Best Free Digital Image Viewer

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Image viewers belong to a software category where the quantity and quality of free programs makes it difficult to select just one product as a top pick. So, personal convenience will unavoidably appear as the ultimate factor for this review of free applications. And there's also the question of what exactly we mean by an "image viewer", as the name may sound a bit too restrictive.

Digital photography has become so widely available that most pictures these days will linger in a memory drive and never be printed, because we can see them on screens. As a consequence, hundreds of tools are developed for the task, ranging from the ones that offer just the most basic handling to others with loads of features nobody will ever use. However, nowadays' average users are likely to demand some additional capabilities apart from the simple viewing and browsing functions.

Thus, many imaging applications overlap categories and we have a perfect example in photo organizers, where a viewer is obviously needed to manage albums and the like. Therefore, the differences for this review should be based mainly on the aspects of loading speed, zooming capabilities, batch processing options and other operations not directly related to image editing, tagging or organizing, although this is a definite advantage in some cases like the current Top Pick.

JPG is the most widely used format today because of its quality/size ratio and is supported by every viewer I know of. Though it is quite old and others seem to do the job much better, it has managed to prevail overwhelmingly, both online and in digicams. But there's a steadily increasing amount of people who shoot RAW in their quest for better image quality. Pity that most camera manufacturers use their proprietary RAW formats, of course not supported by the others. Then, after being processed, those files are usually saved as TIF or other lossless formats, including Adobe DNG, Photoshop PSD, etc. Therefore, compatibility is a point which can't be overlooked, as those people will need to view and probably convert a variety of files that our ideal program should handle without having to open an external editor or the specific software bundled with the camera.

Perhaps the most important feature anyone could require from a viewer is that it should be reasonably fast when loading and displaying images. In my opinion, any program that needs over 1 second to display JPGs like the ones produced by an average modern camera or smartphone is not even worth the download. Note that file size (in bytes) as well as image dimensions (in pixels) all have an influence on speed, and hardware is another important factor. Obviously, the better your machine (especially the graphics card, rather than the processor), the better the performance and loading times.

Some of these programs support video viewing, either by using their own player or your system's default player. The subject goes beyond the scope of this review, but I'll say you must have the proper codecs for the various video formats installed on your computer and this is somewhat tricky to get done because you'll have to download and set up additional plug-ins, codec packs or even a separate application sometimes. Full HD and certain video formats usually require a lot of processing power to be displayed. The articles Understanding Codecs and Best Free Media Player are good readings to learn more.


Zoner Software are the developers of one of the commercial programs I've been using for a long time to view and manage my huge picture collection, so when I saw they released Zoner Photo Studio Free, I guessed it was going to qualify high enough for its inclusion here. It certainly did, but who knew it would climb up to be the Top Pick! The interface looks very professional, although it could even seem a bit daunting and bloated for certain users with all those menus, tabs and icons, but it's very intuitive and tooltips show up for everything. Comprehensive help and links to video tutorials are provided as well.

It's organized into a manager (a thumbnail view with a folder tree and general information), a fullscreen viewer and an editor, which is quite stripped down compared to the paid version but still very functional. ZPSF generates thumbnails in a blink, much faster than any other I've seen, and general speed is outstanding, though the zoom system should be more flexible in full screen. There's a powerful search with many filters, a lot of display options and full shortcut customization. The functions are too many to be mentioned and generally very useful, but a couple of them alone make it worth using the program: one is the ability to temporarily rotate pics and the other allows to straighten them by drawing a horizontal line. Apart from this one, the editor has a variety of tools like a handy clone stamp, a funny morph mesh and great effects that can be applied on selected areas. You can also make automatic backups of your photos, organize into albums, geotag, build calendars, and a lot of other things. Moreover, it reads many formats, including RAW, and writes to the ten most commonly used. It supports video from within the program, 64-bit architecture and multi-core optimization.

On the downside, ZPSF takes over 350MB on your disk, an awful lot more than any of the competitors in this review, and it needs 1GB RAM. Color management isn't supported either. Advanced batch processing options are only available in the paid version, except for renaming, though most individual operations can be carried out on more than one file at a time by selecting a number of them in the manager, opening the specific dialog and then clicking 'Apply to all'. The download link on Zoner's site points to Cnet, which can be objectionable for their download policy and their wrapped installers, but it can be downloaded from other sites like Softpedia or Majorgeeks. Although Photo Studio might be a little overpowering for the needs of average users, it's undoubtedly an excellent program with lots of possibilities for those willing to take advantage of its many features.

XnView Tumbnail ViewXnView used to be my Top Pick till the release of Zoner Photo Studio Free and I would really keep it as such if there could be two of them. It's probably the most versatile of all viewers because it can read 500 types of graphic files and convert any of these to more than 50 formats. It displays images very quickly and these may be viewed in full screen, as slideshows or as thumbnails. It's quite capable at processing images, too; you can rotate, crop, resize, adjust brightness and color, apply filters or effects, create a web page and much more. Most of these operations can also be carried out as a batch, which is ideal for converting or processing multiple images with custom adjustments.

