It is, and has been for a long time, my opinion that the world has never been fortunate enough to have a truly precise large format enlarger. I've had an Beseler MX, an Omega D2, looked at a Beseler 57 once, and 45VXL, fiddled with a number of Omega D5's and 6's, and attempted to buy a handfull Durst L1000's and L1200's, and have found all of them wanting in some way or another. Beselers are built with the precision of a VW Bug (not the new ones, mind you, though they aren't much better), Omegas are perhaps a better-conceived and more complete system, though with the exception of the lens-stage alignment system on the 5500, they too are lacking in design finess and a complete range of adjustments standard across models. Tabletop LF Dursts are very finely made, but their rarity due to a number of factors has made them lucky finds at affordable prices, and they really only shine as precision instruments when all the bits and pieces are present and accounted for. Tracking Durst parts down is an art in itself and not unlike collecting vintage wristwatches.

If I were to invest in a large-format enlarger system at this point, I would probably set out to buy an Omega D5/6 chassis, one of the new LED heads, a wall-brace kit, and make a valiant attempt to retrofit a D5500's lens stage to it. If ultimate precision were the goal, I'd probably opt for the condenser LED head over the VC model, and then spend a long afternoon with my engineer's level and a Versalab alignment laser.

In theory, and if one had enough time and energy and cash resources to devote to the system, the probable ideal would most likely be a Durst L1200 Vari-Point. Unfortunately, they are impossibly rare, and even when found, the bulbs have been out of production for years and years.

For the small format crowd, the Leitz V35 is an absolutely unparalleled piece of equipment. My only wishes are that the negative carrier had 2 pieces of glass instead of just one, and that the markings for setting the column height relative to the baseboard were not so chunky. Beyond that, hook up a Heiland Splitgrade and the new Heiland LED light source, and you've got probably the best small format enlarging system ever conceived.

Until somebody comes up with something with that kind of build quality and well-thought engineering, I'll be sticking to contact prints.

Sigh...