Beyond the table top: 5 mini tripods reviewed
FLM CP10-A1 w/ CB-24E
$192 / £125 www.flm-gmbh.de
|The FLM CP10-A1 with the Centerball CB-24E head.|
The black and silver finish of FLM ball heads has become a familiar sight in our support reviews, but the company in Emmendingen, Germany also makes high-end tripods that are challenging many other established brands. The smallest of its tripods has none of the carbon fiber and fancy leveling columns of its larger siblings, but does share the familiar FLM craftsmanship in aluminum. With an equally diminutive CB-24E ball head on top, the CP10-A1 represents a departure from the heavy, knob-covered devices we've reviewed from FLM in the past, and the hope is that the company's take on simplicity is just as good.
|MSRP||$147 tripod / $45 head|
|Folded length||11.2" (28.5cm)|
|Maximum height||10" (25.5cm)|
|Minimum height||3.9" (10cm)|
|Weight||0.6 lbs (277g)|
|Load limit||11 lbs (5kg) tripod / 22 lbs (10kg) head|
|# of leg angles||---|
|The packed size of the FLM CP10-A1 & CB-24E, compared to common storage media.|
The FLM CP10-A1 features variable angle legs and a slim platform to hold up the tiny CB-24E ball head, and up to 11lbs (5kg) of camera gear. When the legs of this mini tripod are folded in, the whole package can fit into a water bottle pouch, or nestled among other gear in a medium-sized bag. The folded length, including the head, of 11.2 inches (28.5cm) can be a bit much for some very compact bags, but the light weight and thin diameter minimize its presence.
*Each leg has continuously variable angle adjustment, so only the maximum and minimum are fixed.
|10" (25.5 cm)||(variable)||3.9" (10 cm)|
Construction and handling
In common with most other FLM products, the CP10-A1 and CB-24E are almost entirely made from precisely machined aluminum, with the familiar black semi-matte finish accented by bright silver knobs. The rubber balls on the ends of the feet add non-slip footing, while the cork and rubber composite pad on top of the tripod and ball platforms holds onto cameras and other gear. As with other FLM ball heads, the CB-24E does not come with a quick release, so this cork is put to good use when attaching a camera directly to the 1/4" screw thread.
The most stunning impression when holding the FLM CP10-A1 and CB-24E is just how light it all is. At only 0.6 lbs (277g) combined weight, it is far and away the lightest mini tripod and head in this review group. The legs themselves weigh a scant 5 ounces (140g), which makes their firm and stable feeling even more surprising. The design of the legs strongly resembles the steel rods underneath the Novoflex BasicBall, but these are made from aluminum instead, and more notably, the FLM legs are permanently attached.
10 year warranty
Another area where FLM differentiates itself is the incredible 10 year warranty for both the CP10-A1 legs and the CB-24E head. The closest competitor in this review group stops at 6 years, while most mini tripods only offer 1 year of guarantee against defects after sales. This says a lot about the longevity and durability each manufacturer expects from its products, and FLM offers this generous warranty on all of its products, without exception.
Rotating angle locks
At the crux of the FLM CP-10-A1, the very slim platform has slots shaped to allow the deceptively simple angle locks to hold the legs at nearly any position desired.
The aluminum collars rotate on very fine threads to press against the curved platform at varying distances, and therefore angles. This makes adjustments easy and customizable, but getting all the angles to be the same can be a challenge (a trick to this is revealed below).
The CB-24E ball head is not quite the smallest ball-and-socket head made by FLM, but it is both tiny (only 35mm wide) and rather utilitarian.
The single, large knob locks and unlocks both the ball and the panning base simultaneously, while the standard platform only allows for 1/4" threaded attachment. This platform is acceptable for very occasional camera attachment, or using it under a flash, but not to replace a full tripod.
Adding an FLM quick release, to accept standard dovetail lens and camera plates, more than doubles the price.
|The CP10-A1 and CB-24E can confidently hold up a DSLR and 70-200mm lens, but required some help from the Novoflex mini quick-release for field work with dovetail-plated equipment.|
The slim profile of the folded CP10-A1 makes it a very easy and natural traveling companion. While the length may take up some room in a bag, the very slight weight (lightest in this group) and confident load bearing ability put this mini tripod at the top of the list for extended hikes and walking around. The CB-24E ball head adds very little to the weight of the package, but also lacked the refinement found in the larger FLM heads tested in the past.
Previous reviews of FLM heads have left us impressed with both their features and their smooth and confident handling of larger loads. The CB-24E has a relatively modest load capacity (though double the legs, at 22 lbs, or 10kg), but there is an expectation set by its larger siblings when it comes handling a larger camera and lens. In general, the build quality and controls of this mini head live up to the FLM standard, with a large, smooth turning lock knob for both the ball and panning base. However, the 24mm ball feels rough and a bit sticky when manipulated with a very light load on top, but does improve when a heavier camera and lens is attached.
Speaking of attachment, due to the lack of a quick release on the CB-24E, the same Novoflex Q=Mount Mini used on the Ball 30 was pressed into service to accommodate the dovetail standard plates on the bottom of the cameras and lenses used to test these tripods and heads out. This very nice clamp, from another part of Germany, is smaller and lighter than the roughly equivalent FLM SRB-40 clamp, but still adds the same $90 to the full package, which in turn pushes the price of the whole set into the luxury goods category (~$280).
One tricky aspect of the variable leg angle collars on the FLM tripod was the difficulty in setting them all to the same angle.
While there is a flat spot in the otherwise curved adjustment area, it sets the tripod up near its highest stable point. Beyond that, the angles become smoothly variable where the finely threaded locking collars hit the platform
A trick to get fairly consistent angles is to hold the legs closed and look down on all three collars at once. They can then be turned one at a time to match each other visually, which provides equal angles and a level platform.
Out and about
When shooting macros with a 180mm F2.8 lens and a larger DSLR (total weight of 4.4 lbs or 2kg), the CB-24E apparently had enough pressure on it to allow for some variable friction and smoother control of the camera movements. This was quite reassuring when focusing on objects only a short distance away (at 1:1). The very light legs beneath the head were easy to adjust on uneven ground and held up the weight without any flex or movement at all. The rubber ball feet were particularly useful on softer ground.
Tossing the lightweight combination into a smaller bag, along with a small mirrorless camera and diminutive lenses, really showed the benefits of the CP10-A1. Shooting some long exposures at night was quite easy with the very stable legs, and the ease of folding and unfolding the legs made the shutter times the only delay. As suspected, the CB-24E lost its ability to apply variable friction with the much lighter MILC (perhaps due to aggressive threading on the lock knob), and instead the ball was either locked or completely loose, with a bit of roughness when adjusting things. This kind of performance isn't horrible, given the competition, but still not ideal.
If the CP10-A1 is any indication, it's time to start looking beyond FLM's well-regarded ball heads, and consider the company's tripods for rock-solid performance and minimized weight. There simply was no other height-adjustable, robust mini tripod in this group that weighs as little as these aluminum legs, yet also held up impressive amounts of gear with flexibility and stability. FLM has definitely left us impressed with this best-in-class mini tripod.
The CB-24E, on the other hand, is more middle-of-the-pack in this group review, with limited control and rough performance under lighter gear. Like other FLM heads, it still excels at manipulating heavier loads, but doesn't have the refinement we've come to expect from the brand. While this may be due to the limited size and price of the head, we'd still like to see a better companion for the excellent CP10-A1.
- Lightest weight of the group
- Impressive stability
- Variable angle legs
- Luxurious build quality
- CB-24E is not great for lighter gear
- Uniform leg angles are tricky
- Quick-release sold separately
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