The thumbnail window can fit your preferences with several layouts and sizes; this is especially useful when displaying panoramic images in preview mode (see screenshot). It offers nearly instantaneous hotkey and wheel zooming, and dragging the image around at any zoom level is perfectly smooth. It also allows having several images open at the same time and even running multiple instances of the program if you like to browse in different windows. It supports drag and drop, color management (with slower loading times), geotagging, lots of plug-ins, is available in 45+ languages and has full cross-platform support, including Mac and Linux (unlike its competitors reviewed here). A heavyweight champion.

IrfanView Thumbnail ModuleOne of the best choices is the classic IrfanView. This is a first-class product, but one for which I have mixed feelings. It's an amazingly capable application and quite fast at displaying images. It offers plenty of functions for editing, converting, batch processing, slideshow exporting, etc. and supports almost any graphics plug-in (including one for color management). Some of the features (its resizing algorithm, for instance) are outstanding and even rank above a big fish like Photoshop. It's a small download and it takes a mere 2MB on disk.

But, although many users love it, it just doesn't work the way I'd like it to. It's quite simplistic, but not really intuitive and the interface has been almost the same since early versions. As a personal "inconvenience" I'll say wheel zooming requires a press of the Ctrl key, RAW support needs several different downloads and installs for plug-ins or dll's, and I don't see the point in having a separate module for thumbnails. This, however, may be exactly what others prefer and the same applies to the interface, which looks a bit too outdated to me. But, obviously, Irfan is a real winner. (The main download link on Irfan's site points to Cnet, which can be objectionable for its download policy and the unwanted additions it installs sometimes. Some alternatives can be found by clicking on "Other download sites" on the same page.)

FastStone Thumbnail and Preview window FastStone Image Viewer is another excellent choice. There are various reasons to choose this, but perhaps the main one is its superb interface in full screen mode, with different pop-up panels appearing when the mouse pointer reaches any side of the screen and disappearing when it's withdrawn. You can easily access nearly every function of the program from this window with no other element disturbing you until you decide it with just a mouse move, including a very handy thumbnail slider to browse your images. Even the smallest menus or panels in any of the modes are clear and well designed, and there are several skins available.

Aside from the usual wheel zooming, the zoom system has a very clever feature: it magnifies to a custom preset level with just one click, lets you pan through the image while holding the button and returns to full view when it is released, something really useful to check out sharpness or detail in a photo. Average files are displayed quickly and their thumbnails are generated promptly. But it's slower showing bigger files (>20MB, depending on the format and resolution) and others perform much better in this field, though that won't be an issue for most users. It may be a good idea to disable the preview pane in the thumbnail window as a way to speed things up. There's also an option to use color management, but it increases loading time. Another outstanding plus is the batch processing options, quite extensive and really easy to set up and run. A few useful editing features have been added in version 4.3, including curves, levels, lighting, unsharp mask, clone and heal. It also supports all major graphic formats and popular digital camera RAW formats as well, and offers an excellent cropping module, great slideshow capabilities and GPS location with Google Earth. Much to like here.

WildBit Thumbnail View I can recommend another program, after most of my initial objections were overcome by the evidence and the author, who also showed a very positive response to my feedback. This special mention goes to WildBit Viewer, an outstanding application that can rival the ones reviewed above in many aspects. In spite of some minor concerns about speed, the program is highly manageable and functional enough to earn the respect of many users.

Apart from the usual features you'd expect, it offers aspect ratio information, small-increment wheel zooming, a very intuitive image editor with a full array of editing tools, a superpowerful search function that can track any metadata or EXIF information, an excellent geotagging tool to embed geographical co-ordinates in the files, and the most comprehensive help you can imagine. There's also a function for side-by-side image comparison with difference calculations, and a highly customizable slideshow mode. It supports over 70 formats (including some videos, from which frames can be extracted in multipage view) and runs on Windows XP through W8. From version 6 on, it includes full Unicode support. WildBit Viewer is a very competent alternative.

