So I've gone through stickies and looking at stuff there, some of the links resulted in items discontinued and "newer versions" came up at stores like Amazon. So I got the feeling that there may be newer options at this point. I find a lot of the specs listed on tripods are just specs, so I'm looking for a more real world approach. I have two tripods, they're cheap, and work great, but I'm starting to really make my loads heavier so I'm starting to notice it more when it wriggles and I think I'm ready to get a serious sturdy tripod at this point.
Things I'm looking for:
$200~300 price range (give or take).
I have a ballhead already (arca style). Gimbal in my future too. So just the tripod is needed at this point.
Sturdy, can handle a top heavy load of a skytracker, gripped SLR, heavy prime, and an additional ballhead on top of that (I do a lot of wide field astro with heavy equipment for 4~8 minute exposures). If it can easily handle a gimbal and my gripped setup with a 600mm lens and a flash unit, that would be a good thing too.
Thick, heavy legs. Every time I look at a sturdy tripod and I don't see thick legs, I cringe. I don't want them to bend or wobble. I really don't care a huge deal about weight. I won't be using this for hiking, I have lighter setups for that. This will be for controlled night use mostly, and for bracketed stuff where I drive to a location, so I don't have to carry it for a few miles, but I might carry it for a little bit.
I would like that the center column doesn't extend down, or up, as I don't need it. If I want to collapse the tripod to the ground flat, I don't want to have to stick a center column up in the air. If it could just be a level surface with legs and no columns, that would be great.