What is a good image viewer?

Hitting sourceforge.net with a search for image viewer gives a whooping 3110 results … and counting. If you narrow it down to “image viewer” you are left with only” 126 results. Compare that with 3 image editors (Gimp, Krita and Cinepaint) and a couple of RAW converters (Rawstudio and Ufraw). OK add one in each categories that are not Open Source (Pixel and RawTherapee) and you’re done. So why, oh why so many image viewer projects? I guess it is a easier to code an image viewer than full featured image editor but still…

Plus consider the wide range of possibilities that you find under the umbrella of image viewer: from “image managers” à la F-Spot or Digikam to the most simple viewers à la Mirage or Ristretto and middle solutions like GThumb, Gwenview (yes, it is a KDE app) or GqView.

This got me into thinking: what do I expect from an image viewer? Why do I use it for? What do I NOT want to be included in it? Obviously, this is my opinion, but I would like it to be a basis of discussion more than the definite answer – so don’t hesitate to comment.

What do I use an image viewer for?

2 scenarios come to mind:

  1. To view images – to which you rightly say: “Doh!” Indeed, I like to go through the screen-version of my holiday images and show them around or review them for myself with a photography critique eye… or sometimes a nostalgic eye. Anyway, in this case, I want something light that allows me just to view images fullscreen – since this is usually done on my ageing laptop which uses XFCE4, Ristretto is the choice for me. Mirage would do as well and probably many others lightweight alternatives.
  2. The other side of my utilization of an image viewer is for images sorting – when back from a trip. This is obviously a more interesting scenario and requires a more powerful tool.

What I need from my image viewer

Keeping aside scenario 1 for now, I use a viewer to review my images, delete the ones that are of no interest (the majority), tag the images left and later generate a monthly index image (contact sheet) – although with the use of RAW, a lot of the reviewing / deleting tends to be done in the RAW converter (RawStudio in my case).

Ideally, my image viewer should allow me to view images of any kind (RAW, JPEG, TIFF) and tag them in XMP embedded inside the image file. I also want to be able to open images in Rawstudio or Gimp / Cinepaint and to generate an image index easily.

What I don’t want from my image viewer

There is one thing that I absolutely don’t want an image viewer to do for me is to copy, move or save files without me asking for it. Since there is a (however slight) degradation each time you save a JPEG image, I want to be in control. I also want to be in control of where my files are stored, how they are named, etc.

Call me a control freak (and probably rightly so) but this is the reason why f-stop is a non-starter for me even if it ticks a lot of other boxes…

What I don’t need from an image viewer

… is any image editing capabilities. If there is some touch up to be done in an image, it will be either at the RAW development stage or in a 16bits dedicated photo editor (Cinepaint for now).

I am however a relatively flexible person and I can live with ignoring the image editing capabilities of a viewer.

Which image viewer ticks all the boxes?

For scenario 1) Ristretto is fine – and quite a few others fit the bill. But it is not the most hard core scenario 🙂 .

For 2), however, two aspects tend to miss in most projects: the ability to display RAW files and XMP tagging. GThumb is the image viewer I am used to, even if it only supports IPTC tags (and I had to compile a custom version for Hardy – it is however corrected in Intrepid).

Just for evaluation, I had a go at compiling the SVN version of GThumb and good stuff is coming. Here is a screenie of GThumb displaying Pentax RAW images:

Obviously, there is a price to pay for RAW display: GThumb has to demosaic the file before showing it so browsing is not as instant as with JPEGs.

Also coming is the XMP and IPTC support, as displayed in this second screenshot. Note that at the time of writing, GThumb crashes when modifying a tag (from SVN, that kind of thing would be expected).

GThumb-SVN also has “scripts support” which allows you to define custom actions such as “Open with Gimp” – but think about the possibilities offered with ImageMagick / bash integration: “Save for web” (resize to 1024×768 with a bit of unsharp, convert to sRGB and save as progressive JPG). Looking forward to the next version 🙂 .

So GThumb is my image viewer of choice for now. It is blending nicely in Gnome, offers most of the functionalities I need and the missing ones are being worked on in SVN – it also has a few things (editing) which I don’t use but I can live with that. And it offers a very well thought images index (contact sheet) generation.