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Related Products and Links
I've tested quite a few other applications (too many to be mentioned), but none of them made it to the top. That includes all of those suggested by readers —though I always have some of them pending—. When this was the case, I usually replied with a post in the comments section with my reasons. Maybe your favorite program is among them, but please feel free to submit any product you think might deserve a try. There are some decent ones and even Windows' built-in viewer performs acceptably when browsing through average images, although it's very limited. I haven't tried Windows 8 yet, but one would expect some improvement over the old XP and the successive OS's regarding this, because it was disappointing to find out neither Vista nor Windows7 were significantly better for the task so many years later. This article is going to be lengthy but, anyway, it wouldn't be fair to end the review without mentioning some other freebies that offer quite remarkable features. (Thanks to everyone who let me know about them.)
Users who just want a simple replacement for the default Windows photo viewer have a very good alternative with ACDSee Free, which was first released in 2012. Its commercial sibling has long been one of the highly regarded applications in this area and the free version is on par with it in terms of speed, which is impressive. Almost no other program can display pictures as quickly as ACDSee, no matter the image size. For this alone it deserves a place in our review. The interface is simple and clean, and its default gray color is appropriate for a correct viewing experience. The mouse wheel can be used for zooming by pressing the Ctrl key, though its primary function is to select the previous or next image in a folder. Double click displays a full screen view and a few keyboard shortcuts are available for navigation. It supports 11 common formats —including animated GIF, but not RAW or PSD—, and can convert to 8 of them using the 'save as' command. Other functions include rotate, copy, set as wallpaper and a very nice group of printing options. And that's just about it!
Speed is the strongest point in its favor but if it hadn't been for that, probably ACDSee Free wouldn't be listed here because there are no other special features to talk about. It's just a sequential viewer like many others and it relies on Windows explorer to access folders and images. I miss some more customization or any kind of sorting options. For my review I usually test the programs on different systems, machines and screens. In this case I must point out the unsatisfactory quality of ACDSF's image rendition for JPGs on all tested environments. The problem isn't evident at closer zoom levels, but when fitting the whole image to the program window it appears a bit blurry, but the TIF and PNG versions for the same JPG files look nicer and crisper. A personal inconvenience is that the Esc key always closes the program. On another note, the installation occupies nearly 30MB on disk, which is a remarkably high amount for such an apparently simple program. Nevertheless, all these drawbacks could be considered as minor. I know simplicity and good speed are what many users really want for their needs, and ACDSee Free is a champion at both.
(ACDSee Free seems to have been discontinued, as it isn't listed on the official website anymore, but it can still be found at some download sites like the one in the link above. Anyway, I guess I'll have to remove it from Gizmo's Freeware in the near future.)
Simplicity and speed are also key features in a very nice program called Nexus Image. This one was suggested by one of our readers (choifamilyipad) and it has turned out to be probably the most appealing of all the "simple" viewers to me because of its outstanding image quality and beautiful interface. You can change its opacity and color, and a vertical thumbnail strip on the right makes browsing easier than in most other simple apps, where a linear previous/next file navigation must be followed. Folders are quickly accessed by double clicking the viewing window, selecting one from the tree and opening an image. Then you can use the functions either by right clicking and selecting them from the context menu or by means of conventional shortcuts, although mouse wheel zooming requires pressing Ctrl. Captions can be added to pictures, it can show EXIF information, supports common formats (not RAW, but does PSD and animated GIF), is available in many languages, has a light footprint on your system and is fully portable, with just a 2MB download.
On the downside, being so simple means there aren't many features to talk about and I miss some of them in particular, namely some kind of sorting options for the thumbnails, basic cropping, and permanent rotation applied to pics, as it is just temporary in this software. Again, if you're used to pressing Escape to close a fullscreen view of an image in other viewers, then you'll find it a personal annoyance in Nexus, because doing so here closes the program with no prompt and you just can't help pushing the damn key... Well, anyway, that's something you can live with, I guess. And this program is worth the trouble.
Nomacs is a very interesting open source program that was suggested by our fellow editor Panzer. It looks nice and simple and offers the features I like to have in a viewer, such as a built-in folder tree, a thumbnail preview panel, a thumbnail strip, a few sorting options, a histogram, EXIF information, excellent image quality and is reasonably fast. It supports quite a lot of file formats, including RAW and PSD. RAW images can be displayed either by showing the usual JPG embedded in the file or by rendering the photo with the program's own algorithms. A few basic adjustment options are also available, like rotation, cropping, resizing, and correcting brightness, contrast, saturation, exposure, etc. There's a slideshow player available, too. But Nomacs is really special because of a few other things that are really uncommon for programs in this category. For example, it can change the opacity of the interface, show images in a frameless view on your desktop, rotate RAW files permanently, build a mosaic based on a target image composed by any number of other images, or pause animated GIF files and save their individual frames. These are all outstanding features, but something I had never seen before is that multiple instances of the program can be connected to work together on the same computer or even synchronize them across a LAN to perform several specific functions on different machines at the same time. Moreover, it has 64-bit versions and can run on Windows, Mac OS and Linux.
There are a few inconveniences, though. Getting the more advanced features to work can be difficult at first and some general functions take some time to get used to when you come from other viewers. Occasionally, the program isn't very good at rendering RAW files with its own algorithms, especially when some highlights in the picture are already blown out, as an unpleasant magenta color appears to account for the lost information (probably due to an inadequate RAW saturation point). Wheel zoom works in totally random increments, so it's almost impossible to get the same amount of magnification twice and you can't zoom to a desired exact level with it. There's an option for 100% view but the program allows no other custom zoom levels. The thumbnail panel always shows square thumbnails, irrespective of their content, so there's always a hidden part in them unless your pictures are square themselves. Without these drawbacks Nomacs could probably be mentioned along with the top products in this category.
During some past years of writing for Gizmo's Freeware I was reluctant to include Picasa here because I (still) think the main program isn't actually a good viewer. Many times I was asked why and I gave a lot of reasons. But then one day (thanks to our reader Kurt B) I discovered Picasa contains a separate picture viewer that can be used as an independent program. And it's quite good, so I had to change my mind. It's nice, fast and simple, and in this respect it could be considered as an ideal replacement for the default Windows' photo viewer. It doesn't provide a lot of features by itself, but it can be combined with the main sibling app to obtain good functionality when it comes to editing and the rest of the many features that it offers. It reads a lot of formats (including RAW and PSD), wheel zooming and panning are smooth and its image quality is excellent. The rendition of RAW files is one of the best I've seen, although many times one would prefer to be able to check out the embedded JPG for an idea of the behavior of the camera.
There are just a couple of "major" cons I can find with Picasa. One is the fact that the image is always smoothed when viewed at close zoom levels exceeding 100% and the individual pixels aren't shown: this isn't good if you want to appreciate the real quality of an image when inspecting it for artifacts such as the ones that often appear in JPG pics. The other inconvenience is that Picasa doesn't make it really clear you can use this viewer separately, and subsequently you could think that you'd have to make do with the one in the main program, which isn't half as good. I apologize because that's exactly what happened to me for quite a long time.
One of our users suggested cam2pc and, after giving it a try, it has proved to be an excellent program in many aspects. As the name suggests, cam2pc provides a handy way to download pictures and videos from your digicam to your drives, allowing you to use lots of options for renaming, saving, etc., and has specific support for the widely used Canon EOS cameras (separate download). The interface is intuitive and easy to use, with a folder and thumbnail view that recalls FastStone. As with this, I recommend to turn the preview panel off, though thumbnail generation is really fast. Actually, speed is outstanding in almost every aspect of this app. The feature that impressed me most was its ability to quickly display LZW-compressed TIFs, something unusual in its competitors, although these perform better with Photoshop PSDs.
The only reason why I don't include cam2pc along with the top programs is that the freeware version lacks quite a lot of features that can only be found in its commercial sibling and which the others offer for free. But I guess most users could perfectly do without those.
Imagine is a very fast viewer vaguely resembling Irfan in its simplistic interface, though the number of features is far more reduced. Wheel zooming also needs pressing the Ctrl key. Several instances of the program can be open at the same time, it lets you customize various mouse modes with different configurations and select any of them instantaneously to fit your workflow, allows frame extraction from animations, reads inside zip, rar and 7z archives, has multilanguage support and is portable.
On the downside, it's quite limited in other areas; for instance, the editing and batch processing options. No RAW or video formats are supported. Sometimes a few Photoshop PSD files can't be read and an 'out of memory' message appears when trying to open them, irrespective of their size and my lots of free RAM and processing power. But the app is an AWSOME performer with the PSDs that load properly and displays them nearly instantaneously, once the thumbnail has been generated. This is something I haven't seen in any other free viewer, and only one or two commercial programs can boast similar results!
Picture Information Extractor Free (PIE) comes to this article after Panzer's suggestion and because it has nearly everything I think a viewer must have. Anyway, the developers insist mainly on the ability to visualize all the metadata embedded in pictures, which is undoubtedly another way of viewing them. EXIF, IPTC, XMP, keywords and other data are conveniently shown on a pane to the right of the screen when a file is selected. The main interface also displays a folder tree with a preview pane and the files can be sorted in various types of lists or thumbnails. The features include wheel zooming in fullscreen view, custom thumbnail size, powerful search, excellent import options, wonderful renaming capabilities, it reads RAW and PSD formats, deletes RAW+JPG files with one click, supports color management and has good image quality. As an outstanding plus, PIE is one of the very few programs that can rotate RAW files permanently and for some users this feature alone would make it worth the installation.
On the other side, this free version of PIE cannot save any changes to the metadata, which is the only cut compared to the commercial one, but quite significant. There are also a couple of flaws in important areas such as speed or zoom. No problem when you're surfing through average JPGs, TIFs, etc., but it takes some time to even change directories and access a folder full of big RAWs, and then another while to display each file in full screen. The zoom can't reach pixel level and, along with pan, it's a bit sloppy. Moreover, the wheel turn for zooming in or out works in the opposite way to the rest of viewers I've tried so far. I miss animated GIF support as well. But many users won't even notice these drawbacks.


