The overall design is very similar to what we have seen from other systematic style tripods. If you have been shopping for a tripod in this segment, the FLM will appear very similar to others you have likely seen. We’ve got fat legs, twist locks, pull tab angle selectors, teardrop feet, and a big wide top plate to cap it all off. This is by no means a bad thing, as it is a proven design without any glaring weaknesses. The one innovative new feature is the inclusion of a built-in video bowl for use with a leveling base. This has some advantages and disadvantages that we will discuss further below.
The build quality of the FLM is excellent. All of the metal parts are made of machined aluminum and are anodized and finished in a manner that is on par with the other top tripod brands. The overall fit, finish, and smoothness of operation is perhaps not quite at the same level as Really Right Stuff, but the difference is negligible. It is only apparent to me when handling the tripods together and doesn’t affect field usage. Overall I am very pleased with the build quality.
The leg locks are of the ubiquitous twist lock variety. The locking feel of these is merely average. There is no problem with performance, but it doesn’t have quite the same snug feeling that one gets from RRS and Gitzo. The exterior of the lock is bare metal, not covered by a rubber grip as is typically seen. The grooves provide plenty of friction with a hand to properly tighten the lock with a bare hand, though it may be an issue with some soft gloves. I typically prefer rubber on the locks, but this is personal, and you may feel differently.
The included feet are of the rubber teardrop variety, and screw into the bottom of the last leg section via a standard 3/8″-16 screw thread. These are my favorite style feet as they are both compact and versatile. Their wide stance also allows the foot to maintain contact with the ground even when the legs are spread to their widest setting for low-angle shots. A set of spikes are included for use on soft or slippery surfaces. These are fairly long compared to most spikes typically included for free with a tripod. They are long enough to provide a solid footing in sand and snow. The downside of the length is that they make storage awkward. Pick your poison. Both sets of feet come with a rubber O ring to prevent dirt and water ingress. This is a nice touch I haven’t seen often.
As mentioned above, the top plate is the most unique design aspect of the CP38-L4. Instead of a hollow ring into which various top plates drop into, the FLM has a built in 100mm video bowl. If you intended to use a video head or leveling base, the benefits here are obvious. You don’t need to insert a separate piece into the tripod to make that all work and you save the weight and complexity of those attachment mechanisms.
For use with a standard head, the included top plate is simply held firmly by the three machine screws shown above. This works just fine, but is somewhat time consuming to perform the swap. If you are the kind of person that frequency switches out the top on your systematic tripod, this will get annoying really quickly.
Presently there is no option to fit a center column to the CP38-L4. I don’t think it is impossible given the size of the hole in the video bowl, but any such solution will have to be custom to this tripod. You won’t be able to just buy one of the myriad of center columns available for the Gitzo style top plate locking mechanism.
The FLM features pull out tabs to select the angle of the legs. This a proved design, and is implemented well here. The tabs are easy to grip and pull out. They are spring loaded to stay open while moving the leg up and snap back in when moving it down. No issues here.
Carbon Fiber Quality.
The CP38-L4 appears to feature the same Japanese carbon fiber tubing we have seen on several tripods now such as those from Leofoto and Colorado Tripod Co. I can’t confirm that, but the external appearance and statements about the sourcing of the tubing (Toryaca) all point to a similar point of origin for the tubing. While this tubing doesn’t appear to be quite as good as the best stuff we have seen, it does appear to offer the best price to performance ratio, and creates some of the best value tripods we have seen. The FLM is no exception to that.