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Whenever you think about purchasing a new tripod head it’s very easy to imagine yourself satisfied with a safe bet made from one of the usual corporate manufacturers. Whether it’s a three way head, ball head, or perhaps one of the more precision based geared heads, many of us handing over our money to a big company are convinced that a matching set is the way to go.
All these companies operate on a massive scale, so finding a company like FLM, a small family run German firm who do not operate in the same way, is always going to divide consumers. Yet stop one second and just take one look at this ball head and you will perhaps be as spellbound as I was when I spotted this on the Speedgraphic stand at Focus on Imaging. It’s a piece of tripod art.
The model I requested for review is the FLM CB48FT Ball Head. It is robust in size, bigger than the average consumer tripod, so it’s aimed at the larger camera body market, perfect for a landscape shooter like myself with a hefty Canon 1 series body. Included was the QRP-70 plate and clamp set, FLM’s clever attachment platform. Although an L Bracket user myself, the clamp is not the generic Arca Swiss mount, so for this review I abandoned the bracket and attached the plate provided.
FLM CB48FT Ball Head: Handling
Right from the word go, you start to smile. The FLM Centerball 48FT has to be one of the most exquisite pieces of precision engineering I have ever tested, a build quality on par with Really Right Stuff. The materials and finish almost convinces you to reach for your wallet there and then.
Then there is the sheer amount of controls to play with. Unlike most ball heads that have a small horizontal pan control and a lock for the ball itself, the FT range adds another two –
- Main friction lock - for the ball itself. It also has a friction set collar to vary the bite.
- Pan friction lock - for horizontal movements.
- PRS knob, engages notches for precision panoramas (more on this in a minute).
- Tilt lock – stops the ball from moving in all directions and keeps the travel in one plane.
FLM CB48FT Ball Head: Performance
Attach the tripod plate to your camera with a screwdriver. It has cork on the base to stop the plate scratching your camera which feels far more substantial than the usual rubber coated plates. Then it’s very easy; simply place the plate into position on top of the grip, angling one side into the jaws and press down. The grip clicks and the camera can now be locked down with a lever on the side.
Now set the camera into position and lock it down with the Main Friction Lock. You can still turn the camera left and right so use the Pan Lock to stop horizontal movement. To engage the PRS functionality for precision panoramas, simply keep turning it clockwise. As you turn the tripod left and right, the ball head slips into notches; keep turning the PRS and the notches feel more pronounced. These can also be set to varying degrees using a small spanner.
FLM CB48FT Ball Head: Verdict
I found the FLM to almost second nature to use especially coming from my trusty Kirk BH1. The PRS functionality seems extremely valuable to me now as I no longer have to look at the ball head when shooting panoramas. I can capture rotational panoramas far quicker without the light changing. Just turn into the notch and shoot. Turn the PRS knob anticlockwise and I am back to smooth horizontal movements. Just excellent.
Many users will like the QRP 70 plate / grip system. Its solid, extremely well designed and gives you huge confidence that the plate is attached. For me, I am not so keen, but its personal choice, nothing to do with the design. I need the L Bracket approach for all manner of photographic reasons. If you would like your own plate system attached, then FLM can supply the ball head without it. Just specify.
The FLM feels smooth, precise and oozes quality, just like all German engineering I have ever encountered. When the time comes, I will be getting one without a doubt. I certainly don’t need convincing.
Priced at £199 the FLM CB48FT Ball Head is available from Speedgraphic.
Review by David Clapp.