I have a Manfrotto 190CXPro3 which I love. The center column can be removed which is also great and it's not thousands of dollars. I use mine primarily with a D700 and wide angle lens and it's very sturdy.
Debbi, that is one that I was looking at. It just doesn't seem to be tall enough. Full hieght with colum not extended it is only about 55inches with head and camera on it. I really want something more at eye level with colum not extended.
I would not (and do not) use a column either. I also think that the biggest sturdiest pod your budget can stand will serve you for many years and likely support anything you want to put on it.
I like the Gitzo equivalent of the 1325/1327 which I think is now the 3540 series.
A similar but a bit larger is the Feisol 3372 (replaces the 3371 I think) at about hlf the price of the equivalent Gitzo.
In between them is the Induro C413, a large very sturdy tipod with big diameter legs that inspire a lot of confidence.
I have the Gitzo 1327 and the Feisol 3372. I used the Induro on a long term test last year and am very impressed. I can recommend all three without hesitation with the bang for buck winner being the Feisol. Good Luck with your choice!
BTW - please do yourself a favor and do not cheap out on the head.
I bought mine after reading a link on the Forum that sent me here http://bythom.com/support.htm
I bought the Gitzo 2530 and a Markins Ballhead. The carbon fiber is amazing...It is well worth the money in my mind. Steady, sturdy, and not too heavy and it fits my suitcase for travelling.
Rock-solid, very light, smooth and easy to set up... this is the tripod I'll use for many years to come. Sorry to offend others, but I don't understand the reverence for Gitzo.
The Manfrotto has 3-part legs rather than the 4-part legs of the Gitzo that everyone is recommending. That usually means it's a bit longer when closed up, but it's faster to set up and 3-part legs are often slightly stronger and more stable than 4-part legs. The leg releases are nice big flip-locks, very fast to use.
Mine is topped with a Manfrotto 3-handle head about 12cm in height. I'm 5'11''. When the tripod is fully extended WITHOUT extending the center column, I can't look into the D3's viewfinder, it's too high up.
However the Manfrotto HAS a center column for more height when needed. The center column is REASONABLY solid - not great - and it includes a clever system for setting the center column parallel to the ground for shooting off the side of the tripod. I may find a use for it one day!
Regarding the 3-section vs. 4-section, the 3541LS is really fast to set up and take down. To set it up, you unlock all three locks simultaneously with a quarter-turn of the wrist, telescope the leg out, and gently twist each one back a quarter-turn. I can set up the tripod in under 20 seconds, a little quicker to take it down.
I'm 5'11" and it's plenty tall for me. To level it, I just shorten the leg using the upper lock out of laziness, though retracting the bottom section would be better from a stability standpoint.
Gitzo has three and four leg options in nearly every series. As in all things, it depends on the needs/wants of the user as to which is the better choice. It's nice to have choice and I think Gitzo provides more of it than any other, in terms of CF models.
People invest in Gitzo because they work so well and last so long. That's my take and the two I have do what I need them to do. Am saving up for the grand-daddy big one, so I have lighter and more vibration resistant support for the scope I use - and one day hope to get a 400mm f/2.8 and that, too, will need better support than the tripods I currently use.