Pictomio is a good representative of the recent trends in this category, which pay greater attention to "fancy" interfaces and presentations to improve user experience. The main drawback with this is the usually high resource consumption and graphics card requirements, and the program is no exception, as it uses DirectX hardware acceleration. I'd say it is mainly geared to organizing, with a great number of options for tagging, metadata editing, rating and grouping, but it performs very well as a viewer, too. It's really fast once the thumbnail indexing has finished and displays an image preview instantly, and you can zoom in and out to any level. It supports some video formats as well. The interface is really nice and its many tabs show a lot of information.
Pictomio, however, is not intended to edit and there are no options for this other than lossless rotation. There's no support for RAW, PSD or animated GIF formats either. Moreover, indexing should be faster and it fails to generate a thumbnail for some really big files, but the picture is displayed perfectly if you click on its blank rectangle.
Although their names look nearly identical, Imagina has nothing to do with Imagine, reviewed above. Actually, that's where similarities end. This application ('a next-generation image viewer and editing tool', the developers claim) is a perfect example of the new concepts based around 3-D technology, but much lighter on resources than Pictomio and others of this kind. Browsing speed isn't as fast either, even compared to "normal" viewers, and this is especially noticeable with bigger files. For instance, when opening my EOS 7D's 18-megapixel JPGs the program clearly stays behind the top performers, though this should mean no issue for average users, as their files will be half that size or less, typically.
There may be some things I really miss (more customization for certain basic aspects, a built-in folder tree, support for PSDs, more straightforward management of some files like TIFF, etc.) and many other reasons why my workflow as a photographer won't (yet) fit what Imagina proposes at this seemingly early stage in its development. But photo pros are only a few among the vast lot of digicam users who just shoot JPG. And these will love it! I do love it too, believe it or not. Its absolutely outstanding features have captivated me. User experience is excellent and no other viewer I've seen shows that image quality or that zoom and pan smoothness. Both 2-D and 3-D graphics are amazing and even videos can be watched in this environment (with zooming and panning!). It offers state-of-the-art RAW support by using David Coffin's DCRAW along with its own algorithms, top quality editing functions, real color management and some useful tools, like the 'straighten picture along a line' that many users have been craving for. So many good things make it at least a must-try. (Requires .NET 3.0 or higher)
After some debate in the comments section I've decided to mention FastPictureViewer, but just because of one single feature. This claims to be (and probably is) the fastest viewer ever, especially indicated for quick browsing and culling. Like Pictomio, it uses hardware to speed things up and requires a lot of system resources and graphic capabilities. It has a nice interface as well. Anyway, the program offers very few functions once the initial trial period expires and actually becomes limited to viewing JPGs and not much more than screening and tagging. It does support full color space awareness, though, and the unbeatable speed is a very strong argument in its favor.
Finally, one of our site users, Mythril, suggested two programs which work with a very different approach, but with a special focus on speed. These are Vjpeg and Osiva. I just quote Mythril's comments because they are right on spot (original 06/02/09): "Both work by opening images in a borderless window that you can drag around and zoom in/out at will, practically without any lag, and you can open as many images as you want at the same time. Both programs load very quickly, but don't have any features to speak of. Another drawback is that there doesn't even seem to be a way to cycle through images in a directory... Osiva is slightly better in that you can easily drag and drop a bunch of images and have it open all of them for a superquick overview". I'll add they support very few file formats and are a bit awkward to use, but Vpej and Osiva are quite different from what I had seen so far.
Another reader, Bziur, also put forward First Impression, which works in a similar way without an apparent interface, just by using right-click menus and offering pretty much what the name of the program suggests.
This impressive entry in the Wikipedia features a chart comparing a considerable amount of free and commercial image viewers. Most of these products are also given detailed individual entries and include links to their websites.

