I just bought the best tripod I have ever handled in my ~40 years of photography, and I thought I must share some info about it. I have owned, used or tested many of the well-known tripod brands over the years, but nothing in my experience comes close to the FLM Series II Carbon Fiber tripods. FLM is to tripods what Patek Philippe is to watches, but without the price tag.
I recently sold my 10+ year RRS TVC-24L, which had served me very well. But after I got my Sony 600mm f/4, I wanted something a little more robust, and I was planning to get a RRS 3-series tripod. After a perfunctory check of the latest and greatest from some of the other usual suspects like Gitzo, Novoflex, ProMediaGear, etc., I ordered a RRS TFC-34L, which was delivered a couple of weeks ago.
While searching for a good leveling base for it, I stumbled into what appeared to be the best leveling base, made by a boutique German company called FLM. But B&H, Adorama and other sources on Amazon were out of stock, which led me to a Canadian distributor who supplies the products to US retail outlets.
To bring the lengthy preamble to an end, on the FLM Canada site, while searching for the leveling base, I also stumbled into an announcement for a new Series II of FLM tripods. Curious, I read up about them and watched the videos on the site, and then ended up talking to Ari, who I believe runs FLM’s North American distribution. I found Ari very knowledgeable, aware and straightforward, and I found my discussions very useful.
Now to get to the bottom line, I ended up buying two FLM tripods, a CP38-L4 II and a CP30-L4 II. The numbers following CP in the model names refer to the diameter of the thickest tube in these tripods, so the CP38 has a 38mm thick outer tube, and so forth.
This was my final short list of tripods, and you can see how the FLM tripods stack up:
My CP38 was delivered yesterday, and it will be another month or so for my CP30 to arrive. And I returned my Really Right Stuff TFC-34L to B&H Photo.
Below are my takeaways after playing around with the CP38 for a few hours now.
The manufacture is nothing short of superb, and the tripod reeks of quality and excellence in every little detail. Every operation is crisp and smooth. The design is elegant and aesthetically pleasing. There is a Zen aspect to the design that has everything you need and nothing more or nothing less. I think FLM has established a new Platinum standard by which other tripods will have to be judged.
The handling and operation is very efficient and easy. With a half twist of the locking knobs, the leg segments glide out with silky smoothness, and it takes a half twist to lock them in place. Pushing the leg segments back is also silky smooth, with no resistance from trapped compressed air, etc. I didn’t have to wait for a break in period to get it to work without having to fight it along the way.
The locking knobs are made of darkened Aluminum. Having been used to rubber-lined rings for years, I was a little apprehensive about the metal locking rings, but no problem here – the texture on the rings is kind to the skin of your palm, and it doesn’t take much effort to tighten or loosen them, so the locking rings won’t leave your palms hurting after repeated use. They might be colder to the touch in snowy conditions, I suppose. But if it’s that cold, I’m likely to be wearing gloves, anyway.
The feet have screw on rubber tips, which should be good for most terrains. If necessary, they can be quickly replaced in the field with standard 3/8”-16 thread spikes.
The CP38 and CP34 come with a flared top that allow a bowl-type of leveling base to be added. I got my CP38 with a 100mm levelling base, which is another superbly machined item that is a pleasure to use. The CP30 has a flat apex.
Last but not least: the price of these tripods was VERY surprising. I am just amazed that these tripods are not the most expensive, as they probably ought to be, but the least expensive! That was an unexpected bonus.
Net-net: In a matter of just a few hours, the CP38 has become my “go to” tripod. I would highly recommend it to anyone with a need for a tripod of this weight class. I expect the CP30-L4 II to be no less impressive, and I’m eagerly looking forward to it. This should be an excellent alternative tripod for the times when I need a lighter tripod.
If there’s any gripe at all, I wish the CP30-L4 was a tad shorter when folded, so it would be easier to travel with as hand-carry luggage. Alternatively, I wish the CP30-S4 had a larger max height. Maybe FLM will come out with a version of the CP30, perhaps with 5-segments, that has the short folding length of the S4 and max height of 58-60”. If they do, I would buy one in a heartbeat.
Another wish would be for FLM to etch or paint the second leg segment (the first to slide out) with markers, e.g., 2” apart, so it makes it much easier to adjust the legs to the same height on flat ground. I was able to draw my own markers with a Sharpie, but it would be nice if the tripod came with these.
Hope that’s useful info.
San Jose, CA