Review by Mark Degner
FLM, a German company, has been making ballheads, carbon fibre tripods and monopods for about 20 years, but until recently it hasn’t had much presence in Canada. However, that appears to be changing, which is a good thing. FLM has around 18 different models of carbon fibre tripods, called Centerpods, and they’re grouped into three series based on the outermost leg tube and type of centre column. In terms of the number of different models and sizes of ballheads that they produce, let’s just say it’s a lot. For this review I received one of their more common combinations that included the CP30-S4S carbon fibre tripod ($795), the CB-43FTR ballhead ($430) and the QRP-50 quick-release 50 mm clamp and plate ($173).
The CP30-S4S tripod’s leg tubes are eight layers of pure carbon fibres that keeps its weight down to 1.5 kg, while still having enough mass to be very stable and sturdy. The CP30-S4S has four leg sections that make it a very compact 45 cm when folded, but when the legs are fully extended it reaches a height of 120 cm. With the centre column fully extended, it has a maximum height of 137 cm. This is the shortest of the series and good for shorter photographers, like my wife Leslie (1.5 m tall). For a person my height (1.8 m tall), the taller CP30-L4S would be a better choice as it’s 26 cm taller.
The outer leg tubes have a hefty diameter of 30 mm, making the legs strong and stable. The twist-style leg-lock collars are a nice size (30 cm) and easy to operate, allowing the legs to extend and retract very smoothly and lock firmly in place. The legs have rubber feet, but with a quick twist hardened steel spikes pop out and lock firmly in place – a really neat feature. There’s a retractable hook on the bottom of the centre column that you use to hang a weight, like your camera bag, to provide extra stability.
With the centre column attached, the lowest that the tripod can get is about 30 cm, which isn’t that low. With the centre column removed the legs can spread out almost horizontally, giving it a minimum height of 11 cm. This opens up a whole range of photographic possibilities and makes this a great tripod for doing wildflower photography. However, to remove the centre column you need an Allen wrench and have to remove the ballhead, which is a bit of a pain.
The CB-43FTR ballhead is the third largest in FLM’s FTR ballhead line. I would consider it to be a mid-weight ballhead, with a manufacturers maximum loading rating of 30 kg. It’s large enough to easily hold my biggest DSLR body and 300mm f/4 telephoto lens. For most photographers this is about as large of a ballhead that they will ever need.
The CB-43FTR is made of precision-machined, top-quality materials and has a rugged, durable build that should stand up to many years of use. It’s relatively tall (9.6 cm) compared to some of the other similar sized ballheads on the market, but it isn’t overly heavy, weighing in at 0.52 kg. The ball in the CB-43FTR is relatively large (43 mm) and rotates very smoothly. The main locking knob is a good size (30mm diameter) and easy to operate. It has a unique patented locking mechanism with “memory lock” that locks the ball in place so there’s no creep when tightened properly. There are three other smaller control knobs on the CB-43FTR; tilt knob, pan knob, and PRS knob. These three control knobs are spaced out well enough so they’re easy to operate.
The tilt knob/feature, unique to FLM, allows the ball head to tilt only in a vertical plane. The pan lock knob tightens securely so that the head doesn’t rotate on the panning base accidently and the PRS knob allows the head to pan in distinct 15° intervals, which can be useful when making panoramic photos.
FLM ballheads can be purchased with or without a quick-release system. The FLM quick-release system is an Arca-Swiss-style system and the clamps and plates are available in a number of different sizes and styles. The CB-43FTR ballhead I received came with the QRP-50 (50 mm) quick-release clamp and plate. It’s very easy to use and locks the camera firmly in place. Unfortunately the angle of the dovetails on the clamp were slightly different so that it wouldn’t accept my Really Right Stuff or Wimberley plates and L-brackets, however, my Joby and Novoflex plates connected fine.
Overall I was impressed with the quality and features of the FLM carbon fibre tripod, ballhead and quick-release system, and for many photographers this combination would make for a great all-around system.