Fast what? The primer on “fast” RAW image viewers

21 Feb

Over the last few years, various RAW viewers have sprung up, all claiming to be “fast” and putting this in their name. No law suits have apparently been filed, so it’s left for us consumers to figure out which is which. I thought you would appreciate a resource that you can return to when you need to know, so here goes.

The candidates presented here are FastStone Image Viewer, FastPictureViewer, and FastRawViewer. Please note that these are not necessarily the fastest RAW viewers out there (I haven’t tested these or any others for that particular aspect). The purpose of this article is just to clear up the potential naming confusion.

FastStone Image Viewer is actually the oldest of the bunch, launching in 2004. It’s a fully featured image viewer that supports many RAW formats, some colour space operations, and a host of editing steps such as cloning, colour correction, curves, cropping, and sharpening. JPEG rotation is lossless in the FastStone viewer. It also has a few fancy functions, such as emailing contact sheets, and is free for personal or educational use. Commercial use is 35 bucks.

FastPictureViewer dates back to 2008. It exists in three editions, but only the most expensive one supports RAW formats (and the most basic one is free). It doesn’t have any editing capability and instead specialises in image rating and selection. It’s 50 bucks for the version that does RAW.

There is also a FastPictureViewer Codec Pack for ten bucks that simply enables fast raw previews in Windows Explorer, nothing more. However, Microsoft also provides its own codec pack for free, so that’s another option to consider.

FastRawViewer is the new kid on the block, entering public beta in 2014, and is made by the folks whose other commercial project is RawDigger and who maintain open source LibRaw (this will only interest software developers), on which FastRawViewer is based. Considering it’s early stages, it has quite a bit of functionality already. It’s even more focused on viewing and analysing, rather than editing, images than FastPictureViewer, and will only set you back 20 dollars for the full version right now.

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