Best Free Digital Photo Organizer
Best Free Digital Editor
Best Free Media Player

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Quick Selection Guide

Zoner Photo Studio Free
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Nice interface, very customizable, fast, lots of features, good editor, geotagging, full Unicode support
Limited batch processing options, takes over 350MB on disk, interface may seem somewhat bloated
Free for private or educational use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP - W8

Zoner installer offers two types of activation: paid or trial versions. To get the free one, activate the trial and then go to the 'Help' menu > 'License' > select 'Free'.
The download link on Zoner's site goes to Cnet, which sometimes uses wrapped installers. This does not seem to be the case, anyway.

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Fast, lots of features, very manageable, many plug-ins
The batch processing options could be better implemented
Free for private or educational use only
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
All Windows

Multi-monitor support

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Fast, lots of features, many plug-ins, less than 2MB on disk
Simplistic and a bit less manageable than main competitors
Free for private or educational use only
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows9x - W8

Multi-monitor support

FastStone Image Viewer
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Very nice fullscreen interface, good functionality, excellent batch processing options, GPS location in Google Earth
Slower than competitors with larger files
Free for private or educational use only
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows98 - W8

Multi-monitor support

WildBit Viewer
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Very manageable, excellent editor, geotagging capabilities, full Unicode support
Slower than the others above sometimes, no video support.
Free for private or educational use only
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows98SE - W8

Multi-monitor support

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor Marc Darkin. Registered site visitors can contact Marc by clicking here.


