Field Test: FLM CP-26 Travel Tripod

Although I receive many requests, I don’t do many reviews or field tests partly because there are plenty of review sites already, and mostly because I’d rather focus on the things that really inspire me. So when I do spend the time to create one, I only want to do them for the gear I really enjoy using and feel comfortable recommending. That list is small, but read and watch more to see why FLM is on it. 

I’ve been using an FLM tripod as part of my regular camera kit for almost two years now, and what I’ve enjoyed most about it is that it allows me to focus on what matters most, being creative.

As I’ve stated before, I want the gear I use to be almost invisible, allowing me to concentrate on the real challenge; making meaningful images. I know that unless I can invest all of myself to the task at hand, I will probably not make the best image I’m capable of.

And if I can manage to keep the camera from getting in the way, I certainly don’t want to deal with a tripod that has a mind of its own. I’m sure we all know what that’s like, which is why tripods are increasingly seen as a hindrance by many.

With the increasingly high ISO capabilities of today’s’ cameras, it’s easy to get sharp hand-held images. And that’s great in many situations. But using a tripod effectively can do more than simply keep your camera rock steady. It can help you capture motion, capture lower light levels, and most importantly limit your creative options. Yes, you read that right.

My experience has been that using a tripod keeps me more focused on fewer possibilities and that often leads to better images. Instead of bouncing around from one location to another, I spend more time refining and improving an idea. I slow down and become more patient, and more aware, allowing the light to come to me instead of chasing what might happen.

There are many good tripod options available today, and ultimately you should choose based on your preferences and your budget. But keep in mind the classic saying: you get what you pay for. If you really want a tool that becomes transparent to the process of making an image, don’t think of it as an expense, but as a wise investment.

Travel tripods are popular today for many good reasons. They are easier to carry and travel with, and with the lower weight requirements of mirrorless cameras, the tripod can be smaller and lighter. I’ve always relied on a “full size” tripod, even with my Olympus E-M1, but when FLM announced a travel tripod last year, I was intrigued.

I’ve been field testing it for over two months now, and to my surprise, it feels and performs like a smaller version of its bigger brother, the CP30 which I previously reviewed. The CP-26 is incredibly light, very strong and sturdy, easy to setup and adjust, and most of all it encourages me to use a tripod regardless of the situation or location. Let’s go over some of the details.

The CP-26 Travel Tripod Kit

I got the travel kit which includes the CP-26 Tripod, and the CB-32F II ball head and clamp, all inside of a nice black velvet protective pouch with draw cord. The first thing I noticed when taking it out of the pouch was how sturdy and well built it felt. The machining is beautifully done with smooth edges along the metal knobs which makes it easy to hand tighten. The rubber grips along the leg sections feel durable and very grippy, making adjustments solid and secure.

One of the potential downsides to travel tripods is that they often use five or more leg sections in order to get the closed length as short as possible. The more sections in a tripod leg, the higher the degree of flexibility which leads to less stability overall. This is one of the major reasons I’ve avoided travel tripods in the past, and I have to admit I was apprehensive about this one as well.

More leg sections also make a tripod harder to setup and adjust, especially when the design is less than ergonomic. The CP-26 uses five sections but suffers from none of this.

My fears were laid to rest as soon as I fully extended the legs and mounted my Olympus E-M1 onto the head. It was solid and study, yet was easy to pick up and move around. Then I mounted my Canon 1DS Mk III with 70-200 lens, and once again felt solid and well balanced.

Once I extended the legs outwards to lower the camera position, I could definitely feel some flex, but this is to be expected given the weight and length of the legs. In the real world, I would shorten the legs to lower the camera position thereby increasing the overall stiffness of the legs.

FLM also includes a set of steel spikes that can be swapped in for the rubber feet for those wintery days where you need to keep steady on snow and ice.

Size and Weight

Fully collapsed the tripod is 15.3” in length and weighs 2.8 lbs. This fits easily inside carry-on luggage or smaller sized camera backpacks, Maximum height with the center post is 55.9”. I generally remove the center post because it allows me to get the tripod lower to the ground without it. Maximum height without the post is 48”.

