BENRO C-358M8 Carbon Tripod $229.99
Manfrotto 055XB Classic Tripod Legs $139.97
Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head with Quick Release $117.31
Bogen 3040 Aluminum Tripod with Bogen 3063 Pan/Tilt Head
My Dad had this older aluminum tripod with a big heavy head.
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It was really windy out today, so I thought it would be a good day to decide which tripod I want. (I bought the Dolica last May, the new Benro can still be returned, and I borrowed the Manfrotto and Bogen tripods.)
All of my tests were done with a 500mm lens using Live View to exaggerate the visual effects of vibrations. The first test involved setting the camera up perpendicular to the wind direction. All of the tripods showed considerable movement. Results were generally as expected except the heavy Bogen tripod wasn't as stable as I expected and the lightweight Dolica wasn't as bad as I expected (although on huge gusts it did have considerably more movement than any of the other tripods).
I was surprised to see that the Benro tripod was almost as stable with a ball head as it was with the camera directly attached with no ballhead.
My conclusions for the wind test - I'm guessing that weight is more important than rigidity for this test and since all of the tripods can be weighted down, it would be tough to do a meaningful test in the wind.
Next, I moved inside and did two tests for each of a few combinations of tripod and ballhead. The first test was to tap heavily on the end of the lens and count down until the lens stopped oscillating.
Heavy Aluminum Bogen: 1+ second
Carbon Benro with Manfrotto Head: 2- seconds
Aluminum Manfrotto with Manfrotto Head: 3- seconds
Dolica with Manfrotto Head: 4+ seconds
Dolica with Inexpensive Proline Head: 3 seconds
The Benro looks good in this test. I don't know why the Dolica tripod would perform better with the cheap proline head than it would with the quality Manfrotto head.
The next test involved putting a substantial weight (40 AA batteries) on the end of the lens and noting how much the lens drooped, based on the measurements on a ruler 22 feet away.
Heavy Aluminum Bogen: 1"
Carbon Benro with Manfrotto Head: 1"
Aluminum Manfrotto with Manfrotto Head: 1 1/4"
Dolica with Manfrotto Head: 1 5/8"
Dolica with Inexpensive Proline Head: 1 3/8"
Again, the results were generally as expected but within a narrower range than I expected. Again, I was surprised by the rigidity of the inexpensive Proline head.
To summarize, I expected a wider range of results. I expected the heavy Bogen tripod to be dead-solid but it was far from that. I also expected a bigger difference between all of the tripods. There is a significant difference but not as great as I expected.
My decision is to keep the Benro and sell the Dolica. Even though both tripods would work okay in still conditions with a remote shutter release and mirror lock-up, the Benro is very confidence inspiring. It's well made and will make me look like I know what I'm doing. And, besides, the small Dolica ballhead does creep quite a bit with my big telephoto lens.
The heavy Bogen would be my economical choice and I would definitely consider the Manfrotto legs if the Benro wasn't on sale at such a good price. The Dolica is amazingly light and would be a good choice for long treks.
So, I still have to decide which ballhead for the Benro. It's between the 498 RC2 and the Smith Victor BH8 for only $57.