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by pstrg on 6. April 2014 - 22:50  (115540)

Unicode compatibility

Note that among the choices only Zoner Photo Studio and WildBit Viewer are fully Unicode ready.

XnViewer and FastStone Image Viewer are not capable, for example, of displaying a file which has non-west-european characters in its name.

IrfanView (with Unicode Plugin activated) won't open files with Cyrillic names if path+filenames are long (even though the same ones are opened by Zoner and WildBit).

by marcdarkin on 7. April 2014 - 18:10  (115554)

Thanks for the info. Unicode support is definitely a plus for the programs that include it. I mentioned it specifically for WildBit in my article, although I hadn't realized Zoner has it too. Anyway, I guess most of our readers aren't even concerned about the problem of foreign characters in their file names because they are just nonexistent.

However, I wonder why programs like Xn or FastStone don't include Unicode when they offer versions in languages such as Russian or Chinese. I don't really know whether that's difficult to implement.

Thanks again.

by dlibertine on 20. March 2014 - 19:32  (115152)

For whatever it's worth, I'm as basic a user as one can be. I view scans, crop, brighten or darken, rarely print and then save as JPG or PDF, nothing more.

I found Irfanview many years ago, and have stuck with it. The only problem I've had has happened a couple of times. Occasionally I cannot save as a PDF. And, then some weeks later resolves itself. Why it happens never matters to me until it happens.

During those down times, I have tried a number of the alternatives, and I have retained XNview, as it is the easiest for me to configure as gui similar to Irfanview to do the basic things I do.

Just my 2¢.

by marcdarkin on 20. March 2014 - 20:40  (115154)

Thanks for your input. XnView is so similar to IrfanView in certain aspects that Irfan Skiljan (its developer) has accused Pierre Gougelet (Xn's developer) of plagiarism and of stealing a large part of his program's code. I don't know to what extent the accusation is reliable or just a tantrum caused by an application that is at least just as good as his and which has become a serious competitor in a field traditionally dominated by Irfan.

by Panzer on 28. February 2014 - 8:49  (114701)

"... kuView is a picture viewer, provides useful features including Unicode, Exif, scaling filter, shell integration, and archive browsing. May be used as replacement for built-in viewer or ACDSee-like on Windows. Has tiny executable, is portable and green ...":

by twinkler on 2. March 2014 - 4:02  (114735)

Even though the website says kuView's portable, I couldn't find a portable version. When I installed the only version I found, I had to very carefully click the dim "Decline" button repeatedly to avoid getting other software installed along with it.

by sicknero on 2. March 2014 - 10:26  (114739)

The main download link on Sourceforge is for v1.7 which as far as I can tell isn't portable. On the main KuView website it's named 1.7pre so I'm guessing it's a pre-release version or some such. If you go here - - you can get v1.6 portable ("Full zip pack" or "Single exe").

I tried to download v1.7 just to see if was one of those "portable installers" if you see what I mean but every attempt triggered an alert from Comodo AV. I sent the file to Virus Total and it scores 7/45 ( although confusingly Comodo is not one of those 7.

I tried 1.6 anyway (which does seem clean), it's ok but I think there are much better image viewers around.

by marcdarkin on 2. March 2014 - 13:48  (114741)

Thanks twinkler and sicknero for your comments and useful info. I also scan every installer with Virus Total apart from my own antivirus, and all the programs in my review have always come out clean. Moreover, none of these viewers includes any other bundled software that may be installed if you aren't careful to opt out, so I guess I won't set a precedent with KuView. Anyway, I'll take a look to give my own opinion.

by Panzer on 20. March 2014 - 10:25  (115139)

It looks like Sourceforge is not what it used to be ... :(

by marcdarkin on 1. March 2014 - 12:16  (114728)

Thanks, Panzer.

by twinkler on 23. February 2014 - 7:04  (114609)

Thanks for your excellent survey of image viewers. I've been trying to decide between XnView and FastStone, but now I have another half-dozen to consider!

I thought I'd offer that Pictomio displays an ad banner along the bottom and hasn't been updated since 2012.

by marcdarkin on 23. February 2014 - 19:12  (114614)

Thanks for your kind words and the info about Pictomio. I may include it in the review.

by Anupam on 6. February 2014 - 18:35  (114292)

Hornil Photo Viewer:

Free for home users.

by marcdarkin on 6. February 2014 - 20:51  (114293)

Thanks, Anupam. I'll include it in my to-do list.

by Panzer on 29. January 2014 - 10:11  (114060)

Link for First Impression leads nowhere ... Remove it and add this one:

by marcdarkin on 29. January 2014 - 12:06  (114062)

Done. Thanks for that, Panzer. I check the links from time to time and it was still working less than three months ago.

by marcdarkin on 24. January 2014 - 0:48  (113949)

A review of an open source program called Nomacs has been included in the related products in my article. Thanks for your suggestion, Panzer!

by Panzer on 29. January 2014 - 9:56  (114059)

No problem.