Of course, I would be very interested to hear from you if you know of a more fitting solution.

As a conclusion, a recent attempt at street photography.


30 Responses to What is a good image viewer?

  1. mecel says:

    Actually it gives you 3110 results for “image OR viewer” query, which shows you highly inadequate results such as “bootimg: bootimg loads a kernel image into memory, and boots this image directly from the running kernel”.

    “image AND viewer” gives you 163 results.

  2. pkabz says:

    I use gThumb regularly as an image viewer (to… simply view my images!).
    I’d say F-Spot is better at viewing RAW files though, just make sure you change the default option that would copy to another dir all the pics you want to view!

    On your list of things you need from an image viewer, I’d add “being able to read the color profile embedded in the picture and render it accordingly”

  3. When I started out, I was using F-Spot. I changed up my workflow and now find I only use GThumb. I’m going to have to start looking at tagging.

    Now I’m anxious for the next version to be available. Scripting support sounds like a good feature. I swiped one of your bash scripts and modified it for my workflow. It works great… It’ll be nice to be able to run it directly from GThumb.

    BTW: What do you use to restore your EXIF information after working with RawStudio? I’m a little frustrated that my EXIF data gets lost.

  4. Jakob says:

    I just want mention geeqie. It’s a continuation of gqviewer, the “other” gnome viewer. Qqview has more features then gthumb. I find it better for browsing and sorting large collections of photos. Geeqie aims to add XMP tag support. It is still in alpha state, but it does work: http://sourceforge.net/projects/geeqie/

    On a side note: Why doesn’t more viewers have caching of multiple images like the old kuickshow viewer from KDE? I think an advanced image viewer should have this for responsiveness.

  5. ejeschke says:

    I use gthumb. Things I wish it had:

    – load ICC profiles
    – bring back the histogram!
    – scripts (glad to hear it is coming)
    – raw support (ditto)
    – better stability (hardy version crashes occasionally, like when deleting a photo you are viewing)
    – comparison viewing (view two or more images side by side, a la lightroom/aperture)
    – more flexible renaming

    It is frustrating at times, especially when it regresses, like the loss of the histogram. But it’s the best viewer in the gnome environment.

  6. Seth says:

    Being once a completely biased to GNOME I was dogged determined to stick with f-spot. Gthumb I had already given up on as I found it didnt have the features I wanted in an image viewer.

    Long story short, I now use digikam for all my image browsing needs and occasionally I even find myself trying out Google’s (closed source) Picasa application. The main reasons I use the two as image viewers is simple: I can move around my photos quickly, delete the crap, tag using IPTC data that gets saved in the actual file itself, and I get to use any folder structure I want, even move stuff around and the app doesnt complain or worse yet crash. They just update their image databases and keep on going about the business of letting me see my photos. In addition, I also find that for most of the very few edits that I would do to a photo, they are pretty easily accomplished with digikam’s editor (except for sharpening which is just dog slow).

    In fact, my only *real* gripe about digikam is that its a KDE application and so utilizes their file picker. And if you use workspace switcher in GNOME, you’ll quickly witness just how annoyingly irritating Google’s decision to make [Alt + Ctrl] their key combo to toggle full screen.

  7. greys says:

    I use geeqie as well, as I’m a long time fan of the gqviewer. geeqie is fast, supports RAW (NEFs anyway) and has a simple enough interface. I’ve yet to play with tagging as I so far only used it for general viewing and sorting through photos (removing the garbage from each photosession)

  8. jcornuz says:

    Hi there,

    Thank you all for your comments.

    @mecel: I tried to be smart, but failed :-/

    @pkabz: Is there a way to tell f-spot NOT to touch, import or copy my images? I think f-spot would be very interesting in this case. And you are right, I should have mentioned CM – although I am not as picky about it when not doing image editing, but still it is nice to view colors as close are “real” as possible.

