To extend for a natural eye-level perspective, all the tripods on test give a maximum height of at least 1.61m and some stretch to around 1.9m. They also have minimum shooting heights with the tripod legs set at their normal angles, but there are cunning tricks you can use to enable really low-level shooting.
By opening the leg sections to wider angles, you can reduce the shooting height to just the length of the centre column.
To go even lower, the Slik PRO 500 DX Complete and Velbon Sherpa 600R have centre columns in which the lower sections can be removed. In all cases, you can remove the centre column completely, invert it, and shoot from ground level, with the camera upside-down, looking out from between the tripod's legs.
To save removing and refitting the centre section upside-down, the 180-degree pivot facility of the centre column in the Benro FlexPod A-297EX, Giottos MTL9361B and Vanguard Alta Pro 263AGH enables ultra-low shooting with ease.
Even so, for landscape orientation shots, you'll still end up needing to shoot with the camera upside down.
Conventional three-way heads are useful for making precise adjustments in architectural shots and photographing interiors. You typically get separate locks for pan, tilt and swivel, which enable you to make adjustments in one plane while the other two remain locked off. However, for general purpose shooting or when you want to react to situations quickly, they can be a bit fiddly and time-consuming.
Ball-and-socket heads enable freedom of movement in all planes simultaneously, with a single locking screw. This makes wide-ranging adjustments very quick and intuitive.
Some, like the Giottos MH 1311-652 head and Hama Omega Carbon II ball head, go further still with a separate lock which can be released to enable panning, while keeping tilt and swivel functions in the ball head locked. It's particularly useful for taking a series of photos that you want to stitch into a panorama image.
Another bonus, featured on all but the Benro BH2-M ball head in the group, is an adjustable friction damper, which makes the head easier to use with differing weights of camera and lens combinations.
A more modern alternative is the joystick head, often called a pistol-grip head. This is basically a ball-and-socket head with a hand grip and trigger action for releasing and reapplying the clamp. It's featured in the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AGH head on test.