The CB-32F ball head is 3” in height, so that brings the total height of the tripod without the post to 51” and 59” with. While not at eye-level in either case, it’s a compromise I’m willing to make for the savings in size and weight.

Ease of Use

Another important consideration for me is how easy it is to setup the tripod; opening the legs, locking their angle, extending the sections to the desired height, and mounting my camera. It feels like I do this countless times during the course of an outing, and if it becomes a point of resistance, then the less I want to use it.

The CP-26 invites me to use it – that’s how easy it is. The locking mechanisms are intuitive, and the beefy rubber grips make adjustments a non-issue.

While I generally like to carry my larger tripods by hand when hiking, the CP-26 was easy to carry attached to my backpack without disrupting my center of gravity.

Because the leg sections are shorter, it’s also easier to get the camera closer to the ground for macro or deep perspective images where you want to emphasize the foreground.

Conclusion

As I like to answer, my favorite camera or lens is the one I have with me when I need it. The same goes for a tripod. While a larger, heavier, and sturdier tripod is optimum when you want the very best performance, it does you no good at home or in the trunk of the car. The CP-26 makes it easy to bring a tripod along for any hike, or any flight on a dedicated photo trip or summer vacation.

Are there downsides to the CP-26? Hardly any except the one that may be most important to you; the cost. This isn’t the cheapest tripod by far, and you will have to think of it more as an investment than an expense. There are cheaper travel tripods that offer nearly the same quality.

However, FLM is a family owned and run business that is dedicated to making the very best tripods in the business. Sales and distribution in North America are handled by FLM Canada, which is essentially a one-man operation.

Ari Tapiero is head of FLM Canada and his pre and post sales support is exceptional. Ari is one of us, a photographer at heart, and because of that, he knows what it means to earn a customer’s loyalty. I never hesitate to refer students and friends to Ari and FLM. I have yet to receive anything but positive experiences before or after a purchase.

But the best feature to me is that you will hardly notice you’re using a smaller, leaner tripod. There is little compromise in strength and stability, and the benefits far outweigh the extra time needed to extend the legs. If you want to enjoy the multiple benefits of using a tripod in any photographic situation, there’s no excuse not to have the FLM CP-26 with you all the time.

Kit Reviewed

  • FLM CP-26 Tripod
  • FLM CB-32F II Ballhead
  • FLM SRB-40 Clamp

Big thanks to my son Bryce for handling all the filming! 🙂

Feeling Instead of Seeing


Fog and Trees, Hudson Highlands / Olympus E-M1, f5@1/25th sec, ISO 400, 43mm (40-150mm f/2.8 lens), no filters – developed in LR 6.10

“If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.” – Hal Borland

I’m often asked how to stay inspired when visiting familiar locations, especially when they are places you have visited many times. The answer I provide is often not the answer people want to hear.

There are many things I suggest, but the most important one I believe is simply letting go. Let go of the desire to make a successful image; of the desire to see more deeply; of the search for something more to see.

The harder you try the more difficult it becomes. The more you search for an image, the more elusive it is, especially when you’ve seen it all before.

Making images in familiar locations is not really about seeing, it’s about feeling. There has to be something that resonates with you, and that is what’s new and fresh, and inspiring. And that’s what most don’t want to hear.

For you to feel, you have to open yourself to the experience, to complete awareness of your surroundings and how you are responding. It requires clarity and presence, a willingness to notice each moment.

For that to happen you can’t be engaged in the activity of trying to see something new. In fact, I’d argue that you’re in a better place creatively and emotionally when you’re not trying to see. I promise you nature will give when you’re willing to give to it, versus thinking about taking.

The seeing is unavoidable as long as your eyes are open. It’s the feeling that creates the image, the impression that leaves something memorable in your heart. That subtle shift makes all the difference because you are now working from within, and that’s where creativity begins.

