FLM CP30-L3S Tripod w/ FLM CB-48FTR Ball Head - a tripod setup review

Started Nov 28, 2015 | User reviews thread
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crowley213
crowley213 Regular Member • Posts: 385
FLM CP30-L3S Tripod w/ FLM CB-48FTR Ball Head - a tripod setup review
7

Preliminary remark

When reading this already quite long (!) review of my new tripod setup please keep a few facts in mind, hopefully it will help to classify my statements accordingly:

- photography is a hobby for me, I am NOT a professional photographer!

- this review will be subjective considering my needs, expectations and experience as well regarding photography as also regarding design and mechanical topics!

- I definitely do NOT want to start another “holy war” reg. equipment characteristics or preferences; people are different, therefore their needs are different… so as a logical conclusion solutions will be different!

My personal requirements reg. a tripod setup

Considering facts like

- I am 1.86 m tall

- my main cameras and lenses to be used on a tripod setup include at this moment a range from a Fuji X100T to a Nikon D750 w/o grip and a Nikon D300 w/grip with lenses like Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, Nikon 85mm f/1.4 D, Nikon 105mm Micro and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, optional with TC-17E teleconverter.

my requirements for a tripod setup therefore look(ed) as follows:

- max. possible stability considering existing camera gear w/ also some reserves, nevertheless definitely not considering potential gear like 500mm or 600mm prime lenses

- a solution that enables mobility reg. size and weight, nevertheless not necessary something like a travel tripod that you even can get into your carry-on luggage

- a trustable solution from a company with proven reputation

- even cost is also always a consideration I didn’t prioritize this point too high as you (mostly) get what you pay for

These my requirements also base a lot on my old tripod setup, which I owe since approx. 8 years, a Manfrotto aluminum tripod with flip locks and Markins ball head. No, it is not a bad setup, but I never ever got really “close” to it. Too clumsy (size and weight), not really stable, for example in windy conditions, so it rested mostly in our house. But a tripod you do not have with you will not support you in your shootings…!

Why (now) FLM?

Living as a German in Mexico I use also the standard U.S. sources, as well for information as for purchase. Therefore I started my selection process with the “standard” brands, as there are Manfrotto, Gitzo and RRS. I am absolutely sure that their equipment also is top notch, nevertheless none of their solutions really convinced me, a pure subjective “decision”!

Extending my search further by reading and comparing reviews and specifications I finally decided to go for a Sirui N-3204X tripod. At the moment I took the decision I even could get it down here in Mexico for a reasonable price, so I ordered and received it around two weeks ago. Assembling my “old” Markins ball head I also already could try out the new tripod. In general, a really nice tripod! The only problem at that moment: my old Markins ball head has a 90 degree knob offset, so the possibility to reverse fold the legs of the Sirui tripod caused a collision of one tripod leg with the knobs of the ball head and that way the tripod did not fold perfect. Not a big problem, just a fact to keep in mind.

As I already had decided to go also for a new ball head (e.g. for the folding issue), but I could not get my “preferred” Sirui ball head (K-30X) down here in Mexico, I decided to get the ball head during my next trip to the U.S. in December. Nevertheless I still checked the internet and read reviews, now especially reg. ball heads. Even the Sirui ball heads receive quite good reviews I finally contacted FLM Canada reg. their ball heads after reading the both tests here in DP Review reg. ball heads, where the FLM products also received good ratings. And from there it started…!

Yes, I am German, but I am definitely not a “believer” that it is just german craftsmanship that makes products stand out, or even better than “the rest of the world”. Therefore there is no connection between where I come from and where FLM products come from! What convinced me to give the FLM system a try was their outstanding support and service, in this case solely from Ari Tapiero, their Canadian representative. No matter what question I asked or ideas I had, Ari responded immediately with detailed informations and suggestions. Finally Ari made me a (commercial) proposal for the selected system that was not only absolutely interesting reg. price but also allowed me to try out the system and return it if necessary and also covered the problem to get the shipment down to Mexico. The final order process then was a piece of cake and two days later the shipment arrived at my home, from Canada to Mexico!

First general impressions

Unpacking the single components of my order, as there are the

- CP30-L3S tripod

- LB-15 leveling base

- CB-48FTR ball head

- SRB-60 quick release clamp

- HAS-45 flash shoe adapter

- FB 14-65 tripod bag

- some other gadgets like leg grip and tripod strap

confirmed immediately the in different reviews mostly stated impressions of high quality materials and craftsmanship.

