I am a Nikon shooter and I shoot RAW (NEF) exclusively. I use Nikon Transfer to download my photos and Nikon ViewNX to sort through them before editing the best a few in Nikon Capture NX2. This process works fine for most of the time. However I feel the ViewNX part is a weaker link of the workflow chain.

ViewNX has become better over the time but still lacks some key features. For example, there is no way of comparing two images side-by-side. So I set out to find an working alternative to ViewNX that is better for my RAW workflow. I don’t mind paying for a commercial software if necessary.

The first thing I tried is Photo Mechanic. It is fast, color managed, very powerful in XMP/IPTC metadata handling. It can do side-by-side comparison of photos. It also supports various image outputs and image uploading to various services. I really like it but for what I need, I don’t feel paying $150 is worth it. Perhaps it is a good option for professional photographers who work on a tight schedule and need to meet strict requirement for XMP/IPTC information. Here is a blog post on why the metadata support in Photo Mechanic is superior than that of the Lightroom.

I then checked out some free alternatives.

Google Picasa is very fast. I especially like the ability to scroll through all of my photo collections without being limited by the boundaries of folders and drives. It is very unfortunate that Picasa doesn’t support color management at all. I also tried XnView after seeing some recommendations. but it seems to be a little buggy. It crashed constantly on my PC. It doesn’t seem to have true color management support either. This is the same problem for IrfanView. The next one I tried is the FastStone Image Viewer.  It is fast, color-managed, and supports side-by-side comparison of multiple images. It looks very good, until I noticed that it doesn’t support IPTC/XMP editing at all.

Disappointment aside, I did find an interesting “feature” of the FastStone Image Viewer. When I browse the photos in full screen mode, I found them very sharp, noticeably sharper than what I see in ViewNX. I have included two samples below for your to check out. You need a JavaScript enabled browser. Simply move your mouse in and out of the image to see the difference.


Sample #1 (Javascript enabled browser required)


Sample #2 (Javascript enabled browser required)

It seems that the FastStone Image Viewer by default uses some type of down-sampling algorithm that sharpens the image when displaying images at less than 100% resolution. It helps quite a bit when I am sorting through the images. It makes it easier to determine if the photo is out of focus, has motion blur or just doesn’t have sufficient in-camera sharpening.

FastStone Image Viewer does have a “Smooth” display option that is supposed to provide better display quality. But it seems to kill the aforementioned feature and slows down the display speed a little bit. So I keep it off.

At the end, I haven’t find a solid alternative to Nikon ViewNX yet. I just add FastStone Image Viewer to the workflow. Its speed, side-by-side comparison feature, and the “sharpen” feature, have made it easier to go through a large collection of shots, discarding unwanted ones. ViewNX is still needed for entering XMP/IPTC information.

Posted in: Digital photography, Software on May 11th, 2009. Trackback URI
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