While out in the desert a few weeks ago, my tripod fell over in the wind and the crank for the center post broke off. I mentioned this to my wife and she thinks it's an awful good idea for me to get a better tripod. The way she sees it, I use it all the time. And, if you consider that regardless of whether I have a digital camera that can go up to 128,000 ASA without problems or a film camera loaded with 100 ASA film, I take shots that require a tripod, not just IS. And then a little later, I discovered that the main handle where you adjust the side-to-side movement had gotten stripped and suddenly it can hold my G7 stable but not any of my big cameras.
While on a model shoot, which is pretty damn inconvenient.
My current tripod is a low-end Sunpak. It's better than nothing, especially with light cameras. But it's never been exactly level, which screws up my panoramas. And the rated specifications for how much you can put on it is barely adequate for the gear I put on it. And the quick release system really sucks, relying on cork or rubber to prevent the camera from rotation.. which just doesn't work out.
So, it's given me years of service and provided a solid base for me to get started exploring what happens when you can't quite hold a camera steady, but it's time to retire it.
The problem is that there's a fairly good gold standard for a shooting setup that you won't hate. It generally revolves around ARCA-Swiss styled release plates custom machined for each camera, carbon fiber legs, and an expensive but slick-as-all-hell ballhead that has a matching ARCA-Swiss release plate built in. And when you get a setup like this, you'll end up not being scared to clamp your heavy view camera to the top of the tripod and sling the whole works over your shoulder between shots because everything is overbuilt and has sturdy mechanical locks and catches.
This adds up fairly quickly, even though the price of carbon fiber tripod legs has come way down if you buy cheap Chinese knockoffs. You need a plate for each camera (which will be fun, given that I've got some fairly esoteric demands) and good ballheads are inherently expensive. I'm also mildly cheezed off that, given that all of the makers of ARCA-Swiss bits all know exactly where the shortcomings of the ARCA-Swiss are (mostly in terms of needing a screw to tighten instead of a lever and otherwise not providing a good satisfying "clink" to let you know that the system is locked), they don't try and make them more compatible. There's two ways to do safety catches and nobody's making any effort to make the lever-styled mounts more universal.
Well, other than compatibility between brands meaning that Really Right Stuff loses their cachet.
The problem is that there's the low-end stuff on one end and the high-end stuff on the other end, with a huge gap in the middle where you'll end up buying things that are just acceptable, not great, and end up replacing them later because they are only marginally better than a cheap tripod. So you spend $1200 on a $600 setup. I'm mostly thinking about all of the mounting plates in between something you can get for $10 and a proper ARCA-Swiss. My problem is that I tend to like to split things up into incremental purchases so that I can get the least amount of hardware necessary.... but the minimum useful purchase is still uncomfortably pricey.
Bogen / Manfroto, of course, is quite horrible, given that they've got several different incompatible quick release systems and none of them are at all compatible with the ARCA-Swiss styled plates. And the people who make ARCA-Swiss plates do a good job on them. So, the plate for the G7/G9 lets you access the battery and memory card panel without removing the mount. I saw that and realized how useful that would be. On my RB67, there's two conveniently located sockets to prevent the works from rotating and the custom mounts for my other cameras are just machined such that they lock against solid camera edges.
And then there's the matter of having the right tripod accouterments like a tripod strap and the right sort of center post and stuff. My tripod bag for my cheap Sunpack is really kinda crappy. Either way, I know I want to get something I can use for a long long time and not do any repeated purchases. And, while I'd rather get a new tripod when I'm good and ready for it, I'm now without a reliable tripod, so something's gotta give.
So the thinking is that I probably want to, when I'm finished, have a collection of really good support hardware that will fill my needs. I'm thinking I want a "heavy tripod" for when I don't care about how much things are going to weigh that's able to carry all sorts of heavy equipment that has the best adjustments and abilities and then I want a "light tripod" for when I'm walking or hiking or biking long distances. And probably a monopod.
So the plan is probably going to be to get the "heavy tripod" legs so that I can just use fairly heavy Aluminum legs and then get the "light tripod" head. I'm toying with the merits of a tilt-pan head and a lightweight ball. Given the choices, I'm kinda inclined to get the tilt-pan head and make sure that I can mount the ARCA-Swiss type plates later.
And then later on, I can get the ARCA-Swiss plates and the "light tripod" legs and a really good ballhead or geared head for the "heavy tripod".
I think I can go for a while without the plates simply because I use my G7 for exposure metering and it's stable enough on the current tripod and mostly I just swap between the G7 and the RB67 when I use the tripod.
I'm quite used to pan/tilt heads, which kinda makes me wonder if it's the sort of thing where one day I'll play with a ballhead and wonder what the heck I was thinking. But I've played with ballheads and haven't been super-impressed, so who knows... I suspect that most of the time I'd like something more along the lines of a geared head, where I can carefully adjust each axis in my usual methodical fashion. But geared heads are heavy and expensive, or not so heavy and really expensive.
Plus, it's always handy to have at least one head that can be used for video.
There's some folks who like to go on about how tripods aren't nearly as necessary now that you can get 5D or D3 and run it at 3200 ASA without looking too bad and mount IS lenses. And, you know what, during the day, you'd be surprised at how infrequently I use my tripod and just concentrate on bracing myself properly. It's just that all of the high ISO performance in the world isn't going to make it easy for me to get star trails and automobile streaks and light paintings. So I'm stuck. Same reason why I still have to have strobes instead of using room lighting... to insist otherwise reveals the speaker doesn't really understand photography.