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I searched for a long time until I finally figured out the perfect combo for me.
I wanted something light, only 3 leg sections, ball head, the ability to get really low to the ground, independent leg adjustments, and an adjustable lateral arm for macro shots.
I finally ended up with the Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod and the Manfrotto MAMH055M0Q5 ballhead. Total setup cost a little bit over 600 dollars, but that's with a heavier duty head, with a cheaper head you could do it for 450-500.
I have been extremely pleased, overall much better than the Giottos that I had before, although I have to say that the Giottos is a great bang for the buck, but it was a pain to use with the twist locks and 4 leg sections. Above all else make sure the tripod works for you, if you don't like how it works you won't use it, and then it really is a waste of money.
I am sure you could get a better setup with more money but I think past this it gets to the point of diminishing returns. I really liked the gitzo explorer series, but simply couldn't justify that amount of money for what seemed like marginal benefits over the manfrotto.