FLM CentrePod CP30-L3s Tripod Review

I have a thing for tripods. It’s practically an obsession, evidenced by numerous three-legged apparatus littered about my studio. So I’m fairly serious about decent stability in a tripod. My first experience of an FLM tripod was with a student of mine last year who brought one with him on a workshop in Zululand (he was a Kiwi working in London). He spoke quite highly of the tripod, and piqued my interest enough that when Sunshineco. sent out a flyer advertising the FLM line, I asked to see a rig and potentially write about it. In short order the folks at Sunshineco. sent a CP30-L3S tripod mated to a Centreball 48FT ballhead to me in Durban - just in time for a workshop in the Drakensberg.


According to the FLM site and brochure, the company is a small family owned business operating from Germany. The name FLM is ostensibly derived from; Photographic (in German), Lighting and Metrology - all of which require exacting and stable placement of equipment. To this end, FLM use high-tensile aluminium and 8x Carbon Fibre for their tripods. The legs of the tripods have 8 weaves of carbon fibre (hence 8x), meaning that the tripod is theoretically extremely rigid and strong for it’s weight. The nomenclature identifying the legs goes along the lines of CP (Centre-Pod) 30 (for the largest tube diameter), L (size of the tripod with Large, Middle and Small as options) 3 (for the number of sections with the choice being between 3 or 4) and S (Centre-column variant with currently only the Simple being an option). The range is relatively small with only centre-column tripods currently being produced in leg diameters of 30 and 26mm and a leveling centre-column as a variant (review hopefully to follow soon).

FLM_tripod_compared One of the first things that struck me with the tripod when it arrived was the weight. My wife even commented on it when the box containing the tripod and head arrived from Sunshineco. (I was on a shoot in Joburg so didn't get to see the tripod straight away). The tripod is surprisingly light. This doesn't mean that it's a featherweight by any stretch of the imagination. However, compared with similar specced tripods from the likes of Gitzo, Manfrotto and Benro, the FLM is noticeably lighter. This can be a two edged sword, but in terms of carrying the FLM, lightness is a good thing. While walking on the 14km (round trip) Tugela Gorge walk in Royal Natal and the Rainbow Gorge Walk in Cathedral Peak, I never felt that the tripod was too heavy to lug about. That isn’t to say that some people won’t find the tripod heavy though. With the head it weighs 1.5kg, but as I mention above, it is not heavier than any other comparable tripod. In fact I found the whole rig comparable in weight to my usual walking tripod which is a Manfrotto Carbon One 441 mated to a Kirk BH-3 ballhead.

My first niggle with the tripod has more to do with the looks of the rig. The twist locks on the legs are made from a light aircraft grade aluminium, and are silver. Unlike most other manufacturers, FLM have opted to leave the locks bare, without any rubberized coating. This is not a good idea in my opinion as I found that my grip to unlock the legs often slipped on the smooth, albeit notched, metal surface. I didn’t have to use gloves as we are well onto our way into summer, but suspect that gloved use is going to be difficult.

There is good news about the locks though. They are some of the smoothest, easiest to turn locks I have ever used (despite the lack of rubber finish). One of the photographers on the workshop had a new Gitzo Series 3 Systematic tripod with which I could compare locks. Personally, although I preferred the feel of the Gitzo locks, the actual locking action was smoother and more definite on the FLM. It was good enough that I didn't once struggle to release or tighten the locks. I was even able to unlock and extend sections with a single hand. According to FLM there is a type of gasket to ensure that water and dirt don't enter through the locks. This certainly seemed to work as the legs were constantly being used in and out of the Berg streams.

Like most top-end tripods, the FLM is capable of having it’s legs adjusted so that they lie completely flat against the ground (you need to remove the centre-column to achieve this and leaves the base of the head 12cm above ground). I found changing the various angles on the legs extremely easy. I also really liked the locking button at the top of each leg to set leg angles. It’s a double catch button that is easy to press in or out so as to either lock the leg at an angle or allow free movement. Again, I preferred this to the Gitzo and my own Manfrottos which have a tendency to catch (the Gitzo can be a nightmare in cold weather as it requires a tab to be pulled out with one’s fingers).

