CB-48 FTR Ballhead Review

Along with the CP30-L3s tripod that I recently reviewed, was a large ballhead also manufactured by FLM. This is the second part of the review that started with the CP30-L3s legs.

The finish of the ballhead is as professional and well put together as it was with the legs. FLM do not skimp on materials and the ball and casing is constructed of an aluminum alloy. The marketing literature simply states that this is a "high quality" aluminum alloy, so I can't report on any specific or special material that is being used. What I can report is that the materials feel sturdy and give off the sense that you could seriously abuse the unit before it actually malfunctions or breaks.

FLM Ballhead

One thing that I didn't particularly like about the finish, and this goes for the plate at the top of the tripod as well, is that connection surfaces between camera and ballhead and ballhead and tripod have a thin layer of cork. This is ostensibly to protect the underside of the camera and the underside of the ballhead respectively from scratches. The problem is that this thin layer of cork introduces flex into the entire system (think of it like shock absorbers on a car). I tried the ballhead on my Manfrotto tripod which doesn't have any protective (read that as "soft") material at the top of the tripod plate. There was less, if any, flex if I pressed down on the front of the camera lens. On the FLM legs there was some - not excessive - flex evident. Before I continue, I need to point out there are two schools of thought regarding soft material between the head and the legs of the tripod. Some photographers I have spoken to feel that this would dampen any vibration caused by the shutter, while others feel that there should be absolutely no play or flex between the head and tripod as this potentially introduces vibration. See the problem? I don't have conclusive evidence on either but personally lean towards the idea that the combination of head and tripod should be absolutely rigid, hence I don't want cork sitting between either my head and legs, nor between the camera plate and the camera.

In the review of the legs I also commented on the use of aluminium leg locks which I felt weren't perfect. FLM have used the same materials for the locking knobs on the ballhead. Again, I would prefer either a rubberized surface or alternatively slightly grippier ridges, but didn't feel that it was as critical for the head as it was for the legs. In fact, the overall usage of the ballhead left me impressed. When locked down, nothing seems to be able to move the ball. The clamp is phenomenally strong. There is little to no chance of the camera rig slipping once the locking knob is tightened...in fact, make that no chance (even with a baby gorilla sitting on the thing).

The CB48FTR is quite a complex head with numerous knobs sprouting from it. The largest is obviously the locking knob. It's easy to turn and lock and is extremely smooth in it's movement. It does take some getting used to though as you need to rotate the knob more than 360 degrees to actually lock the ball in place. You can also adjust the friction of the knob so that it moves loosely or tightly. This is useful if you have a heavy camera rig. Tighter friction makes it easier to shift the camera around with precision. I did find that I kept accidentally shifting the friction dial though. It didn't irritate me particularly, but is something that one should be aware of. Regardless, there does seem to be a longer throw in locking the ball than with a Kirk or RRS head. The feel of the locking mechanism is more akin to a Markins I find.

At the base of the head is the pan knob. This is a small knob above the marked panning base, which incidentally is marked in degrees. The pan movement was smooth and fluid. I really liked it, and even used it for some impromptu video capture using my D800. It also didn't wobble at all as I rotated around the pan base. This is something that I have found does occur on many units that I have tried. Despite the unit that I was loaned being a rental unit, and obviously having been used, it showed no signs of sloppiness or wobbliness in the panning movement. To make the ballhead more versatile FLM have also added a secondary pan knob labelled 'PRS' and fetchingly (sorry, I'll try to refrain from the occasional sarcasm) called the 'Pan Click Lock Stop'. When tightened the pan movement audibly and physically clicks at every 15 degrees rotation. This is very useful for anyone wanting to put together stitched panoramics. Essentially, take a shot at every click stop and you will be ensured of sufficient images to build a decent panoramic in post-production. The PRS knob does disconcertingly have a small flat head that juts away from the metal knob and is obviously attached via a spring. I was a little concerned that it is a physically weak and potentially breakable point on the head assembly. That said, it is a wonderful feature and one that I suspect I would use a lot as I often create stitched panoramics, both for my personal work and for my commercial work (I also suspect that this feature is particularly useful when combined with a leveling tripod - one of which I will be reviewing in Namibia in November). Interestingly, you can opt to remove hte PRS knob entirely, so if you are concerned about damage, just don't put it on.

