I'd previously posted that I had purchased a new Sirui N2204 Tripod and K20x Ball Head to replace my aging Manfrotto 190 Pro B (the very old model) + 488RC4 ball head. I've now had a chance to use this new tripod in earnest a number of times over the past two months and thus feel able to give a better review of my thoughts on the kit.
First things first - this carbon fibre tripod is sooo light - in theory 1.6kg including the ball head, but it feels feather light compared to my older aluminium model. It also feels a lot more compact (46cm folded (when reversed) or 53cm when not) and I believe these two factors alone make it a must have for me. It means I actually want to take the tripod with me and make use of it (something I struggled with with my Manfrotto, unless I was driving somewhere to shoot).
One perceived negative aspect of how feather light the tripod feels (and possibly having four legs now compared to the three on the 190 also adds to that feeling) - is that I simply presume it's not as rigid when fully extended compared with my older 190. It's not unstable by any means, it's just that my reasonably light D7000 doesn't add much weight and thus the the whole package doesn't have that old anchor heft to it. When I move it about and plonk it down it no longer feels like I'm lugging and throwing down a sand bag anymore.
One definite plus however is the nice bag hook at the bottom of the centre column which totally offsets the above. Once my camera backpack is hooked on that feeling of it being light as a feather and blowing away in the wind (and it was VERY windy in the Blue Mountains when I was there for a week) completely goes away and the tripod feels totally rock solid.
Speaking of the centre column - I immediately swapped out the long centre column for the included short centre column. The reason for doing this is that the tripod can extend to 139cm high (not including the ball head (which adds another 10cm) and camera, etc) without raising the centre column at all (this is 20cm higher than my older Manfrotto). This is basically plenty high enough for me and you can extend the short column a little to gain a few extra centimetres. What this does buy me is the ability to splay the legs out practically horizontally which places the bottom of the short centre column just a few millimetres above the ground and gives me the ability to quickly do 17cm low height shooting - something which I've used a couple of times already - and very happy with that.
I was originally concerned about having the rotating style leg locks (the Manfrotto has lever leg locks - which were regularly pinching my fingers but I felt they were secure and quick to use). However after using the new rotating ones for a while now I'm fine with them - they only require about half a twist to work so they are probably about as quick to use and I'm now done with the finger pinching. I am however thankful for having anti rotation legs - even if all the leg locks on one leg set are loose you can rotate and tighten any of them without rotating any other loose legs above or below that lock (i.e. you don't have to lock or unlock the leg locks in any specific order).
The feet at the bottom of the legs are also more useful - where my Manfrotto had small solid rounded smooth feet, the Sirui has wider angled rubber feet which feel much more grippy and stable especially on slippery uneven ground like rock shelves, smooth floors and wet rocks. I've used this advantage to good effect a couple times in the Blue Mountains already. One potential disadvantage to this is that it is harder to push down onto soft spungy environments like thick heavy grass (especially if you're not weighing down the tripod). The feet also have retractable steel spikes which come out by rotating the rubber feet - I havn't used this feature yet but am sure it may come in handy one day.
Quality wise everything seems to be very well made and I havn't noticed any issues at all with the build or operation of the tripod - I've used it extensively over the past two months with lots of whole day outings carrying and manhandling the unit in all sorts of conditions and anyone who knows me knows I'm not one to baby my gear. Everything seems to work as expected and the operation of all the moving parts is smooth and trouble free so far. I've only taken it into the salty sea to do a seascape once so far but I don't feel any concern with doing so. It's obviously early days yet to determine any true measure of long term (years) ruggedness and build quality but I am optimistic.
Another absolute (and unexpected) joy has been the ball head with friction control. The kit I bought meant that the K20x ball head came basically for free and I was (and still am) intending on upgrading the head to a Really Right Stuff BH40 so I wasn't expecting a great deal from this head. That said, this head is sooo much better than my old Manfrotto 488RC4 ball head in every way.
My old 488 basically had two levels of friction on the head (completely locked down and fully loose) - I never felt like I could get it to work such that it was just a little loose and you could move the camera about in a controlled way before tightening it off. To use the 488 you basically had to loosten the ball to the extent that the camera would just flop over to the side before you could reposition it and lock it back off - this was very annoying and made it very painful when all you wanted to do was make fine positioning adjustments.
The K20x has a knob which basically allows you to set the level of friction on the head. It essentially sets the point which represents the loosest setting you can get to when loosening the main ball release knob. You set this to a point where when the ball is at it's loosest the camera doesn't move at all or much on it's own (unless it's tilted too far to a side) but you can with a little hand force smoothly reposition the camera and ball to your liking and thus it also doesn't simply drop to the side, etc. After you're done making your macro or micro adjustments you can then totally lock it off using the main ball locking knob as usual if you need and more often than not you don't even need to do that.
The other plus has been the small arca swiss style plate which comes with the head which I've basically left permanently on the camera. This means I don't have to screw it on and off the camera each time I want to use the tripod - a great time saver which can probably only be topped by using an L Plate which would also allow quicker horizontal < -> vertical orientation transitions.
In practical use this has been really very good - having a ball head which is easy to use, reposition and make sure micro adjustments without struggling or having the camera flop about is liberating.
All in all I've been very happy with this purchase both from a quality and functionality point of view as well as the extremely good value for money ($429 for a feature rich, tallish carbon fibre tripod and friction capable arca swiss ballhead).