FLM CB-38FTR QRP-40 Ball Head & QR

Last updated February 3, 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-38FTR Ball Head and QRP-40 Quick Release Clamp and Plate (set) from FLM combines the CB-38FTR ball head with the QRB-40 quick release clamp and separate plate; making this the QRP-40 set, and is what we're reviewing here. It is not FLM's largest ball head, which is based on a massive 58mm ball - but rather the smallest "full-featured" ball head, at 38mm. By full-featured, we mean it has all of FLM's features such as friction and pan tension, tilt and pan lock, a PRS function, degrees of rotation marked on the base and a friction memory ring. Going larger only increases the size of the ball and does not add more features. It represents a nice compromise on size and cost, and has all the bells and whistles.

The QRP-40 quick release set is more of an "enthusiast" kit. For the Leica M, S and compact cameras, it's a good compromise on capacity, weight and cost without resorting to more advanced L plate-based quick releases. Unless you need such Arca-style compatibility, it's really all you need.

Astute readers will notice that this ball head and quick release are what the Leica Ball Head 38 is based on.

Specifications

Material Aluminium
Height 3.5"/90mm
Diameter 2.1"/55mm
Ball Diameter 38mm
Weight 15oz/438g (19oz/541g w/QRP-40)
Camera Threads Male, 1/4"-20
Tripod Threads Female, 3/8"-16
Supports 55lbs/25kg
Controls Separate pan, friction w/memory, tilt lock and PRS
Price BH: $395 USD
QR: $88 USD
Quick Change Plates $24 USD

Construction

The ball itself (38mm 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 plate and the 1/4"-20 studs. The overall feel of the build is solid and fairly lightweight (but dense). The complete combo is still lighter than the Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH (576g compared to 700g). 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 five controls on the CB-38FTR ball head; namely pan, friction (with memory), tilt lock and PRS. 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 38mm ball at the heart of this head. Anything from floppy to completely rigid can be dialed in precisely. A separate ring on the the friction knob allows you to easily "remember" the tension setting for accurate, repeatable engagement. There is a notch in the casing to allow for 90º vertical/portrait orientation shooting. The following two features are especially unique to FLM ball heads.


The first is the tilt lock, which allows one to set an angle and allow the ball head to only move along that (2D) axis. With it, you can make a panoramic shot that's not the typically (and strictly) horizontal sweep. For example, if you wanted to capture planes skywriting up above, or the wide expanse of tree branches above you - from one side to the other.


The second, the PRS function, is basically a system of detents in 15º increments around the full 360º rotation of the head and provide both tactile and audible feedback. When disengaged, it allows for completely smooth panning. A really nice feature for making panoramic shots where evenly spaced shots for stitching are required - you don't have to look away from the viewfinder or line anything up.

The quick release clamp has one control; a levered 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. There is a safety interlock which must be depressed to release the plate. Pretty straightforward. A nice added feature is a bubble level, to ensure the entire setup is level to the ground, ensuring your pans aren't skewed or verticals converging with wide angle lenses.

This ball head features all the basic essentials necessary to move your camera fully in a 3D space, at any angle - with smooth, easy panning. Additional and unique features take it a step further with advanced movement control. Clean, simple and fairly lightweight. There are markings as to degrees of rotation in 10º increments along the base. While we might have preferred to see a finer gradation of markings, at perhaps 5º increments, the PRS detent indicator dots do provide this at 15º increments.

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. The engagement of the PRS feature can range from "off" (smooth panning) or you can adjust the "action" of the 15º detents from a barely detectible soft setting - to an amazingly firm and solid click. No matter the size or weight of your camera/lens, you can finely tune this action to suit your needs. If you tend to switch between the two frequently, you can just depress the PRS knob while "free wheeling" to activate the detents temporarily. Very neat!


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 25kg (55lbs), so no surprise there. You could easily use the Leica S-System or well-appointed DSLR with this head. In fact, we tested with both a Canon 1D Mark IIn and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 USM zoom lens as well as a Hasselblad 503CFW and 4/150mm CF lens combos and the ball head handled them both with aplomb. Neither of these heavy combos sagged or otherwise budged on us.

The quick release clamp and plate are fairly straightforward. The combination reviewed here is not compatible with Arca-style plates, which are often found in studios or used in landscape photography (especially when multiple cameras must be swapped around). If you don't have a lot of gear or can't find an appropriate Arca-style plate for your camera anyway - this is perfectly fine. You can get additional plates however. The downsides are that the plate works only on the bottom, tripod socket of your camera and does not cover the entire length of it - it also lacks and sort of rigidity/locking functionality (be it a pin or molding of the shape to the body). And unlike an L-plate, can only be used horizontally in landscape orientation - not vertical/portrait.

One minor issue that we noticed on our review unit (which probably didn't help things, being well-traveled) was a slight play in the entire ball head when a heavier/taller camera was mounted. Not that the unit wasn't solid, but with the extra weight and torque it was noticeable. The good news is that this issue should be resolved by the time you read this, as a design revision was made in December of last year (2013). Therefore, current models should not exhibit this issue.

Conclusion

With pretty much every feature you could want or ask for in a ball head, FLM brings a lovely, well-designed and high-end option to the table - at an attractive price. There are even some features like friction w/tension memory, tilt lock and PRS that you won't find anywhere else. Dead-simple to operate and fairly lightweight - yet absolutely capable of holding your rig securely. It would make a perfect companion for your M, S or compact system. Definitely check out the CB-38FTR Ball Head and QRP-40 Quick Release Clamp and Plate (set) if you're in the market.

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 simple, smooth and easy to operate, even with gloved hands. Other than the slight wobble noted, we really haven't anything negative to say about this ball head and quick release combination. It should easily last a lifetime (or three).