Already here now a first “warning”: The ordered equipment has a total value of one and a half grand plus a few bucks if you order it for example at B&H! Add to that shipping costs from Canada to Mexico and you can imagine that one of the really important questions now for me also will be if I really got what I paid for. Also, if you have done your “homework”, you will recognize that you are here approximately in a price range not anymore significant lower than RRS, or top level Gitzo gear, but quite above brands like Sirui.

Tripod CP30-L3S

In upfront very subjective terms: A piece of equipment that just looks and feels great! Only the look and feel, but also first simple comparisons with my Sirui N-3204X tripod, make me quickly understand the price difference. Also, even more important, this first impression makes it very unlikely that I will return the FLM tripod and keep the Sirui instead, except I would find in my further testing any real deal breakers in the FLM tripod.

Remark: I am very well aware that I compare in here a 3-leg tripod (FLM) vs a 4-leg tripod (Sirui). But even taking this significant difference into account I dare to state that with some basic understanding of physics and mechanics a comparison still is possible.

Attention: At this moment as well the webpage of FLM Canada as the webpages of B&H and Adorama state a wrong max. height of the tripod w/ extended center column (I already informed Ari about this fact). The tripod reaches a max. height, measured standing on its rubber feet on hard and flat ground (spikes not extended w/ potentially soft ground) to the top of the base plate assembled to the center column, of 146 cm w/ not extended center column and 175 cm w/ extended center column. The wrong information in above stated webpages, maybe in other webpages also, states a max. height w/ extended center column of 185 cm!

As Ari stated, by immediately responding as always, he was up to this moment also not aware of this wrong specification. Measuring the same tripod he had available he confirmed my observation. Ari also stated that an “older” center column from this tripod line, which he also still had available, gave the tripod the 185 cm max height. So it seems FLM changed the length of the center column, for what ever reason.

A potential reason to use a shorter center column, as of my observations and resulting theory: With a shorter center column FLM enabled a complete reversed folded leg condition for all tripod and head combinations without touching the ball head with the legs / leg twist locks, what potentially could have caused problems, marks or even damages. At least with a combination of Series 30 legs with a CB-58 ball head I could easily imagine such a collision, considering the conditions of my setup.

Above stated mistake in the specification is no problem for me at all, as the tripod w/ mounted ball head (in my case even with leveling base, add. 45mm) reaches a sufficient height for a person of 1.85m w/ not extended center column. Therefore I definitely still have enough reserve reg. max. height, e.g. in uneven terrain. Nevertheless this mistake could cause a “problem” for an even taller person!

The folded length of the tripod, with reverse folded legs, of approx. 62 cm is at least for me a reasonable size and acceptable compromise. It is well beyond my old setup, that was around 80 cm, but is definitely larger than what you get with designated travel tripods.

The twist grip leg extension lock system is, at least for me, a pleasure to use. It takes just about a quarter turn in a smooth move to loosen the locks, the same is valid for tightening the locks. You never ever have the feeling as if you have to use a lot of force, especially to tighten the locks. In easy terms, it just feels right for me.

I have already read some critical reviews reg. the use of aluminum grips for the twist grip lock system. Personally I like them much better than the plastic / rubber grips as for example the Sirui system is using. As well the size as the form of the grips make them feel “just right” in my hands and support the easy handling of the locks. As we do not really have cold weather down here in Mexico I will most likely not face any problems in here in regards how they behave in cold conditions, as well reg. function as handling. If sweaty hands potentially will cause a problem reg. handling I have to figure out over time, but personally I am not overly concerned about that topic.

The leg angle lock system is also great to use. Considering that you want to unfold the legs from the reverse folded position into the working position and then later on bring them back to the reverse folded position you never ever have to touch the locks! Let me try to explain: Moving the legs down from the reverse folded position in the direction of the working position the spring loaded locks are active, what means they will lock automatically into each one of the three working positions. Moving them even further into a full stretched position, after the approx. 20 degrees working position, disengages automatically the spring loaded functionality so that you can move the legs backwards into the reverse folded position without having to press the locks so that they do not snap into the working positions. As soon as the legs reach the reverse folded position the spring loaded locks get again automatically activated, just by design.

The only time when you have to handle the locks manually is when you want to fold the legs back, e.g. into a more flat position, without first moving them into the full stretched position and then back to the reverse folded position.

A really clever and innovative concept that makes handling the legs plain and simple. Let’s see how this system works over time!

