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:
- 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.
- 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.