Some time ago, I read an essay relating to the cost of the tripod we eventually wind up with. Within the past year, I have replaced a "Chinese" Promaster tripod with which I had become quite fond, except it wasn't really tall enough and the Manfrotto 486RC2 head didn't have a separate pan lock. Used that for about 2 years, total cost, roughly $165.
The pan lock thing started to bug me so back to the store and while settling on a Manfrotto 488RC2 head I noticed the 3021 was taller and solid as a rock! Just had a much better feel than the Promaster, and besides, my wife needed a new tripod, she still had a Wal-Mart special. For once I didn't have to tell her she needed a better tripod, the Wal-Mart special was able to do that on its own. Leg slippage can be quite telling of the fact that your tripod is JUNK. The Promaster was tall enough for her and she has no idea what a pan lock is for anyway. I found the 488RC2 head to be less expensive than I thought it would be, so the 3021 went home with me too.
This was a quantum leap in quality and usability and only set me back about $230 maybe more, I don't have the numbers handy. So now I'm somewhere over $500 in tripods and feel like I'm on top of the world. I don't have to bend over to use it, and Hurricane Katrina couldn't move it. Time to throw in a leveling head from Manfrotto, now it's fun to shoot panoramics and I'm in hog-heaven. Ok, it's a little heavy but I seldom work very far from my car, seems things become less photogenic the farther I have to walk to get to them. Now the trick is to remember to never get too far from the car, stay out of the big mountains out west, and last but not least, don't ever pick up another photographer's carbon legged tripod.
I just made all those mistakes a few weeks ago as I attended a workshop in Bishop, CA. Now I'm not exactly a flatlander, I'm from the mountains of West Virginia, but Eastern California has real mountains. Bishop is in a valley only 1000 feet below the highest point in WV and we spent most of our time well above Bishop in the 7,000 foot range and above.
My own extra weight, more than I want to admit, and a regimen of drugs that keeps my heart rate down, combined with the alitude, all came together to enhance my senses and I noticed that my tripod kept getting heavier and heavier. At the Bristlecone National Forest, well over 9,000 feet, I spent more time leaning on my tripod to support me than using it as a photo support. That's when I noticed every other person in that workshop had a carbon tripod with a weight probably a third of mine. So now it looks like another $500+ is about to be spent. and probably a new head to go with it, so figure another $375.
I've been a long time getting to the point, but if I hadn't been so miserly before, I would have bought the right one first and while it would have been expensive, the total would have been less than half of what it will have cost me to get there now. Hopefully, ebay may ease the sting a bit when I sell my old tripod.
A good tripod will last longer than anything else in your kit and you will only have to cry once. The end cost will be a lot less if you make the leap initially. I sure wish I had. Incidentally, the one I have now really could last me a lot longer, it is totally up to the task at hand, just don't ever pick up a carbon and feel the real difference.
Bill in WV