A better image-viewer, Fast Picture Viewer …

As you may have read in this post, I’ve been using the Nexus Image viewer for my photo-work. However, it started kicking out an error-message, having worked just fine previously. As it is a single .exe file, there is nothing to reinstall, and the site now seems to have disappeared; it has not been updated in some years, to be fair, so maybe I was not the only one reporting it crashing. So, I found myself looking around for a  new image-viewer. My requirements are fairly basic:

  • fast and lightweight – but I’ll take fast over lightweight if it’s a trade-off, as I have a powerful PC;
  • does not try to catalogue all my images, I simply want to browse them;
  • quick access to Photoshop, or any other image editors I wish to set up;
  • maximises the screen available for viewing the image itself – this and the previous point means that keyboard shortcuts are preferable for me, resulting in faster workflow and a less cluttered screen, if a little more to remember;
  • dark background to reduce eye-strain when editing – I can be doing this for quite a while and originally used Windows Photo Viewer, which has white borders, adding to the eye-strain.
thumbnail previews are great, but not permanently visible (yet)

thumbnail previews are great, but not permanently visible (yet)

Another feature that is not immediately apparent until you start using any particular viewer, but speeds up the editing process considerably, is that of how the image is refreshed by the image-viewer after you have edited it:

  • Windows Photo Viewer does refresh the image, provided that you are still viewing the same image as you are editing, ie, if you browse past it, edit and save the image, and then come back to it, you will still be seeing the unedited image until you exit the viewer and restart it;
  • Nexus Image will refresh the image whether it is being currently browsed or not, but if you create a second version, such as a cropped one, in addition to the original, this will not be browsed unless you exit the viewer and restart it;
  • Fast Picture Viewer refreshes the image always (plus the normal F5 refresh-button can be used, but I’ve never had to), and any other image versions you add to the folder are also available for browsing, all without having to exit the viewer at all: This is a great saving in time for me, as I can round-trip between Photoshop and Fast Picture Viewer without having to leave either (OK, it is only a matter of pressing the Escape key to leave it, then double-clicking an image to open it again, but I may be working on hundreds of images in one day, and the time adds up, as does the RSI!).

The hardest part was finding something that met these requirements, and so I ended up working my way down a list of image viewers on Wikipedia, in order to get what I needed: I managed to eliminate most by simply visiting the site and looking at screen-grabs, supplemented with Google Image Search, where needed. I ended up at the Fast Picture Viewer site, and was very happy to see that it met all my requirements, and was available as a 64-bit version too: Having given the trial version a very quick go, I decided that it was worth the $50 for the full version, and had no problems upgrading it with the supplied licence-key.

I spent some time going through the available options, tweaking it how I wanted it to be: Many options are available, and I have maximised the image on the screen, set up Photoshop on CTRL-F1, stayed with the default dark background (but you can choose pretty much any colour), disabled a few things that I don’t use, so I won’t, for example, accidentally rate the image with a wrong key-press, and generally ‘settling in’ with it.

lots of options available

lots of options available

It does even more than I bargained for: I particularly like that I can use the ENTER key or single-mouse-click anywhere on the image to see it at 300%, to check sharpness (you can alter this value); the on-screen histogram (and any other chosen info) can be toggled on-off at the press of a key, and can actually save me opening the image in Photoshop; it is fast – oh yes! – at cycling through my images; and I can even see a monochrome preview at the press of a button: I am still learning all the functions, but it does all that I need, and more, very efficiently.

right-clicking the bottom bar brings up some more options

right-clicking the bottom bar brings up some more options

As I said, it is very much keyboard-based, and that helps to present a simple, uncluttered screen for the image, but it does take a little more learning where things are. The company is obviously well aware of this, with plenty of available online help, plus a cheat-sheet added to your desktop, which I have printed for easy-reference.

I keep this close at hand for reference

I keep this close at hand for reference

More information and downloads from the site here. Yes, it is $50 for a single-user licence, but having lived with it for a while (and a few thousand images), it is worth all of that: Well-documented help, on-going updates to the software (I’m looking forward to version 2.0, where I can choose to have the thumbnail previews permanently on the screen at the press of the TAB key), and definitely faster than any other viewer I have tried.

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About Chris Senior

Photographer, wit, travel-junkie, MSc student and practising eccentric! Prog rock nut and baker of tasty cakes.
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