First, and most importantly, know what genres of photography you enjoy the most and if that genre requires a tripod. Then, buy the largest, highest quality tripod you're willing to carry that fits in your budget. Specifically in that order; do not put budget ahead of any other aspect of the tripod. If you go too cheap, you may very well end up with a tripod that meets none of your needs when you're forced to replace it due to instability or fragility. The adage, "buy cheap, buy twice (or more)" applies here.
As promised in my previous blog post, I'm revisiting my thoughts on the Leofoto LN-324C Systematic Carbon Fiber tripod I picked up before going to Forks, WA. The trip gave me my first chance to use the tripod in a real world setting for photos I cared about. After putting the Leofoto LN-324C and LH-40 ball head through the roughest conditions I ever plan to use it in, it has stood up admirably. There are no conditions to this conclusion. It is an excellent tripod, full stop. The value oriented pricing only makes this combo that much more appealing.
After a day's break from the trip to Forks, Craig and I took advantage of a break in the rain to hit Roozengaarde in Skagit to photograph the tulips before the festival began. About half of the tulips were in bloom and the daffodils were still out, though they looked ready to wilt. Fortunately the weather and time of day seemed to keep most people away. This also gave me a chance to use my Leofoto tripod on different terrain. Again, things just happened to work out for us as the rain held off and the clouds helped give the photos a dramatic, almost ominous look that contrasts with the burst of colors below. Too bad the stiff breeze prevented any chance of getting a longer exposure, but that's fine. For tulips, it's all about the colors.
Out of the box, the Leofoto LN-324C made for an intimidating presence. Fully extended, it was clearly as tall as advertised and the weight seemed about right. Looking more closely, all the details looked right. Tearing it down exposed finely machined parts all around and a carbon weave that didn't betray it's "10 layer" claim; the weave was consistent throughout with no waviness or warping of threads and no pitting or cracks in the resin. All of the aluminum bits are finely milled with no tooling marks. Parts that may have originally been cast were finely machined to remove any casting seams and cuts into it were obviously milled. The anodizing is consistent all around and all of the included optional hardware is of similar quality. No flashes, splinters or metal shavings anywhere. Metal on metal contact points showed evidence of lubrication and glided through their movements smoothly.