What's your best choice for a kit under $500 David? Not everyone is a big time NY film maker.
If you need to save money somewhere, don't look to your tripod to do it. A cheap tripod is cheap for life. It will not only hurt your shooting style, but it'll never carry its value like a real pro tripod. A good tripod deploys and sets up quickly, has a head with fine control and smoothly operating pan and tilt movements, is rugged and breaks down quickly. Workflow is just as important as gear performance. Thirty extra seconds setting up a tripod or a difficult to level head is as big a menace to production than is back focus issue or a bad light. The first tripod I used cost about twice 50% more than the pro HD camera I attached to it. It was worth it. And I ain't hardly no NY film maker.
I'd have to agree with HughB's question. There's no way my production company could justify a $2000 tripod within the next couple years. There are plenty of good manfrotto/bogen combos around $500.
Your choice of tripod is dependent on what you're shooting. While you can probably get away with a $500 tripod for wedding shoots, you'll want something better for serious corporate or commercial work. I've used many support sytems in my 30+ year video career and I've always found that "you get what you pay for."
I'm still using a Sachler system I bought in 1983! It was expensive at the time, but it has more than paid for itself in durability, realibility and performance.
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