From their site:

"... We have found a critical bug which – in some cases – prevents nomacs from starting correctly. If you experience this issue, we would recommend to update nomacs to version 1.6.3. The issue applies only to the Windows versions. Users of other OS can safely enjoy version 1.6.2. ..."

by marcdarkin on 29. January 2014 - 12:15  (114063)

I'm in touch with the devs and they've taken my feedback very seriously. I don't know when it will be released publicly but I've already tried a so-called 'nightly version' of Nomacs with most of my suggestions included. Pretty impressive.

by MidnightCowboy on 29. January 2014 - 13:26  (114064)

Great to see this level of commitment from devs providing stuff for free. MC - Site Manager.

by Dirge on 18. January 2014 - 0:32  (113674)

I’ve found Zoner Photo Studio FREE 14 (henceforth “ZPS”) to be the best organizer/viewer for images in the Windows Metafile (WMF) format, as it’s able to treat WMF files as scalable vector graphics and presents them at full quality at any size, even in thumbnails; ZPS also automatically resizes WMF thumbnail images to fit the allocated thumbnail space, making them much easier to browse. FastStone Image Viewer, XnView, and IrfanView all appear to extract a default bitmap image (often a very small, low-quality one) from the WMF file and present that, losing all scalability. You cannot edit WMF images directly in ZPS, but you can convert them to bitmap images of whatever size and file format you want and edit them in that format.

I have a lot of clipart in the WMF format, so ZPS is the best choice for me, but I thought that all of the programs did a good job with photos and other bitmap-based images. I haven’t tried the newer versions of ZPS because rumor has it that they are much larger and slower than version 14, and I have an old, slow Windows XP computer. ZPS takes three or four seconds to launch on my computer but is otherwise fast, smooth, and stable in operation. There is an occasional automatic check for a new version and subsequent pop-up ad urging you to buy the newest full version, but it’s quickly and easily closed.

by marcdarkin on 18. January 2014 - 18:27  (113705)

Thanks for your comment, Dirge. I don't work with WMF files so I didn't know ZPS is so good at presenting them and its superiority in this field over the other programs you've mentioned.

I haven't noticed any difference in speed in ZPS's new versions, though, but they certainly are bulkier than v.14, which is already huge.

by Dirge on 20. January 2014 - 15:19  (113736)

I just updated ZPSF14 (x86) to ZPSF16 (x64) on my dad’s three-year-old budget laptop computer (Windows 7 x64 w/dual-core processor), and the new program launches and runs significantly faster: cold launch time went from four seconds down to two, and thumbnail creation and other functions also seem to be about twice as fast -- Zoner’s extra tweaking for multi-core processors and native 64-bit programming have paid big speed dividends in this case.

It turns out that the forbidding 53MB download size of ZPSF16 is somewhat misleading, as it includes both 32-bit and 64-bit packages in free and full/trial versions. Curiously, the installer installed both the 32-bit and the 64-bit versions on the laptop, with separate folders within the main Program Folder and separate icons on the Desktop. I suspect that I can simply delete the 32-bit subfolder, but I’m not sure and haven’t done so yet.

by marcdarkin on 20. January 2014 - 17:48  (113775)

Thanks again, Dirge. My review of ZPS is quite long in an already long article; that's why I skipped the details you provide in your useful comment and kind of included them when I specified the program takes over 350MB on disk.

As for speed, ZPS is the champion when it comes to thumbnail creation. Older versions were nearly as quick, so improvements in this aspect are hard to be noticed.

Anyway, I may reword the review taking your points into account, especially those related to 64-bit and multicore options. Thank you so much!

by cancor on 2. January 2014 - 0:55  (113328)

Hi Everyone,
I have been playing with Zoner, XnView, and FastStone the last few days; my first attempt at using freeware for viewing. I was impressed with all three programs on how easy they are to work with compared to Photoshop Elements and Lightroom. However, when I compared the sharpness of the images in Zoner I was surprised to see that they are not as sharp as Photoshop, although I used the maximum quality settings. XnView had the same problem. But FastStone was as sharp as Photoshop. Has anyone else noticed these differences in sharpness between these viewers before? So, I've opted for FastStone; love that viewer!

by marcdarkin on 5. January 2014 - 3:36  (113407)

The topic is somewhat complex and this explanation won't be short, though you probably know most of it already. For our purpose, the following applies to electronic devices such as monitors, tablets or cellphones; so the viewing experience is obviously related to the quality of their screen. Some concepts are common to printed images as well, but that's a different story.