Rather uniquely, FLM also have a fourth knob on the ballhead which they call the 'Tilt' (Negren) knob. Tightening this knob turns the ballhead into a locked tilt head. Basically, the ball can only move in one direction. I didn't get much opportunity to play with it, but can see the obvious value when using a large lens (in fact I was able to see it in action recently when a student from Germany brought a smaller FLM head to a workshop and used this function with her 100-400mm Canon lens). The problem with using a large lens on a ballhead is that when the locks are loose the camera and lens rig has a habit of flopping over to the side (pinching fingers in the process). By locking the tilt knob the photographer is able to only have tilt on the ball, pan on the panning base, and rotation on the actual tripod collar. This means for a far more stable wildlife setup without the addition of a gimbal head (a gimbal head is obviously superior, but weighs more and is a large addition to a camera bag if you are trying to minimize your equipment). Even in a landscape situation, the tilt function can be of use when composing using any lens with a rotating tripod collar. It might not be a regularly used feature, but it certainly has it's use.

QRB70FLM tripods are usually sold without a quick-release system for the tripod, coming instead with only a small cork lined disk around the usual reversible 3/8 inches screw. The screw itself can be entirely removed and reversed where there is a smaller 1/4 inch screw-head, allowing attachment of either 3/8th or 1/4 inch thread accessories.

For the purpose of the review Sunshineco. also supplied me with the QRB Quick release clamp. To put it in a nutshell, I fell in love with the quick-release clamp. I'm used to the usual locking clamp that one has to tighten a screw to shift the clamp over the lips of the dove-tail design camera plate. The QRB70 works beautifully, with a kind of lever switch that firmly clamps the plate into place. When the lever is released, the clamp is loosened, but not enough that the camera can be removed. A small easily worked safety button (bottom right in the image) stops the the clamp from opening fully and potentially causing the camera to fall off the head. Inserting the plate is simplicity itself. Push the camera, with plate, down into the clamp to engage the safety, then slide the lever over to lock the clamp. Brilliant.

There is one downside though to all this magnificent engineering. The clamp is NOT Arca-Swiss compatible. For many photographers this would be the point that they turn to a different clamp to put on the FLM head. The simple reality is that many, if not most, photographers with pro-grade equipment use Arca-Swiss compatible plates. To make sure that I wasn't being silly, I tried to insert plates made by Badger Gear, Wimberley, Really Right Stuff, Markins, Benro and Kirk. None of them fitted into the QRB70, and all of them are Arca-Swiss compatible. Possibly it's a patent issue, but nevertheless, this is a sticking point for many photographers.

That said, if you don't already have plate system, the FLM plates - like everything else they manufacture - are first class. There is little to fault (apart from the cork lining, but that admittedly is a personal preference, and one which some photographers may disagree with me over).

Overall, I was impressed by the head that I was loaned. It's a strong, versatile, easy to use and incredibly stable unit to have fitted to one's tripod legs. Deciding between it and a similar specced Kirk or the like, really comes down to a matter of whether you need some of the unique features of the FLM. Don't be put off by the Quick-release system either, as the head is extremely easy to convert to a different quick-release clamp and plate system. It's just a pity that the plate is slightly different as the Quick Release clamp is superb!

The CB48FTR is available at Sunshineco. for R4381 incl. VAT. And the QRP70 Quick-Release Set retails at R1814 incl. VAT.

CB48FTR Specs

Ball Diameter 48 mm
Camera Thread 1/4 Zoll
Head attachment thread 3/8 Zoll
Dimensions 65 x 99 mm
(Durchmesser x Höhe)
Weight 582 g

Max. Load

Controls

45 kg

Pan, Tilt, Pan Click Stop, Full Ball Movement, Friction Control

QRB 70 Specs

Bottom thread 3/8 inches
Dimensions 69 x 62 x 16 mm
(length x width x height)
Weight 98 g
Max. Load 60 kg

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.