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What's in My Kit, Episode 1: Tripods in the Age of IBIS
In this video I take a look at the FLM CP38-L4 II. A true beast of a tripod that overall I really liked, ...
I was surprised and pleased at how quickly I had received this new tripod, so upon receipt I immediately unpacked it and checked that everything was there and OK.
I set up all 3 of my big tripods. My first setup had the bottom leg sections retracted on both the FLM and the RRS TVC-24L, and then the Gitzo (with only 3 leg sections instead of 4) has laser scribe marks partway down the second leg section so that setting up on those plus the FLM and RRS without the bottom leg sections deployed, all 3 tripods were within a few inches of the same working height. The RRS is a 4-section tripod just like the FLM, whereas the Gitzo has 3 sections but packs and sets up taller than the FLM and RRS with their bottom sections retracted, but shorter than with all leg sections of the FLM and RRS tripods extended. The RRS is the TVC-24L, and the Gitzo is the GT3532LS (Systematic).
The first thing I noticed about the FLM is that the leg angle appeared to be clearly steeper (that is, a smaller "leg angle") than both the RRS and Gitzos which are spec'd the same at 25 degrees. A few weeks later, I finally purchased a digital protractor, and was able to confirm probably to within about +/- 0.3 degrees accuracy that the FLM is 23 degrees, and the other two are 25 degrees.
I don't want to get negative about the leg angle being smaller than 25 degrees which you had measured, so let me say that I understand a) other design and setup factors also influence stability and damping characteristics, and b) in spite of the FLM's smaller leg angle I think at least in the case of stability requirements for my still photography, the new FLM is something like 15-20% more stable on the average than the RRS at both their 3-section and 4-section leg extensions, and might be very close to the Gitzo, which really only matters to me in the case of panning video with a fluid head (which I haven't had the time yet to directly test). So, in the worst case the FLM's 23 degree leg angle (instead of being 25 degrees) is perhaps a "missed opportunity", on the other hand with perhaps heavier setups the slightly higher tubing compression (more vertical legs) may provide slightly better damping and resistance to overall vibration. I can tell from just tapping on the legs and placing some downward pressure on the apex with my hand that the FLM's resonant (natural) frequency is a bit higher than either the RRS or Gitzo, and that the amplitude of the vibration at the apex seems at least a bit smaller and better-damped with the FLM.
And two important notes here. The first is that my RRS is about 10 years old, and recently they did some redesign on it but still call it by the same model number, so it may be improved (as they have done the same with a few of their head in the past few years). The second thing is that Gitzo came out with the next generation GT3533LS about a year ago, and although they said that the tubing and some other changes improved stability (and is the model which The Center Column tested recently), I read another comment from a known photographer who said that the newer model seemed to have slightly poorer yaw stiffness (than the previous generation, which I have). Just FYI the fellow who does The Center Column testing has consistently demonstrated that the weakest stability spec of virtually every tripod is the yaw stiffness (compared to the pitch stiffness). I also think that he should place a bit more importance on the natural resonant frequency and damping characteristics -- these are often but not always available in his data, but are not specifically listed in his ranking tables.
Today I spent the afternoon with my Olympus EM1 Mark II and Leica 100-400mm lens, at 250cm from a clear sharp target at full zoom (400mm actual focal length on a μ4/3 camera, equivalent to the FOV of a 800mm lens on a "full-frame" camera); with either the CB-48FTR or the CB-38FTR heads the FLM tripod showed less vibration motion and better damping than the RRS, I would say easily about 20% better performance, maybe 50% or better in some cases, with both my tapping on leg sections and with twisting the camera grip gently in the yaw and pitch directions. So, I'm overall very excited about this. Eventually, my simple test rig will be able to plot motion vs time graphs and frequency spectra to more clearly quantify these differences, though not to the sophistication of The Center Column testing. NOTE: See my photos which I posted earlier tonight in a DPReview Accessories thread, it shows my setup.
The Gitzo does perform a bit better than the RRS, especially noticeable when zoomed in on a fluid head for video and I pan left-right, but I'll have to save that for my next round of tests. Not sure if I'll get to these tests, just a goal...just now we have to make a somewhat urgent trip to Japan in November for a month, so I'll see what I can do before then.
The bottom line then for now on the FLM CP34 II is that it is definitely a keeper; I will for sure sell the RRS, and I will still most likely sell the Gitzo, but I need to do some more testing to and make a final decision on if I think I might still need the Gitzo for some of my video situations. But probably not, we'll just have to wait and see...I really need to start downsizing anyway!
I also now have a precision laser distance meter, and I measured the distance from the top surface of the apex of each tripod to the ground, as follows:
Tripod Bottom Section Retracted All Leg Sections Deployed
FLM CP34-L4 II 55.95" (142.1cm) 71.73" (182.2cm)
RRS TVC-24L 57.28" (145.5cm) 74.48" (189.2cm)
Oh, two more things...ONE) as I thought might be required, I ended up getting an Acratech 1" spacer so that I'd be able to use my Benro geared head on the CP34, but actually even on the RRS tripod as well the geared head positioning is limited due to the leg hinges (and impossible on the Gitzo); and TWO) I thought that the FLM's metal twist lock rings would bother me, but not really, though I may still try to put some heat shrink tubing over them....or perhaps not.
The Center Column - FLM CP38-L4 II Review
These three tripods have been redesigned and are now even better! Find out which one is perfect for you, and pre-order before at a huge discount. This video shows the CP 30 LP-4 II and the CP 38 LP-4 II, and also provides specifications for the CP 34 LP-4 II. These tripods are incredibly well made, and are much less expensive than other status brands.
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