FLM_without_centrecolumnI personally am not a fan of centre-columns. I have taken a hacksaw to one of my Manfrottos and have the other usually with the ground-level kit (which I find is inadequate for truly stable support) attached. The centre-column is usually the least stable part of a tripod. This is why Gitzo, Really Right Stuff and Manfrotto make tripods without centre-columns in their top end lines. FLM have a really elegant solution that creates a pretty stable system without the centre-column. Essentially, the user can unscrew the plate between the column and head, unscrew the bottom hook (for hanging weight to the tripod), remove the centre column, unscrew the centre-lock twist lock and replace this with the plate and hook. This does leave a screw thread exposed, but means that the tripod is fractionally lighter, can get to ground level and theoretically has greater rigidity and stability thanks to a move solid contact between the three legs and head (potentially not as good as the Gitizo systematic, but so close that one would be splitting hairs looking at the differences). Since I do a lot of low level work, I had the centre-column removed for most of the weekend. However, on the few occasions that I did use the centre-column, I was impressed with it’s rigidity. The column is definitely useful for that extra bit of height that is sometimes required.

In terms of rigidity, I was extremely impressed with the FLM. There is always some flex in the leg at full extension, but it was comparable, if not identical to the more expensive Gitzo GT3530 that was also being used during the workshop. Height was also identical without the centre-column.

The tips of the legs also have neat feature with rubber ends that slide via a bayonet catch to reveal steel tips. The catch does slip from time to time, but having quick access to tips or rubber footing was actually more useful that I had previously realized. I found myself using the steel tips quite frequently in fact.


As a last feature, the tripod incorporates the comparatively new folding design found in Gitzo and Benro tripods that allows the legs to fold up and around the extended centre-column in order to reduce the packed length of the tripod. This also comes in handy if you want the camera to be as low to the ground as possible without having to remove the centre column (note that this is not recommended by FLM as there are no angle locks for the legs to rest against, so the whole rig isn't as stable as it would be if one were to reverse the centre-column. Simply whip the legs up so that the camera is upside-down and you get it as low to the ground as the camera’s prism hump allows. Of course this pointless once the centre-column is removed, but fantastic if you keep the column attached. This means that the full tripod can pack down to 62cm, but extends to a full 185cm (that's taller than most photographers).

FLM_heightIf I had the ear of the FLM engineers, I would suggest rubberizing the twist locks (please, in anything but easily scratched silver) and coming up with a design that doesn’t have a centre-column. Looking at the design of the legs this would actually be extremely easy to achieve. I suspect that anyone with a lathe would be able to do this as FLM have created an extremely simple, easy to maintain and service design for the shoulder portion of the tripod. The nomencalture of tripod (mentioned above) suggests that such a design is actually highly likely.



I am truly impressed by the FLM tripod that I used over the weekend. I appreciated it's weight and ease of use in particular. I never felt that the tripod couldn't handle the weight of my equipment either (Nikon D800 and D3x with the largest lens used being a 80-200mm f2.8D). In South Africa there are few pro-spec tripods easily available and many photographers resort to importing from the U.S or Europe. Sunshineco. list the CP30-L3s at R7465 including VAT (as of October 2013). This is significantly less than the Gitzo Mountaineer and Systematic tripods as well as they Manfrottos of similar spec. I don't like the feel of the locks, as I have mentioned, but would be happy to live with this since the rest of the tripod is phenomenal. I would be hard-pressed if given the choice between a similar Gitzo or the FLM. My best advice would be to consider the FLM as as an option if looking for a top-quality tripod (on the myth that Gitzo makes hte world's best tripods, read this interesting post by professional photographer and educator Richard Bernabe). Best of all, Sunshineco. rent the tripods out, so it's possible to try out the legs first before buying. I'll have a little more to say in a follow up article on the ballhead (48FT) that was supplied with the tripod leg


Weight: 1.5kg

Max Height: 185cm

Max Height w/o Centre Column: 145cm

Min Height: 12cm

Packed Length: 62cm

Max Load: 15kg

Sunshineco. will be displaying the the FLM range at the Coca-Cola dome in Johannesburg during the Photo and Film Expo between the 31st October and 3rd November 2013.

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