As a general case, a digital photo consists of an array of pixels that must be displayed within the limits of a screen if you want to view it. That limited space (also basically an array of tiny "dots" that emit light) is manufactured to have a certain display resolution, which is measured in number of pixels (usually quoted as width x height) and is referred to as native resolution. Every time you enlarge or reduce a picture on your screen (zooming in or out with your viewing application) a different amount of image pixels will be filling that fixed screen space. This means that your device will have to rearrange those pixels horizontally and vertically to make them fit into its own display resolution. This process is known as interpolation. There are various methods to interpolate pixels, but they rely on the performance of the graphic drivers included in your system plus the viewing program's own algorithms.

Let's suppose your screen resolution is 1600x1200 and you want to display a photo that is 1600 pixels wide and 1200px high. If you view it in full screen mode, your device will usually match one photo pixel to one of its own dots (pixels) and you'll be viewing the picture at 100% size. In this example, if you zoom in or out, there will always be some interpolation because the real number of image pixels must be remapped so that each screen dot represents several pixels (zoom out less than 100%) or several dots represent just one pixel (zoom in over 100%). If the picture you're displaying is just 800x600px or any size smaller than the resolution of your screen, then your viewer program will show some blank space around the borders of the photo when viewing it at 100% size. Conversely, if the picture is larger than your screen, the usual default option in viewers is to shrink the pic to display the whole image, a process that needs pixel interpolation.

Most digital cameras today produce pictures that are much bigger than the resolution of average screens. But we usually like to view the entire picture and not just a small part, so we reduce it to fit the screen or program window. When reducing the size of an image, most interpolation methods involve the removal of those pixels that are considered unnecessary and keeping or reconstructing the ones that will display the final image. Since this is certainly a "fake" rendering, the best way to assess the REAL sharpness of an image is to view it at 100% size, which is equivalent to 100% zoom on the screen because pixels are correctly matched on both. Other acceptable magnifications for an "unbiased" evaluation of image sharpness are 50% and 25%, otherwise artifacts are likely to appear, such as jagged edges or uneven transitions in gradients that should look smooth.

But an APPARENT sharpness exists too, depending on the zoom level, the interpolation filter and the program's own algorithms. Many programs offer some options in their settings to modify the interpolation methods. Usually, the higher the quality settings, the smoother the picture appears because we're trying to avoid pixel artifacts. Photoshop provides five interpolation options, but its sharpness varies with different zoom levels and some of them appear sharper or softer when you use odd magnifications, just like most graphics apps.

Zoner does have the option for image quality (settings > general > bitmap display quality), but XnView and FastStone don't. If you use low quality (nearest neighbor interpolation) in Zoner, your pics will look sharper than they do with your current settings. I've made all kinds of comparisons between Xn and FastStone with the same photos on three different monitors. Honestly, I haven't noticed any differences at all in sharpness when they're viewed at equal zoom levels, which means both programs must be currently using the same interpolation method. I don't exactly know which one it is, but I'd say it's probably a bilinear filter. This is a middle-low quality algorithm and that's why images appear very sharp. FS has an option to remove pixel artifacts by checking a box named 'Smooth', which displays pictures using probably a high quality Lanczos algorithm and gives them a more "natural" appearance (it depends on personal taste), but it's slower for loading and zooming. This smoothing function used to be available in XnView as well, but it seems to have been removed in latest versions.

And this is it. Sorry for the long explanation; I guess the last paragraph could have been enough to give you an answer, but I hope the rest helps too. Thanks for your comment.

by marcdarkin on 2. January 2014 - 3:43  (113332)

The sharpness that a viewer shows when displaying an image depends on more factors than just the settings you choose for image quality. I'll give a more detailed answer in a few hours because it's longer than I can write about just now. Thanks.

by shnbwmn on 30. October 2013 - 11:28  (111884)

I'd highly recommend Faststone ... much better interface to the others and a lot of useful and easy to access features. Its never given me problems, and I'm especially fond of the full screen image preview with the tabs on the sides. The only one I'd use after Faststone is XnView. Much of the same features and has other little programs called XnConvert, XnSketch and XnRetro which are quite nice. Irfanview's interface and logo (specifically) are outdated and disgusting. Usually I don't judge programs by how they look, but I just hate the design of Irfanview in every respect.

by marcdarkin on 29. October 2013 - 1:43  (111849)

A viewer called Nexus Image has been included in the related products here. Special thanks to choifamilyipad, who suggested it several months ago. And sorry for the delay, but it has been impossible for me to review it before.

by haroman on 15. September 2013 - 9:25  (110724)

Great review! It came to my attention because you said "Some of these programs support video viewing" and thats just what i was looking for. I understand that the subject goes beyond the scope of this review, but it would be nice if at least you includded this feature in the quick selection guide.

Nowadays we take dozens of pictures a day mixed with videos in our cameras, and is nice the see them in sequence in the same viewer.

Could you reccomend me one?

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