FLM CentrePod CP26_S4S Tripod Review - Pint Sized Stability

CP26-S4S tripod

The reality about tripods is that not using or even having a tripod is really the last prize. Third prize is actually having and using a tripod. Second prize is having and using a tripod that is suitable or even adequate for the equipment that the photographer intends to have on it. First prize is having a tripod that can handle the weight of the camera, is easy to use and is stable as a rock to boot (bonus points if it doesn’t cost an arm and a kidney).


Enter FLM’s diminutive CP26-S4S tripod. This small carbon fibre set of tripod legs weighs about 1,2kg (if we’re splitting hairs it’s 1,23kg) and folds down to a packed length of only 44cm! As a serious tripod, the CP26-S4S is really small. Not so when extended thankfully. At full height without the centre-column raised, the tripod can reach 119cm. With the centre-column it gets to an extended 152cm. So, what’s to like and what’s not to like about the CP26-S4S?

Build Quality.


FLM is a German company with its headquarters and factory in Emmendingen in the south of Germany. The old adage, German precision can quite accurately be tagged to the tripods and heads that FLM manufacture. Yet, FLM is a relatively new tripod brand that still doesn’t quite have the following that the likes of Gitzo, Manfrotto or Velbon for that matter have. I suspect that it is only a matter of time though before FLM become more commonplace amongst the gear-bags of photographers.


The tripod legs are primarily made from 8x Carbon Fibre. What this means is that there are 8 thin layers of carbon fibre woven in different directions to maximise stability while keeping weight down. The theory is that the more layers of carbon fibre, the more rigid and stable the tripod legs will be. As it is, Gitzo - considered by many as the industry standard - use 6x carbon fibre. I cannot claim to have done any scientific load testing on either the Gitzo or the FLM tripods I have used to date, but, the FLMs do feel lighter. This is a good thing if you have to lug the tripod for kilometres into the mountains.


What I really love about the FLM legs are the wonderful leg locks. Right now, they are the smoothest, easiest to use leg locks I have had the pleasure to work with. Each lock only needs to be turned about 1/4 of a turn to lock or unlock. There is no ‘effort’ required either to twist the locks.


It comes with a downside though. The locks are notched aluminium, rather than having the usual rubberized finish. In my review of the CP30-L3S I was quite harsh with FLM for not rubberizing the leg locks. The folks at Sunshineco. went and spoke to FLM at last year’s PhotoFilm Expo in Johannesburg and were able to get back to me on this. Apparently FLM chose to not use rubber finishing on their leg-locks so that the locks would wear better over time. FLM have decided that rubber perishes over time, meaning that if they avoid using rubber, your FLM tripod will ultimately last longer! Okay, that’s a good point.


The rest of the tripod is a scaled down version of FLM’s larger tripods. The thickest tube has a diameter of 26mm, whereas the large tripods have a 30mm maximum diameter. The tripod is not intended for extremely heavy equipment (FLM states that the CP26-S4S can handle weights of up to 10kg), so 26mm diameter legs are fine. As it is I ended up testing the CP26-S4S extensively on a workshop in the Drakensberg. My primary equipment was a Nikon D800 with lenses that included a 24-120mm f4 and 16-35mm f4. The tripod handled the weight with aplomb.

Design and Features


FLM feet Leg angles

The Feet can be changed between rubber tips

and spike via a threaded rubber foot cap.

   

Leg angles have three locked positions

with a neat little click switch lockign the angles.

As mentioned, the overall design of the tripod legs is a scaled down version of FLM’s larger legs. Everything is identical except for the leg spikes and feet. With the larger legs there is a clutch mechanism that allows you to click between having rubber feet or a hard steel spike. The CP26-S4S has a scew-on rubber foot instead. In some ways I actually prefer this setup, although I recognise that there is the possibility of losing the rubber foot accidentally. To guard against this FLM have made the screw section extra long. There are seven teeth to the screw. To put this into perspective, a standard tripod base-plate screw only has three! The rubber itself is also nice and grippy without being soft and unstable.


Now seemingly de rigour, the CP26-S4S has the same folding mechanism as many travel tripods now have (see Benro, Gitzo, Sirui and many more for this). This means that the centre-column can be extended and the legs folded up and around the centre column with attached tripod head. It essentially shortens the packed length of the tripod by 10cm and considerably more if you travel with the tripod head attached. The downside is that the volumetric width of the packed tripod is increased as the lens don’t fold together to a point. In my mind the shortened length outweighs the negatives to the design as it means that the tripod can fit in that many more bags when travelling. This is particularly important when travelling by air, as the tripod will likely be packed into your clothes bag to go into the hold.


