A new version of one of my favourite free imaging program has just been released.
The program, FastStone Image Viewer, has been mentioned in these columns before and is available from the website FastStone.org. I use it every day even though I own copies of Photoshop and Lightroom, because it is the quickest way I know to look through a lot of digital pictures.
The new version, 4.3, hasn’t changed much as far as the interface goes, but it has a lot of new features which make it even more useful.
Previous versions did allow you to change the exposure of a picture but, to my eye at least, the results always looked a bit flat. This new version has a number of new tools including Levels and Curves adjustments which allow you very precise control over exposure and contrast.
There is also a new Adjust Lighting feature which is similar to the shadows and highlights adjustment in other programs, and which lets you lighten dark shadows and darken blown-out highlights, without affecting the rest of the picture.
There are new clone stamp and healing brush tools in the package which allow you to remove imperfections like dust spots or zits from your pictures. I was particularly impressed with the healing brush which blends into the background so well that it is often impossible to tell that it has been used at all.
FastStone is a remarkable program which has such a wide range of capabilities that it could be useful to anyone dealing with digital images. It is likely to appeal equally to enthusiasts, professionals, or even newbies looking for an easy all-in-one imaging program.
It can basically take care of just about any task including downloading pictures from a camera or memory card, viewing just about any type of image, including many different Raw file formats, and fix images and apply a choice of special effects, including text, lines and shapes.
In addition, the program makes it easy to crop pictures, e-mail them, print them and can even import pictures from a scanner. It can be used to create image strips out of a number of pictures or create a decent slide show including any number of pictures that you care to select.
I must confess that I don’t often use the image adjustment features in FastStone but I do use it as a viewer to select the pictures that I am going to work on in other programs. Another feature that I commonly use is batch processing which, I find, is a lot quicker to use than the equivalent in Photoshop.
I often need to produce small thumbnail pictures for display on the web and FastStone makes it very easy to select some pictures and produce thumbnails in the size I need. You can also use the feature for a number of other things including adding borders and copyright notices to multiple pictures.
I also like the way FastStone remembers the locations where you have copied or moved pictures and then allows you to repeat the operation with a keystroke or two.
Keen digital snappers may eventually need other software tools to work alongside FastStone, to create panoramas, HDR pictures, or to make composites of more than one picture, for example, but it would be an excellent starting point for just about anyone.
It is not a heavyweight image manipulation program but more than makes up for that in being simple, easy-to-use and fast. At the moment, I can really only think of one area where I would like to see an improvement, and that is the ability to burn selected images to CD or DVD discs for backup or to take to a minilab for printing.