Warning: I try to go into details to avoid further questions and show how my mind works. So this is lengthy.
Always a beginner's mistake to skimp out on support systems. I've learned that the hard way. Settling for a small aria tripod included on my DSLR's package deal, I regretted it on day 2 of use. I got a Manfrotto 190XPROB with a SLIK pan head, second hand (still going cheap). I loved the pan head but the operation made me wonder what other photographers call "smooth" tightening/dampening/locking. That, and after 2 months, the weight and size of both just took toll on me. After some research, I bought a new support kit... Vonjean (surprise surprise it's cheap again). Having used to aluminum built of my former kit, I couldn't trust Vonjean's rigidity. But the weight made a huge difference. I'm quite happy to bring it along with me all the time. However, after a couple of weeks, its ball head isn't performing well. Having a ball head instead of the pan head now, made me learn the importance of friction control and lock mechanism. Vonjean's friction control doesn't work and the same goes with the locking. It takes to tighten them both very tightly (so much so, it hurts my fingers... and I have construction-worker-hands!) before it completely locks my 60D with C/Y 80-200mm.
So I am done with going cheap on support system. I've learned my lesson and am willing to spend for a trusted one. I'm still quite content with my legs but I just have to get a good ball head, this time.
But here's my situation:
I am only limited to purchasing locally. I have the option of asking friends or family in the US or Europe to buy the item for me, but customs and other factors will raise the price to almost 30% more (customs will charge ones bought directly online as well. About 12% of the price if it's more than $150 worth). My budget is about $300. I could add more but I'd rather spend the extra money to the item itself than the government. Furthermore, most stores here do not have a return policy, and they really are touchy with customers testing their products. So the only thing I could rely on is customer reviews. After all, Gordon Laing was one of the people I watched as I started researching about this DSLR stuff.
Having no distributors in South Korea, RRS and Acratech will be too costly for me (Acratech would have been at the top of my list). And here's the thing, I like the more uncommon (my biggest reason for Acratech) and I try to keep away from whatever is the most popular (like Markins). It's how I behave on almost everything 'cause it's just my personality.
Now on to the main point:
I've been attracted to Gitzo ball heads especially the off-centered. But I read many negative reviews about them and theoretically, the off-centered design seems disadvantageous when it comes to stability. The price seems okay to me on either designs. But the one thing I see that Markins doesn't have is the nice levels on their QR's sides. Gitzo plates may not be Arca Swiss compatible (they have adapters but that's another thing), but it's abundant in my country.
I could settle for Markins since I've been told over and over, how good it is. It's also made in Korea. But my 60D feels discriminated. I find many Markins plates for new cameras and way old cameras... except for 60D. Now please don't talk about RRS plates (again, too commonly mentioned) as it's another hassle to get one outside Korea. This adds to my lack of interest (along with its single level set inside the QR-- what a waste of feature) on this brand.
So PhotoClam is becoming popular quite fast. It's also made in Korea. It also has the Gitzo features with regards to levels. They have some dedicated plates but none for my camera. They have other universal plates on different sizes. But it's a new name. And the bigger "but" is the price competing against Markins and Gitzo. If I'm going to spend the same amount anyway, I'd rather go with something else.
Having focusing on plates, I thought, "People keep talking about Arca Swiss compatible so why not get Arca Swiss itself?" And sure it is, the reviews seem impressive. It's like the Gitzo of ball heads (being tried and true and have been serving for many years). But as I checked online (locally) the prices are a bit painful. Roughly converted, P0 is about $500, Z1 is about $700. Comparing that to US prices, I find it ridiculous to buy them in my country. And the plates... there's not a lot to choose from.
There are other brands out there like Vanguard, Benro, Manfrotto, etc. For some reason, I don't find myself looking at Manfrotto. As for the rest, although I find some reviews about them, I'd want to go for the more tested brands this time... Except for one: FLM
Researching, FLM is quite a new brand. And I see very few reviews about it. It has dedicated universal plates, and no distributor in Korea. It is also quite pricey. BUT it's got some features not found on others, it's got a level nicely placed on the side of an optional QR (even the QR system has nice features), and it's made in Germany (based on experience, I trust Germany-made products 90% of the time).
As said on the title, the confusion of settling with compromises is a headache. It gets worse when you have to choose which compromise would you have to consider. But just yesterday, I was given 3 choices. The price is what balanced these three out of the many:
On sale is the Arca Swiss P0 with 2 plates at roughly $300. I wish it was a Z1 as the plates P0 accepts are limiting, and panning vertically is a chore. But the unusual design (along with the sale price) is something I greatly consider.
Another one on sale is a kit. The Gitzo 3541 with Arca Swiss B1 (used but the better version) at about $950. Gitzo series 3 was my choice if ever I have to upgrade my tripod (since RRS is still not an option) which this model, brand new is about $700. That would make the B1 about $250. The whole kit itself is attractive to me but I'm not very sure about the tripod. Yes, I might buy the same thing when in time I'll upgrade. But series 3 is under the "not so light" category. A reason why I want to focus on ball heads more than tripods right now. Plates aren't included as well.
And lastly, is FLM. Buying the the head and QR separately will cost me a little more than $430. Right now, it's on sale fo $300 as well. Plates not included. But aside from "it's not so common" and "extra features" it's tripods seem to compete against RRS's as well.
Given only these 3 choices helped me lessen the headache. But right now, I'm still doing eenie-meenie-miny-moe on them 3. So after reading this long-winded story, if you were in my situation, what would you do? Which one to choose? Help me out please.