I am also quite taken with the leg angle locks on all the FLMs. Traditionally tripods that can change the leg angle have a sliding lock that you have to prise out to set to a particular leg angle. My hefty Velbon Mark-7G requires a considerable amount of effort to get the angle locks loose, and my old Gitzo Reporter has left me with blood blisters when I’ve pinched the skin between my thumb and fore-finger when trying to slip the lock back into place (and it stubbornly refused until it had flesh within it’s sights).


Another thing that irks me with tripods is the fact that they have a centre column. The centre column is the least stable part of a tripod and should only ever be used as a last resort. Joyfully, FLM have designed a fairly rugged and stable ground level setup into their tripods. With all of their legs it is possible to remove the centre column and mate it directly to the legs themselves. This means for a lighter rig and more stable package, albeit with the downside that you no longer have the extended height of the centre-column. To me this is a fair trade-off as I am fairly OCD when it comes to the rigidity of my tripods. As it is, the construction of the CP26-S4S opens the possibility of attaching a simple plate to the top of the legs in lieu of the centre column attachment. This is something I mentioned in my review of the CP30-L3S and something that I fervently hope that FLM will one day manufacture.

In The Field


My most convincing test of the CP26-S4S was a weekend workshop in the Drakensberg where it became my primary tripod. Despite having the tripod in my clutches for almost two months, I had tended to relegate it to backup tripod, or as a time-lapse rig while I set about with what I thought was the more serious CP30-L3L6 levelling tripod (review coming). When I toyed with the CP26-S4S more seriously it tended to have a tiny head mated to it with the diminutive Fujifilm XT-1 clamped on top.


The small CP26-S4S with the CB38-FTR ballhead made for an incredibly stable but light tripod platform for my Nikon D800. The legs extend with a silken feel to their movement. With largish hands it really is possible to unlock all three leg locks simultaneously to extend the legs (smaller hands might not be able to grasp all three locks at the same time). The height is just adequate for most imagery. A little shorter and I might have felt frustrated. As it is, FLM have several light tripods in the range, but the CP26-S4S is the smallest and most easily packed thanks to it’s small pack size.


That small size really pays it’s dividends incidentally. For the first time in ages I didn’t feel like I was lugging a tripod anywhere. Admittedly I’m used to carrying quite heavy tripods wherever I go, but this made it feel as if I wasn’t carrying a tripod at all. There really is no excuse not to use it.


Then back to my usual bugbear: the aluminium leg locks. I still don’t like the way they look. It’s just flashy in my opinion. Would it stop me from buying an FLM. No. I can live with the bling. One comment though. In the original review of the CP26-S4S’s bigger brother, I worried over whether the metal finish on the locks would make operating in cold weather or with gloves difficult. Working with the tripod on top of the Drakensberg in howling wind and temperatures hovering around and just below zero degree (centigrade) made absolutely no difference to the handling of the tripod. Possibly the metal was a little colder to handle, but I had gloves on most of the time, which didn’t slip, so I didn’t feel that the cold became a detriment to handling the tripod.

Rainbow Gorge
Image with tripod The small CP26-S4S is flexible enough that it can be used in unconventional ways, making it as useful as a larger tripod. The image above was the final result of the zetup. It required almost 9 bracketed images. There was no movement between the shots - something a good tripod is capable of doing.

 


Overall I was thoroughly impressed by the CP26-S4S. It doesn’t replace a large tripod, but it makes a superb travel companion. If you want a small, light but stable tripod this is a definite set of legs to consider. For most photographers you may not have to look further. With the rapid proliferation of mirror-less cameras, the CP26-S4S makes a perfect companion for small interchangeable lens camera setups. It might not suit a large medium format rig, and for that matter only just works with a large pro-DSLR. The point is that it can handle a D800 sized camera with relative ease. Hang some weight from it’s included hook beneath the centre-column and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more stable platform that weighs this little and takes up this little space.


The tripod is available from several retailers in South Africa at the moment, but imports are handled by the Sunshine Company in Cape Town from whom you can purchase AND rent the tripod. At the time of going to press the price for the legs was around R6,300 (including VAT). Compare this to competing brands and you may just find that this tripod can win first prize....with bonus points.

 

Ground Level kit

Specifications

Weight: 1.23kg

Max Height: 140cm

Max Height w/o Centre Column: 123cm

Min Height: 12cm

Packed Length: 52cm

Max Load: 10kg

I'll be reviewing the head that Sunshineco. sent me shortly in a new article.