is not very good, whereas Kirk and Really Right Stuff make excellent L-brackets that are custom-fit to a specific camera body. The downside is that they're relatively expensive, and that custom fit means if you get a new body, you need to get a new L-bracket, too.
Also does anyone know of any really, really good photography forums? Like they have discussions we have here but also have photoshop/lightroom tips and tutorials, etc.?
I recommend The Digital Picture Forums
. Excellent product reviews there, as well.