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[typed this up a couple of days ago and thought I'd hit "send reply", but hadn't. Didn't want to wast the typing, so apologies for the late bump/post.]
Unless you need packable-in-the-luggage size, I'd say most folks not shooting large primes are served best by the 2-series/midsize tripods.
If you're on a budget, the Sirui N2204 is a pretty nice tripod. There was a pretty extensive test I saw on a German website (wish I'd kept/could find the link) that rated Sirui up with the established guys. ~$400 and I'd say at or near Gitzo quality.
I have a Gitzo 2531 and it has been great, but considering how many complaints I've heard about Gitzo's customer service/parts availability, I'd avoid them if I were buying new.
If you can afford it, the 2-series RRS tripods are worth it. If you're thinking Gitzo, stretch to the RRS.
As for heads, I personally wasn't a fan of the paddle of the BH-40 (the BH-55 is great in every respect, but too big for the 2-series and the lenses you're shooting). I did a review for Sunwayfoto of their XB-44 and it convinced me to let go of my BH-40. It is a little less expensive than the RRS, and is a very high-quality head. I've sent it out to a couple of pros who gave it high marks as well. It is a perfect match for my 2531. They have a pretty cool discal clamp you might like for pano that is now offered on a lot of their heads (check B&H).
If you go regular clamp, the RRS LR II is hard to beat for a quick-release. Unfortunately mine went away with the BH-40. I've liked Sunwayfoto's screw-clamps fine, but I might try their QR clamp or look for a used LR II.
- Budget - Sirui N-2204
- Best - RRS 23 or 24
- Skip Gitzo (unless you find a great deal used)
- Budget - Sunwayfoto "D" series
- Best - RRS BH-40 or Sunwayfoto XB-44 depending on your budget and design preference.