The Fuji X100 digital “rangefinder” is perhaps the most anticipated camera launch of the last five years. The Leica M9 might arguably vie for that position, but it would take second place since it was already heralded by two previous models (the M8 and the M8.2) that took much of the oomph out of its announcement.

To the non photo-enthusiast it appears unremarkable, and in fact somewhat retro…perhaps the kind of camera your dad might have used. And from a functional perspective it IS unremarkable, its electronic capabilities equaled by just about 99% of the cameras out there. But what makes the Fuji uber-remarkable is its viewfinder: A crystal clear display that, dare I say it, rivals that of the legendary Leica M’s.

As a long-time Leica-M owner and user, I must confess that the viewfinder is just about every bit as clear, bright, and clean as any Leica M in history. An amazing feat, considering that almost every other camera manufacturer has given up on viewfinders on anything other than its Single Lens Reflex (SLR) models. But SLR viewfinders tend to be dark and dingy affairs that momentarily black out when the shutter is activated; anathema for rangefinder users, petrified that they just missed THE next “decisive moment”.

The Fuji viewfinder is all the more remarkable because with the flip of a close-to-hand switch, it converts to an Electronic Viewfinder that allows you to see the image exactly the way the sensor is seeing it.

It may be hard to understand the fuss, but if you’re a street photographer over 25 years of age, using an LCD screen to compose, focus, and even just see your intended image is a nightmare. LCD screens are virtually useless in daylight, and consume critical seconds as you hold the camera at arm’s length and try to see what the Hell you’re going to shoot. By then, it’s usually too late.

The X100 was announced in September 2010 and scheduled for release in mid March. Upon its announcement, I immediately asked my camera dealer, Jean Bardaji (a true gentleman, or “mensch” as the Jews say) at Camtec Photo, to hold one for me as soon as he received his first shipment.

Then the earthquake and tsunami in Japan happened. The Fuji factory making the X100 was apparently crippled or destroyed. Production would have to be shifted to another location and the camera would be delayed perhaps till year-end, according to industry rumors.

But between the anticipated launch date of mid-March and the tsunami, there was a tiny window during which a few cameras shipped out. A few people in Japan and Hong Kong who got their hands on one, immediately put them up on eBay for double their suggested price of $1200.

All hope seemed to be lost. Then Jean called. He had received a tiny order of about 20 units (he has dozens of pre-orders from customers) and mine was top of the list. Thankfully, Mr. Italo was in the neighborhood of the store and picked mine (and his) up.

I was up at 4 AM this morning playing with the camera and learning its various intricacies. Very simple actually, pretty much at the same level of simplicity as my Leica M8.2 and not overburdened with functionality. Now to hit the road and take some shots.