I suppose any one seeing my username will probably "assume" what brand of tripods I prefer;
Being "poor", (and somewhat of a "cheapskate"), I LOVE Gitzo tripods and Arca Swiss Ball heads, but I can't STAND to pay for them;
I must have spent 6 months scouting eBay for my Arca Swiss B-1 ball head, and my Gitzo 340, aluminum, 3 section.
And QR plates........you can save a TON on plates (if you have a lot of patience ), ( which I do ) anyone who has recently purchased a new RRS "L" plate will know what they go for; I'm sad to say, I recently let the best deal ever (on a RRS "L" plate for my d 300s) slip through my fingers; thing was "mint"......went for $43 & shipping ! (best price I've ever seen so far) 2 weeks later, I finally scored; (can't tell it from new, RRS custom fits D 300 & 300s) got it for $81 + $10 shipping; the same guy had a brand new EN-EL3e Li-ion cell, so I asked him if he would combine two items if I won them, and he said OK; (that saved me $10 shipping on the EN-EL3e) which I got for $6 ! (try beating that !)
At the time I got my A-S B-1 ball head, everyone in NYC had them on backorder; ( at $495, there were no bargains there ! ) again, patience paid off; after seeing several B-1's bring over new price on eBay, used, I finally found a delightful gentleman in the U.K. that wanted to part with his; I emailed him, became convinced he was a great guy, (which he really was / still is ), and won the auction on his B-1 for 180 (anyone in UK reading this ?) 180 Lbs "sterling" (as you can see, I forget how to make a little "pound" thingie on my Mac) There are many great ball heads "out there", (none are cheap), (including RRS new one) but using the A-S ball head is just "fun"! (kinda like driving a Lamborghini when you're used to a Plymouth) My Gitzo 340........if you love fancy, powder-coated "finish" (hard to describe), you'll love this tripod; the thing was probably 20 yrs old when I bought it, (for under $150), and after 6 or 7 years of using it.....I could sell it as "new" and no one would complain ! (the thing is just GORGEOUS !) One small thing.......it has the "old style" twist locks, (big "ears"), but the thing is SOOOOO smooth, when you move the sections in or out, it feels like a hydraulic cylinder, it's so "smooth"; (no slop there!) (and, like all Gitzo's........solid as a 500lb granite block;
I guess I have almost as much fun finding great bargains on hi-class equipment, as I do taking pictures. If you want the best QR system on the planet.......go with Arca style plates; there is no comparison with those "clunky", lever operated, hex-sided thingies that Manfroto makes; the Koreans are making some great QR plates now, but the things are as much as RRS and Kirk; (and I just LOVE anything that says "Really Right Stuff"! (The new guy that bought RRS really knows what he's doing !)
Get this; when I was scouting for a custom plate for my Nikon F-5 a few years back, I was about to buy a Kirk plate, (which was made 120 miles away from my house); Kirk wanted $65 for their plate, PLUS $20 to ship the damned thing 120 miles ! (thanks, but NO thanks !) I ended up finding a "used-like new" RRS one.....in Shanghai, People's Republic no less......for $20 ! guess what "air-freight from China cost me........$5 bucks ! (and 3 days) The thing is still on the F-5, and STILL looks BRAND NEW !
Experiences like that make me happy for 10 years or more ! Oh.....one more and I gotta go to bed; I bought my 80-200mm F 2.8 ED AF Nikkor zoom from a Chinese fellow in San Francisco; emailed him, he said it was "like new"....I bought it (for about $400 ), when it came, not only was it "like new".......it even had a 77mm Helio-Pan circular polarizer on it ! Now, on the D 300s, it's a 120-450mm zoom. ( I've had a lot of good luck on eBay ! )