    @John: I am also waiting for Exif support in Rawstudio – I’ll probably re-generate my JPEGs then from the RAW images profile. Patches have been floating around but I didn’t manage to apply them and compile successfully…

    @Jakob: GQview has been my first ever image viewer (back when I used CRUX Linux). Good to see that it is moving forward as geeqie – I’ll give it a go sometimes. Does it still has one click navigation 😛

    Geeqie may well become my default viewer.

    @Seth: I am waiting for KDE 4 to mature then I’ll give it a serious go – including gwenview, digikam and krita (hopefully stable by then). Good days ahead 🙂

    Thanks for your input guys.


  9. Alex says:

    Thanks a lot for the tip on geeqie. I have just compiled it, and I must say it looks great! 🙂

  10. FX Belloir says:

    Hello Joël,

    Your question about F-Spot: yes it is possible. After clicking on “Import” (icon with a “+”) just uncheck “copy file to picture folder” and they won’t be duplicated or moved.

    Geeqie has became my default viewer too. Even if there is still a lot to do. I recommend the “panoramic” view in File menu.
    I expect a viewer to be quick at displaying pictures as well as having an organized view of thumbnails, with some basic sorting capabilities. Being able to display RAW files is a real plus.

    In spite of using Gnome, I continue to use DigiKam for its organizing and metadata/geotagging features.

  11. David says:

    I used F-Spot for a while, but I gave up using it because I couldn’t customise the list of external editors; specifically, I couldn’t use UFRaw (I think the situation has improved slightly now, but I’m not intending to go back). I started using Digikam which was a definite improvement since Kcontrol let me specify the apps to use. However, I’m not a fan of the KDE-apps’ interface. More importantly, digikam ran SLOW and its preview of raw files was flaky.
    My new choice of image viewer is Feh. It’s lightning fast and does just what I want; displays images! It doesn’t support raw, but I’ve written a script using ufraw-batch to create a temporary image which feh can open. It’s about 3 seconds from click to full-screen preview. I use exiftool for metadata, again accessed through shell scripts, so other than the light-table feature, I don’t have much more use for Digikam.

  12. Stefan says:

    I needed an image viewer in the last week to do the following:

    1) go through a large set of images from several cameras and delete a lot of them (or move them or tag them as “don’t show in a slide show, …). A one key deleting is what I’m looking for (no pop up asking if I am really, really, really sure I know what I am doing…). No “numpad shortcuts”, because I don’t have a numpad and the “fn” key plus a number that I can not really read because it’s very small and green is not an option (hello gthumb…)
    2) sort the rest; not(!) after date or original file name (so renaming would be ok), but since there were so many photos I really would have preferred using arrow keys or the mouse to move them graphically around
    3) give a slide show (with a customisable switch-time and in full display resolution)

    I tried: gthumb, gqview, ristretto, picasa and qiv
    gthumb : (1): no single key feature (2): no sorting (that I could find) (3): yes, good
    gqview: (1): no single key feature (2): no sorting (that I could use) (3): yes, good
    ristretto: (1): no single key feature (2): so sorting (3): yes, good
    picasa: (1): not really (2): good manual sorting (3): NO, slideshow is only possible in reduced resolution (and no, the “use full resolution” button does not what you would think…
    qiv: (1) YES, finally (2): no (3): not correctly rotated

    -> I should write my own viewer (which I would do, if I had too much time…)
    So not surprising that there are a lot of viewers out there, but surprising that none is able to do what I want. Please correct me, I there is one or if one of the mentioned can do all the things that I need.

  13. Roberto says:

    In this post I read about a lot of image viewers-organizers, but I seen no words about Photo Organizer from Balint Kis and Solomon Peachy. I think that by far is the most robust and featured photo organizer under linux, only one big problem, the installation process. If you are able to install it properly is really a professional solution for photographers, stable and very scalable.

  14. lt_gustavsen says:

    I normally use eye of gnome (eog) or geeqie. I like geeqie most since it has more features But I often use eog for single image viewing.
    Eog and qeeqie also supports a color managed workflow, which is a must for me. Eog supports the xicc specifcation for the display profile and in geeqie you have to specify your display profile.