Another nice feature of the tripod are the integrated steel spikes in the legs. Integrated spikes means no need to exchange parts, to have the other parts always with you and potentially lose them. But the best aspect of this feature here is the handling. No need to screw in the rubber feet or screw out the spikes with whatever number of turns. It takes just a quarter turn of the rubber feet, then push it back to release the steel spikes. Then turn the rubber feet back the quarter turn (if you want) to fix it, that’s all. I also do not want to forget to mention the design of the steel spikes. It’s not just a steel cone as you can see quite often, in here FLM seems to use additionally a small hardened steel cylinder (approx. 2.5 mm diameter) within the cone that extends the cone approx. 2 mm. I can easily imagine that this hard tip supports to steel spike to dig into the ground and that way the spikes durability. Nevertheless it should be clear that having the steel spikes extended by error while using the tripod on your expensive wooden floor in your living room not only will give you a stable tripod stand but maybe also some other problems at home!

Again, another really nice and clever concept that definitely saves a lot of time.

At this moment I only discovered just a few minor features of the tripod that I would like to see improved, even it may be just small details, at least for me.

The base plate of the tripod, the one where you will mount your ball head or what ever else gear on and which you can mount either on the center column or the tripod base w/o center column, is in general also nicely designed. It uses as well a reversible 3/8”-1/4” mounting screw for the ball head or what ever gear you plan to mount on as a small counter screw to avoid a loosening of the mounted equipment. The counter screw even includes a nice design detail by using a plastic tip on top of the screw, so that the hard screw never ever can touch directly the bottom of the mounted equipment and potentially cause damages, at least visible marks. Nevertheless I would prefer the usage of three 120 degrees offset counter screws, as that way you could better avoid a potential one direction tilt of the mounted equipment when tightening the counter screw(s). But that’s just me with my mechanical background and I am sure even a three counter screw solution could cause problems if not used correctly.

The other potentially more severe issue: The tripod does not have fix leg protectors in the area where you normally grip the tripod legs, especially to increase comfort, even protect your hands, in cold conditions. Yes, you can buy separate so called leg grips and mount them around the legs, but it means additional parts you have to pay for and you again either need to have them with you or you even can lose them. Maybe FLM has reasons for this decission, maybe for some people it is not an important topic at all, but I am not sure that this is a solution that is applicable for such a tripod or will make everybody happy.

Quite useful also could be length markings on the lower leg sections, similar as the Sirui tripod has them. It would make equal leg extension, as soon as you do not extend them to their full length, a little more easy and faster. No deal breaker, just another nice potential feature that would not even cost a lot of money (as all my little suggestions!).

So, as preliminary summary in this tripod section: At this moment I really like what I see, can feel and already could test from an overall point of view. But I will definitely put the tripod now within the next days and weeks through different tests, especially regarding stability and handling, to see if it lives up to these first impressions and its not really low price tag.

Leveling Base LB-15

This is, at least from my point of view, the only component of the setup that does not live up to the high standards of the other components.

First of all, at this moment I cannot say anything negative about the basic functionality of the leveling clamp, it works as supposed. It operates with smooth movements and holds the gear safe in position. I also did not recognize, as stated in some reviews, that the tightening knob is too slippery to be tightened as necessary.

The reason I do not see this component on the same high level as for example the tripod or the ball head is based on the overall design. The used diameter of 60mm could easily be increased to at least 70mm, making the leveling base a potentially better fit for a series 30 tripod and ball heads like the CB-48 or even CB-58. Also an increase in height of around 5mm, resulting in an overall height of 50mm, would neither make the base to big or too heavy.

Increasing the size of the leveling base could then support the improvement of the for me most critical issue: The leveling base just has a reversible 3/8”-1/4” mounting screw to mount any equipment on it, there is no possibility to secure the mounted equipment for example with a counter screw. No, at this moment I have not faced an issue in this regards, but I definitely never ever want to face an issue in here. Plain and simple, to secure a piece of equipment like a ball head for a few hundred bucks with just a single screw with just a few millimeter of length is at least not what I would call a fully reliable solution.

Have a look at the Sirui LE-60 leveling base to understand what I refer to. Put the locking concept for the leveling function aside, but the features to secure the mounted gear are just plain and simple and for me at least one way to be considered for such expensive and valuable equipment.

An integrated bubble level would also be a nice feature, even you can get that function from FLM with the separate HAS-45 flash shoe adapter.

No, the FLM leveling base is not very expensive, at least compared to all the other components of the setup, but I would likely be willing to pay a little more for just a better design, that way having the same high standard as all the other components.

Ball Head CB-48FTR

As already written in the tripod section, again in upfront very subjective terms: Another piece of equipment that just looks and feels great.

Statements like solid and high quality materials and craftsmanship, smooth ball movements and similar are for me just obsolete at this moment, this is simply what you expect from such a product. Also, size and weight of the ball head is what you have to expect when you go for such a device, therefore this is also nothing to discuss. But there are some features that really need to be acknowledged!

