How many times have you heard that Lightroom is a great tool except that its RAW rendering is glacially slow, and it takes a long time to import files only to go through the culling process and end up discarding the ones you don't like and that didn't work out. For the last few years, I have been using Photo Mechanic to do the fast view and cull process. I'm hardly getting the full benefit of that amazing software but it does this particular job with speed and power. Not everyone is willing to pay the price for Photo Mechanic though and I am asked very frequently for an alternative. I couldn't recommend one until now.
I sure as heck don't know every great tool out there and so it was serendipitous as I sat down to cull through over 2000 images from the Canadian International Air Show today that I encountered a short note from #NasimMansurov, a very bright fellow who writes for Photography Life. He wrote about this program for Macs and for Windows called, go figure, Fast RAW Viewer. You can download it at fastrawviewer.com Download it and give it a go. The trial runs for 30 days. If you like what it does, buy a license for $19.99 USD. But if you buy before September 10, 2015, you pay only $14.99
So since I had a LOT of culling to do, I gave it a try. Wow! It's very quick and you get a proper RAW conversion, not an embedded JPEG or some other thing. Moreover, I don't have to import everything into Lightroom just to throw the rejects away.
I wasn't nuts about the default hotkey to move an image to the _Rejected folder, so I used the simple keyboard shortcut tool to make a new one that suited me better. I don't like having to hit more than two keys at once for a shortcut I will use all the time. How nice that they made it possible to simply create shortcuts that work for me.
What I really liked is that not only does the program show you right away what your RAW converter will show you after you import, but it will also show you the true RAW histogram, not the JPEG vague approximation that you get on the camera LCD or in Lightroom until the actual RAW conversion is completed. The histogram also shows you the percentage of each R,G and B channel that is under or over exposed. I loaded a shot of Sondra taken in the studio into the program to show what this looks like. You can see it in the screenshot above. Yes, I should have made sure her hair was neat first...
In addition to culling, you can also set rankings and colour flags as you scan your images and this metadata is written to an XMP file so when you do import the keepers into Lightroom, your ranking and colour coding comes with the image. In fact the EXIF data window is very comprehensive and you can easily set what information you want to see and what information you don't care about. Any modifications you make, such as changes to the title or description get written to the XMP file as well.
You can also set indicators for both under and over exposure, and work with the white balance right in the Fast RAW Viewer. It also can show you focus peaking for edges and fine detail, very handy if you want to see at a glance if your image is sharp. This was very useful for the airshow images because the sky was so hazy. Otherwise I would have been zooming in to check every file. If you want to push or pull exposure on an image there is a simple plus/minus option that moves exposure in ⅓ stop increments.
You can also temporarily punch the shadows way up to get a sense of what the shadow noise is going to look like. This is really important if you are a regular user of the Shadows and Highlights sliders, along with Blacks and Whites to get as much dynamic range out of your image as is possible.
You can even program an automatic exposure correction on images that you are viewing, handy if you want to automatically make adjustments as part of an expose to the right (ETTR) exercise.
At time of installation, Fast RAW Viewer discovered Lightroom, Capture One and Aperture on the computer and set up keyboard shortcuts to send the selected image to the program you choose. Aperture still exists, but I only use it for old stuff so I changed the application loader/launcher to invoke Photoshop CC 2015. Hitting the shortcut ( Command-R on my Mac), sent the image, along with its XMP data straight to Photoshop and it opened first in Adobe Camera RAW, just as it should, with all the adjustments from Fast RAW Viewer intact.
This is damn good software and a great value at the regular price, let alone the sale, if you are like me and tend to shoot a lot of images, with the expectation that a culling will be a normal part of your workflow to get down to your best. You'll save a LOT of time not importing stuff you would dump anyway, and you'll keep your Lightroom catalog leaner and more efficient. Your license allows for use on two computers simultaneously and the license doesn't care if you are Windows or Mac or both.
I receive no incentive to recommend Fast RAW Viewer, so you know that this review is completely straight up. Besides I always declare when I am sponsored or have an affiliate relationship anyways. I like Fast RAW Viewer, and if you shoot RAW, you'll like it to.