In any random sample of photographers, you can bet that Adobe's Lightroom and Photoshop will be up there vying for honors as image viewers. But what alternatives do you have? Here's my vote.
Sometimes, I like to keep things simple. And on that score, Lightroom and Photoshop may just top the mark for overcomplicated bloatware. I'm not knocking their capabilities for which they are exemplary and market-leading, but if there is a software mantra I like to stick to, then it is "keep it simple." Simplicity is good, because it strips back to what you need to achieve a task, and in the software world, that often means speed. Speed of workflow and speed of software.
So when it comes to image viewers, I'm after something that allows me to eyeball photos quickly, supports masses of file formats, has flexible batch-processing, and launches fast. And my vote goes to XnView, an application built from the ground up to view images quickly — very quickly. It supports a vast array of file formats, allows simple image level manipulations, and has a powerful batch-processing engine. Before I go any further, let me clarify what it doesn't do. It doesn't do DAM (digital asset management) or pixel-level editing.
So, is this really that useful? I do all my DAM in Lightroom and when I want more selective, layer-based edits, I move to Affinity. I usually export my images as JPEG/TIFF for clients and print houses once processing is complete, so after that, I need something quick to browse directories of images, review metadata, crop, rotate, batch rename/resize, print contact sheets, and apply quick grayscaling or levels adjustments.
XnView does this with aplomb, supporting over 500 file formats (usefully including multipage TIFFs) and allowing thumbnails, film strips or slideshows, as well as producing contact sheets. It is also an image-level editor, allowing easy resize, rotate and crop (including lossless JPEG), simple adjustments (brightness, contrast, levels, color depth), and filter effects (such as blur, sharpen, noise reduction). For my post-production work, this covers pretty much everything I need to do. For example, when I produce an Fstoppers article, I need a banner image that’s 1000 x 570 pixels. It’s a quick resize to 1000 pixels wide, then a custom selection that is set to 570 pixels high. XnView is just fast, and with nearly all commands having a keyboard shortcut, there is no fuss.
By far, the standout feature for me is the batch processing: virtually any of the processing features in XnView can be set to run across groups of files (for example, resizing, adding watermarks, or producing overlay text. When I produce an online wedding album, I tend to export the full-resolution images from Lightroom and then resize them in XnView for upload to Pixieset.
My least favorite feature? When I said that XnView doesn’t do DAM, that’s not strictly correct. It does allow tagging (with preset categories) and starring. While the latter works okay, the former is fiddly to apply. Stick with something like Lightroom that is designed for the job.
What would I most like to see? Some pixel-level editing would be nice. I often find I want to directly add text or make some simple pixel corrections (erase/clone).
XnView Classic is the core product (for Windows), with a family of related applications that hang off it, including a less well-featured multi-platform (MacOS and Linux) version and specialist post-processing (Sketch and Retro) apps. There are also Android and iOS variants principally for post-processing, as well as a command line batch processor for scripting (NConvert). Usefully, it has a version that will run straight off a USB stick. XnView works on a generous freemium model that is free for non-commercial use with a modest $30 price for commercial users.
It's the ubiquitous Swiss Army knife image viewer that fits my needs. It won't suit everyone. In fact, there are a ton of different image viewers out there, and many readers will have tried a few of them. So, if there is one image viewer that suits the way you work, list it in the comments below with the top feature that sells it to you above everything else.