I wrote earlier about a new image viewer — FastStone. I did like it, but it turned out the “Fast” part was an exaggeration. For a quick, efficient, feature-rich picture viewer/editor, there are really only two alternatives: irfanview and XnView. Which one is the right one, depends on your needs, but they’re both free and small, so why choose? — you can use them both.
Irfanview is the fastest viewer around. If what you have is collections of images off the net, this may not make much of a difference, but if you have the occasional 18 Mb scan on a CD, you’ll be grateful for the speed. It is also quite versatile in the handling of images.
The cons are, as always, a reflection of the pros: it is a bare-bones viewer/editor, and there is not much frills — not even the frills that may improve usability. There is a thumbnails viewer, but it opens in a separate window and you have to switch back and forth between them, so in practice, it has no thumbnail browser. There are also quite a few configuration settings you can do, but they tend to be well hidden, both in terms of placement in menus, and in terms of lingo — you have to know quite precisely what you’re looking for.
In all those areas, therefore, XnView is my #1 choice. Just as quick as irfanview for “everyday use” (I’d say; but the bigger the file, the greater the advantage of irfan), but way ahead in terms of usability: a good browser mode, with thumbnail view, preview and file browser (all can be configured), a tabbed interface, and a greater selection of filters and other effects, should you want to use it as a “Photoshop light”. Everything works the way it is expected, and it works efficiently. Good program! And free.
But if what you want is something even more in the direction of Photoshop, but you don’t want to spend that money, or don’t have time to wait for it to load, PhotoFiltre is what you want. That may actually be the case even if you think you want Photoshop. . . I have found it to have a much smoother learning curve than PS, so that even though you can do some more advanced stuff with PS, chances are you will never know, because you have to be a super-user to find out about it. PhotoFiltre works very intuitively, and in 90% of the cases, it has the tool you want, and it has it for you much quicker than that other program.
And it’s free for personal use.
All this applies if you’re a Windows user.