I don't think you need to complicate things a lot, just note down the features that you need to consider and then make an evaluation on what you use the tripod for.
I use Gitzo a lot and like manfrotto prices and like the fact that the screw on the locks on its legs is faster to release and tighten than the gitzo.
I've own a 1.4k Gitzo before and even a table top one too. In total I've at least 10 over tripods costing me over $10k. But when I move from my focus of photography, I tend to change and sell the not so practical ones. Depending on your priority and what you think that works, if you have done it the hard way like I do, you should be able to get a few good ones that you will keep and modify the techniques to use them creatively.
A tripod usually requires consideration in :
1. Price - a very important factor.
2. Weight - less is better? Not really.
3. Stability - mother nature will tell you that the weight and material matters.
4. Size - affecting ease of carrying around. Eg. 3 vs 4 extentable legs.
5. Ergonomic/Versatility - easy to setup, close up, bring a long.
6. Physical appearance - the design, colour will affect your subjects and lastly
7. Compatibility - with other accessories, if available. Eg. centre column, hook etc.
A lot of celebrity photographers carry CF tripods, that does not mean that you should do so. They carry them for obvious reasons. When they first came out, I wanted one too. But I change my mind when I met my friend in Australia. He had a 14kg manfrotto tripod which when fully extended with ballhead, plate etc, stand taller than me. I'm 1.87m.
I show him my new gitzo model, a compact size with 4 extendable legs, weighing just over 2kg and very compact at that time. When fully extend with my ballhead, I dun need to bend at all. That is the #1 buying criteria that a tripod should do - don't stress the photographer's back, as adviced by old man photographers.
We went to a place where the sea waves were taller than a 4 stories apartment and my photos came back with "vibration" effect. He was a nature photographer, me too. His a 14kg tripod, mine a 2.4 kg tripod.
Soon I came back to SG and because of an assignment, I upgraded to the gitzo 1500 series with a arcaswiss ballhead - super solid, but my army days on log PT does not help me to move them with ease. I can practically sit on it the whole day and the tripod does not even move an mm. I use on outdoor assignments and because I don't have a vehicle, I practical carry the tripod together with my 30kg camera gear. I sold it after 1 month.
Then I decide I should be more down to earth and get an inexpensive but worthy one. I go back to manfrotto and even slik. Their build in comparison really makes me ponders. But the price of Gitzo makes me worried too.
In the end, I decide to focus only on my priorities and make the gitzo works for me instead of keep changing and keeping 101 tripod at home. I started doing experiments on many models and succesfully settled with 1 than I can use it most of the time.
I tell myself that I need an affordable but sturdy, compact and not heavy model. No tripod maker can give you that, even at 10k a piece. I shall travel with ease in luggage, on shoulder bags, doing hikes, on cramped buses and on foot. Up the hill and down the slope. And even going down the river which it will be in one piece and not rust out on me.
I know no model can do that, even at hefty price tag. I know something must be done to it so I apply my knowledge on making it work for me and started carrying out experiments.
In my experiment, I find out the below which I believe you may also agree :
Lighter => less stable
Lighter => less weight supported
Heavier => more stable
Heavier => more weight supported
Lighter but more weight supported => more expensive
but mother nature tells us that in comparison to stability :
Heavier and more weight supported > Lighter but more weight supported
Therefore, more expensive & get less stability = defeat purposes & get scolding from wife /mother.
More stable => More sweat
More sweat => tired more easily => distract your attention on taking photos
Ultimately = less frequent use
So it end up staying at home most of the time.
A heavy weight tripod helps in stablising even if you have a very compact tripod? But where to find a compact model that is heavy or can support heavy weight? Lets work down part by part of a tripod.
A good compact model must have good quality material and excellent assembly construct in order to achieve the theory. The old aluminium gitzo is very good on that. I can't comment much on today's models since my gitzo had been with me for over 5 years already.
Who say cannot use the centre column
If you are out in the field and requires to extend the centre column to get a higher point of angle, do it. You have no choice but you need to do some homework before using it to help you and not risking the results. The centre column when extended under no wind and reasonable weightage should pose no problem at all. This is especially true if your shutter speed is rather fast. You need to experiment with this though, especially under moderate wind, stronger winds situation etc.
What you can do is to get an oversized and overweight ballhead to weight it 100% down towards the centre of gravitational force. If you tilt your legs, make sure it still sits perfectly downwards, fully making use of the COG in order to achieve the desired stabilising effect. The gitzo explorer or the benbo are not recommended for this technique since their centre column is not symentrical to the tripod.
With reasonable weight of your camera, flash, lens together with the ballhead, you should be able to make the centre column rather stable. Bear in mind that all the weight will act down on the tightening of the screw of your centre column as well as down to the legs which will be discussed below.
Make it stand or sit
For the tripod legs, if you don't branch out your legs too apart, it will in fact be more sturdy. And if they are all closed up like a monopod, it should be able to take a lot more weight.
Usually, tripod legs are spreaded out and all you need is to stablised them using a apron that holds them in together slightly above the centre of the legs. If you can, use it to restrict the opening of your tripod legs and tighten them in to make it close up. The closer the 3 legs are together, the better the stability. You need to make sure that the legs can be locked at all angles correctly. You may need to stuff something solid at the locking part where the leg screws are. Most are locked at 2 to 3 different angles.
You can also use a hook which you can attached to the bottom of the centre column and hang something of moderate weight there. That will balanced up the overall weight distribution from the top to the bottom and also prevent the tripod from wobbling at the centre when wind comes in all directions.
Take care of my feet
Also do something to the stopper at the bottom of the leg. Spike ones are best on muddy ground while coarse rubber surface will function better on concrete floors. Use stone if necessary to stop the leg from slipping which works like the triangular block of wood that are used to stop a car tyre from rolling.
Just like an egg when arrange correctly, it can in fact support an adult human weight. Its not magic, just physics.
With that setup, you can easily mount at least 1.5 times more than the recommended amount even though Gitzo's tripod should already be capable of taking at least 10-20% more weight than what is stated.
So the last question arrives, where do all the stress goes? The tripod body channelling towards the ground of course. If you get a cheap tripod with less durable material, you will need to change your tripod very soon.
In fact most material nowadays like CF or the Basalt material aims to achieve the same principle also. They want their tripod to be light while you load up a lot of gear load to bring up the stability. I've no experience in those tripods as they are far too expensive for me to justify such an investment but I really doubt their strength and weight distribution to achieve a very stable stance.
With the aluminium models, I'm able to stressed up 3 - 5 times the amount over the recommended weight support of my tripod.
So at the end of the day, with proper testing, you should be able to get a model that are suitable for most applications and still get the lightness, sturdiness and compactness that you yearn for. Too bad my gitzo model is discontinued already, if not you may want to try that one out yourself. Its about the length of my forearm and weights a little over a kg. I use it before on a 1v, 20D all with PB / 420, 550, 580 flashes / Arca swiss, manfrotto and RRS ballhead all weighing over 1kg and telephoto primes and L zooms all with no problem even in bulb shutter mode. Probably because of the well distributed weight, the tripod never shows its "vibration" mode throughout my travel to 6 countries up the mountain and down the sea.
To make the dish more juicy, with proper handling techniques and camera specific features such as mirror lock-up, real time viewfinder, DOV preview etc....also accessories such magnifying view from angle finders to detect more subtle vibration, remote shutter release, photoshop editing .... you get the idea.