Then you can use all of the skills you’ve developed to translate that into a photograph. Careful use of composition and camera technique, applied in creative ways, yield images that pursue your inner voice, your unique way of seeing. And every once in a while, you come away with something memorable that you can look at.

But you will always come away with a meaningful experience. That starts with letting go of the seeing and making space for noticing how you feel.

New “Ask Me Anything” Video Series

As part of my ongoing effort to create more videos to share and inspire, I’m starting a new “Ask Me Anything” video series that I plan to record monthly. You’ll be able to submit questions on any topic related to photography and creativity, and anything else I can help with.

I was recently asked by a student if I would consider being a “life-coach,” and while I was flattered, I’m still learning every day how to best live a creative life. In the meantime, I’m willing to share all I’ve learned during my photography career and my other creative pursuits, which has now spanned close to 40 years.

If you’d like to submit a question, please visit the Ask Me Anything page. The first video will be released on my youtube channel early next week!

How to Find Long Term Motivation

 

How often have you come across the phrase “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey?” It’s an idea I’ve promoted over and over again and it still remains my particular approach to creativity and one I believe is mostly true.

Yet there is a deeper question that I want to address. What is it that fuels your creative passion? What makes every creative act possible? What makes you want to continue on the journey?

I believe it’s motivation. Without motivation, it’s difficult to do anything well, never mind something as demanding as art. But motivated by what? To do what? That’s what I want to explore further.

There are many ways to think about creativity, but my experience has been that creativity involves a series of persistent failures with the potential for success. I’m not suggesting that’s all there is to creativity, but it reminds us that failure is the norm, not the exception.

If failure is a given most of time, how do you stay motivated? This is not a trivial question. Yet it’s probably the single most important question for the industry that’s built up around photography. You see if you don’t stay motivated, you stop spending time and money on the materialistic aspects of photography.

If you think that motivation comes from acquiring new tools, whatever they might be, then you are in for a surprise. Yet the industry tries to convince you that in fact, that’s the best way to stay motivated. Who doesn’t get motivated by a new camera, or lens, or expensive accessory that promises what we all want: images that make a difference.

Already have those things? Maybe a photo trip or workshop to an exotic location is what you need. Or a new printer to bring your images into the physical world. Maybe new fine art papers to get you printing again. I’m not suggesting these things are bad or don’t provide real benefits. Yes, sometimes they’re even necessary.

Yet for the most part, they only provide short-term motivation, likely to run out of fuel before you realize it. Making images the resonate requires dedication to the art and craft of photography over the long term. That requires motivation that comes from within.

Going out over and over again and trying to do something really difficult takes deep motivation. How do I know this? Because I’ve been seeking creative motivation my entire life. And the only consistent source of motivation I have found is the satisfaction I get when I make a difference in someone else’s life.

It can be large or small, significant or subtle, maybe even indiscernible, but it still makes the effort worth it for me. It’s not about my ego, but rather about others.

Communicating what I feel when I’m in nature so that someone else gets a sense of that, even if for a brief moment, is what keeps me motivated. In order to make that happen, I need to focus on the most important thing.

Of course, the journey is important, probably the most important aspect overall of pursuing creativity. But any journey needs sign posts, places to rest, islands to land on and take stock of progress. It needs to provide positive feedback that enables you to make true progress.

Making progress on composition and personal vision is the most important thing. It’s the hardest way to go, but the most satisfying by far. When you focus on vision, others notice and provide feedback on your creative journey.

Positive feedback adds up to fuel motivation, to remind us that the time and effort we spend are worth it. After all, time is the only thing that continues to gain value until we are finished here on earth.

So what is positive feedback? When someone looks at your image for a little longer than usual, longer than you’re used to. When you realize that your way of seeing the world has made an impact; when it’s resonated positively with someone. When it makes someone realize that the simplest things in nature really are worth celebrating. There’s no better feeling.

That is where true lasting motivation comes from for me. Is that where your motivation comes from? It can, but you have to make it so.

Please leave your feedback and comments below – I always enjoy hearing your perspective!