Locking and unlocking the ball is definitely enabled with a lot of control over the process. The locking knob has in here a sufficient range to be operated in and also gives a good tactile feedback. I also never have the feeling that I need a lot of force to tighten the knob so that the ball is really locked up

At least for me at this moment the already most valuable and impressive feature: The friction control function, realized with the friction control ring. It just works perfect, reliable and easy to adjust. With some training and experience you even can adjust the friction control for different situations (e.g. different cameras with different weights, different positions of the camera) just based on the numbers printed on the ring, at least I already do so.

The panning lock function may potentially cause some critics, depending on personal experience and preferences. FLM uses in here a concept that is quite similar to the ball locking function, what means you have a lot of control over the strength of the locking, but you need more turns of the knob to fully lock the head. I am also still used to a more easy “just open or lock” functionality with just less turn(s) of the knob, but I start getting used to the function and its potentials.

As well the Tilt Lock as the PRS function seem to work fine, but to evaluate fully the behavior and benefits of these functions was still not on my priority list up to now. At this moment I just use the PRS function to quickly adjust the ball head position before folding the tripod legs in its reversed position.

The only “negative” aspect of the ball head I can see at this moment, at least if somebody would like to name it that way: This ball head definitely requires a learning curve, especially regarding handling, but also regarding full usage of all its functionality, options and benefits. Considering the expensive gear I mount on such a device I better handle the all the functions with care, what first of all for sure will slow me down, for example by having to look for a knob than just recognizing it by feeling alone.

Quick Release Clamp SRB-60

Not a lot to say about this clamp. It is a nicely crafted piece of equipment, works as supposed and has also an integrated bubble level, at least for me a useful feature. Its size also gives me a better feeling than the smaller SRB-40 version. Finally, using different brand l-brackets and lens plate for my cameras and lens, such a universal quick release clamp with screw knob seems to be the best solution, at least for me.

Flash Shoe Adapter HAS-45

A little gadget that fulfils its purpose to level either your tripod or the leveling base, as both do not have an integrated bubble level. But again, a separate part part with all its benefits and disadvantages that could easily be replaced by the function integrated at least in the leveling base, as explained above.

Tripod Bag FB 14-65

A nicely crafted tripod bag that fits the tripod perfectly.

Yes, I could claim the steep price tag for this bag, but as I would never ever have such expensive gear unprotected I personally consider the money to be spend for this bag as a necessary and useful investment.

Nevertheless, the fact that Sirui provides you with a similar high quality tripod bag with each tripod you purchase at no cost is at least for me an aspect to be considered also by other tripod suppliers, especially when their price tag is even on higher levels.

Other gadgets like leg grip and tripod strap

No, the leg grip I have still not used or needed down here in Mexico, therefore I cannot say anything about it beside what I already stated in the tripod section.

The tripod strap is at least for me a curiosity. An also nicely crafted piece of equipment, nice features like detachable hooks and an integrated pocket for tools. The only problem at this moment: I have absolutely no idea how to use it, means how to attach it to the tripod so that it works and makes sense. Even Ari, otherwise always the source for great support and solutions, seems to struggle in here, means he also has not really an idea.

Before I now come to my preliminary conclusion another “warning”, but in this case no need to worry, maybe it was just me.

Receiving the shipment, unpacking the single components and assembling the tripod setup was not a problem at all. The “problem” that finally caused me some headache, some time to figure it out with trial and error, accompanied by some cups of coffee and “helpful” advices of my wife… how the heck do you have to orientate leveling plate, ball head and quick release plate with their in summary 6 knobs plus bubble level of the quick release plate plus flash shoe adapter so that all fits in between the reverse folded legs w/o the legs touching the ball head or its components? If you ever should go for such a combo… have also fun with that interesting task! But don’t worry, there is more than just one possible position, and finally this also convinced me reg. the design and quality of this equipment.

My personal preliminary conclusion

What I could observe and test up to now in this tripod setup has in general convinced me!

For a final conclusion I will definitely have to do some more testing!

Beside the high quality of the products I consider also the great support from FLM Canada, in the person of Ari, as a very strong plus!

At this moment I have no regrets that I have spent such a lot of money for this setup!

As soon as I have the time I will add some images of the setup, to visually demonstrate and clarify some features and topics. I will also update my findings whenever applicable, necessary and useful. For sure I will also answer questions as good as possible.

Saludos

Herbert

 crowley213's gear list:crowley213's gear list
Fujifilm X100T Fujifilm X-T3 Fujifilm 16-55mm F2.8R LM WR
crowley213's score
4.5
Fujifilm X100T Fujifilm XF 35mm F2 R WR Leica SL (Typ 601) Leica SL 50mm F1.4 Nikon D300 Nikon D750
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