Wednesday, December 26, 2007

FastStone Image Viewer

I recently saw FastStone Image Viewer recommended on the dpreview forums as being a way to quickly view your RAW files. Since it is free to home users and easy to download and install I gave it a try. WOW, I was impressed. Within in the first day I had uninstalled my previously used software (XnView). XnView is a great product, don't get me wrong--space is at a premium on my system though (aren't 10MB RAW files fun?).

Ok, so what is so great about FastStone? First of all, it is FAST. Can you imagine looking at RAW files that fully load almost instantly? The difference between viewing RAW and JPG files in FastStone is actually almost unnoticeable. In order to achieve this, it should be noted, FastStone uses the reduced size RAW thumbnail, so you aren't looking at a full resolution RAW file that quickly, but you can change this; and in my estimation it doesn't get in the way of what this program is really good at, which is viewing and organizing. You can use FastStone to adjust exposure, rotation, sharpness, and all the other usual suspects. I like the way it handles these operations and was impressed at every level with the User Interface. Which brings me to the other things I love about FastStone.

A lovely, fast, intuitive User Interface--I admit, it was love at first sight. When you first open the program it looks like a pretty basic layout: file tree on the left, thumbnail on the right. When you double click a thumbnail it brings up a full-screen view of the photo--so far it was pretty much as expected (but faster). Then you start moving your mouse around and at the top of the screen a drop down film strip bar shows you nice big thumbnails that you can scroll through, along with some of the menu options. At the bottom of the screen you get another set of menu options; if you click on the full-screen image it goes to 100% magnification and moves around the image as you move the mouse, until you let go of the click and then you are back to the whole picture view. Nice.

Learning the shortcut keys is easy and saves a lot of time as well. The all important "Copy" function is a simple "c" while exposure is "ctrl+e" and sharpness is "ctrl+l". So you want to open an image in an external program--FastStone allows you to set these up with short-cut keys. For me it is "e" to open an image in PaintShopProX2 and "Alt+2" to open up a RAW images in Canon's Digital Photo Professional. And I think you get the picture. This is a very convenient, fast, intuitive program for viewing, sorting, and even doing minor editing with your photos.

No matter what kind of user you are, you owe it to yourself to try FastStone. Oh, and I do have one gripe--I'd really like to have a dark grey skin for it, and yes, it is skinnable and, and, and.... just get it.

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