    For organizers I use kphotoalbum, but I have also started to play with xmp coding after I found this:

    Stefan: gqview have the custom command tool that let you map “rm -f $1” or something like that to a key combination like ctrl-6. It’s not a single key but almost. I use this feature myself (in geeqie) for copying image to a “send to photo lab folder”

  15. william says:

    I use a piece of closed source software called LightZone, for image viewing, organizing and manipulation. Great all in one package until an open source equivalent turns up and no GIMP+Gthumb etc. is not an alternative I’ve tried them all.

  16. Steve says:

    Hi all,

    Since “Pixel” was mentioned as an image editor/viewer, I’d like to let you know that the project seems to be dead.

    Several people ordered a license, some of them paid for it in advance but never got a license key – including me. Complains could be read in the forum as well until it was turned down. The forum’s page at http://www.pixelcommunity.com isn’t available anymore … (link from Pixel’s home page http://www.kanzelsberger.com)

    I’ve tried to contact the author, Pavel Kanzelsberger, on his kanzelsberger.com and gmail.com email addresses. No reply so far. For months.

    Just to let everybody know to be careful,

  17. Manfred says:

    Hi Stefan,

    I have very similiar requirements and I’m still searching for a suitable program. I want to be able to select and sort the photos manually for the slide show, save this definition and use it later for a slide show in full display resolution.

    If somebody knows such a program please let me know.


  18. Axel says:

    Too bad you guys are not on Windows…

  19. graphius says:

    Too bad you guys are not on Windows…


    At least say Mac…

  20. Brian says:

    How did you get gThumb to display the thumbnail of a pentax raw file? I’ve installed gthumb 2.10.11 in ubuntu 9.04, it does display the raw image in the image browser, but not the thumbnail. A shame as otherwise gthumb would be just what I was after…

  21. Andrew P. says:

    Sad to say, but I agree with graphius’ comment on November 17, 2008. The availability of good image viewers on Linux today is nil. Even the best Linux offerings still don’t have the features and stability that early shareware versions of ACDSee for Windows 3.1 had in the mid-1990s.

  22. Joe says:

    Maybe you can use JBrout.

    It tags photos with iptc/xmp so the tags are in the picture, not in a external file.

    Be sure to say no at the beginning, when it asks if it can rename all your photos.

    It’s written in python and plugins are available and can be written.

  23. Otto says:

    The problem with f-spot is that it is a Mono app. It’s against my religion to us Microsoft software…

  24. Lvu says:

    Thank you for the extensive description for gThumb. I really needed to find a good RAW viewer for my pentax files.

  25. Hagal says:

    Eye of Gnome has some configurable buttons. That’s eog,
    the image viewer that comes with Gnome. Use Edit/Toolbar
    and drag the trash can to the toolbar. Now you can quickly
    go through tons of pics with your new Trash button.
    Really nifty, took me a while to figure that out.

  26. borislaw says:

    i mean geeqie. its super speedy. you can manouver and navigate with ease across directories and usefully browse through folders containing many images. on the other hand, when viewing a single image the interface can instantly be made sparse and definately has a minimalist appeal that others may lack. Its closest relative is probably mirage, but geeqie is faster, more feature-rich; perhaps it is less intuitive and settings/preferences are slightly more confusing and often less essential.

  27. MarkE says:

    I like to be able to view the images at 1:1 and then scroll around it to look at the details. Geeqie is great for that, and it’s fast. I used to like eog, but in the latest Ubuntu, it seems to sharpen the image before displaying it. I hate that, and I couldn’t find a way to turn it off. Images from my digital camera are quite sharp enough, and oversharpened pictures look horrible I think.
    I’ve switched away from a gnome-based distro now for other reasons, so eog has gone.
    Also I’ve found mirage does what I want nicely, and it doesn’t have the extra functionality which geeqie has & which I don’t need.

  28. Den says:

    Any body knows a image viewer which can show the gps coordinates in exif on a map WHILE displaying the image?

  29. Bluesie-Jazzie says:

    I’ve used the free CoolUtils Photo Viewer http://www.coolutils.com/PhotoViewer and liked it although I’ve used a lot of other viewers as well and they have similar functionality and different interface designs. The CoolUtils viewer boasts a really nice design but I like Eye of Gnome a little better anyway

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