FLM CB-24FB PRP-45 Ball Head & QR

Last updated January 20, 2014

Introduction

FLM (Foto Light Metrology) is a German company, located in Emmendingen, and is a family-owned and -run business. They were founded in 1993 by the main architect and mechanical engineer, Mr. Werner Bürklin. There's also FLM Canada who are their North American distributors, as well as the Hong Kong branch, FLM (HK) Limited.

The CB-24FB PRP-45 Ball Head and Quick Release System from FLM pairs the CB-24FB ball head with the PRP-45 quick release system, and is what we're reviewing here. It is not FLM's smallest ball head, which is based on an 18mm ball - but rather the second smallest, at 24mm. Likewise, it is not FLM's simplest ball head - which only features a friction control. However, it is the smallest ball head in their line up that offers both pan and friction controls. From here, the ball sizes go all the way up to 58mm and start adding features like tilt and pan lock, a PRS function, degrees of rotation marked on the base and a friction memory ring (none of which are offered on this model). It represents a nice compromise on size and the minimum set of features we'd go with.

The PRP-45 quick release set is an entry-level kit. For the Leica M (and compact) cameras, it's a good compromise on capacity, weight and cost without resorting to more advanced L plate-based quick releases.

Astute readers will notice that this ball head and quick release are what the Leica Ball Head 24 is based on.

Specifications

Material Aluminium
Height 3.2"/81mm (70mm ball head only)
Diameter 1.4"/35mm
Ball Diameter 24mm
Weight .5lbs/227g (137g ball head only)
Camera Threads Male, 1/4"-20
Tripod Threads Female, 3/8"-16
Supports 33lbs/15kg
Controls Separate pan & friction
Price $199 USD
Quick Change Disks $6.80 USD

Construction

The ball itself (24mm in diameter) and all surrounding parts are made from machined aluminum. There are no plastic parts to be found anywhere. In fact, the only thing that's not aluminum is the cork wafer sitting atop the quick release head and the 1/4"-20 stud. The overall feel of the build is solid and lightweight. It's lighter than most Leica lenses, especially the anodized black, aluminum-barreled ones! There are no rattles or looseness of any of the parts, including the knobs.

The main housing of the ball head is black, as are the control knob bungs. Most everything else is a dark silver anodized aluminum finish. The logo, part number and "Made in Germany" are silk-screened on the body in white. Clean, elegant and low key. The quick release system is similarly all-black, save for the lock adjustment which follows the other knobs in dark silver. The quick release plate is black (matching black Leica bodies well).

Operation

There are two controls on the CB-24FB ball head; namely pan and friction. They are essentially screw knobs; you can apply as little or as much pressure as you'd care to. The pan knob loosens the ball head's outer shell from the innards and allows for a butter-smooth left/right panning action. Similarly, the friction knob loosens tension on the 24mm ball at the heart of this head. Anything from floppy to completely rigid can be dialed in precisely. There is a notch in the casing to allow for 90º vertical/portrait orientation shooting.

The quick release system has one control; the lock adjustment. Loosen it to insert/remove the camera (atop the quick release plate) and tighten it down to secure the camera to the ball head. Pretty straightforward.

That's all there is to this ball head! Just the essentials necessary to move your camera fully in a 3D space, at any angle - with smooth, easy panning. Clean, simple and lightweight. It's worth noting that there are no markings as to degrees of rotation… So if you're looking to stitch perfectly overlapping shots for panoramas, this may not be the best ball head for you. Where it does excel however, is providing a perfectly sized and featured ball head for the Leica M (and compact) systems.

In Practice


Putting the ball head to use was just as simple. The 3/8"-16 threads on the bottom attach to most any tripod legs - we used the FLM CP26-L3S Tripod for our testing. Simply screw the ball head down as tightly as you can muster and it's off to the races. Fully engaging the friction control will make this easier, allowing for a better grip on the unit.

The pan control is smooth to operate, and able to finely control the resistance to panning motions. One thing we noticed however, which was a little disconcerting, was that if the pan control is loosened up more than a little bit - the outer body of the ball head would rock/wobble against the innards. Of course, this went away once the control was tightened down… But somewhat limited just how loose you could adjust the panning resistance. We didn't expect this behavior on such a high-end ball head. As mentioned earlier, there are no markings for degrees of rotation; so making perfectly overlapped, stitched panoramas is a bit of a zen experience.

The friction control is just as smooth, and able to put quite a grip on the ball - ensuring that your camera, even with the heaviest of lenses, will remain perfectly stable without sagging. We used the Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH on a M9 and MM bodies, representing a dense weight of 1.3kg (2.9lbs), and the camera held rigidly at even the most extreme, off to the side angles. Of course, this doesn't even come close to the maximum load of 15kg (33lbs), so no surprise there. What is surprising though is the actual maximum load from such a small ball head! You could probably get away with using the Leica S-System or well-appointed DSLR here easily enough; though we'd suggest a larger ball head with more controls.

The quick release system is a bit of an oddity. It has all the earmarks of a quick release - the plate that attaches to the camera - which slides into the quick release for capture. The method of tightening down the camera however, is a traditional threaded ring that screws against the camera body (with cork in between). We wouldn't necessarily call it a quick release - maybe a "quicker release" (than a plain stud). Typically, a lever is utilized with quick releases and what gives them their speed. In any event, the camera (and plate) slide right in and out easily, and can be rigidly secured to the ball head. The plate itself is actually really small; not like other plates you may be used to - especially the likes of Acratech, Arca-Swiss, Markins, RRS, etc. When fastened to the camera it's super light and quite unobtrusive - though it requires a large flat blade screwdriver. Should it loosen in the field, you may be out of luck unless you brought one with you. You can purchase additional plates for other bodies or as spares. If you need a higher-end (and more compatible) quick release system, they are available from FLM as well. For the intended purpose of being lightweight and small, the quick release system is clean, simple and up to the task however.

Conclusion

There's not a lot to discuss on such a feature-light ball head and quick release - but therein also lies its beauty; the clean design. Dead-simple to operate and super lightweight - yet absolutely capable of holding your rig securely. What it "lacks" in features, it makes up for in its small size and minimal weight - and would make a perfect companion for your M (or compact) system. If you occasionally bring out the bigger gear, it can handle that too. Make no mistake, for its size and intended purpose, it doesn't get much better than this. The CB-24FB PRP-45 Ball Head and Quick Release System is all business.

The materials are all top-notch, high-quality aluminum that's machined and finished to perfection. The colors and even the logo are tasteful, discreet and low key. The controls are few, but smooth and easy to operate, even with gloved hands. Other than the slight wobble noted on a loose(r) pan control setting, we really haven't anything negative to say about this ball head and quick release combination. It should easily last a lifetime (or three).