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RAW File Thumbnails

by Wren McMains
(5/2009, updated 4/2012)

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If you look at a folder of RAW files using Windows Explorer, and even though the view is "Large Icons", you might see something like this:

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Even in the Details Pane at the bottom, there's very little useful information. Obviously this is a reason to browse your folders using FastStone, but it's also nice to be able to see thumbnails of your image files in Windows Explorer, or in an Open or Save As dialog box.

Below we'll learn how to make this happen, but the icons shown here remind me of something I want to change first. (Forget about icons and default programs, just show me how to get thumbnails.) They are FastStone Image Viewer icons, meaning these files will open in FSIV by default. I much prefer using FastStone MaxView as the default viewer for all my image files. Two reasons: (1) It's much faster to open (almost instant because it's such a small quick program), and (2) if I'm already viewing images in FSIV I can view the image I selected in Windows Explorer at the same time, and without jumping out of the folder I was viewing in FSIV. Just beware, that since December 2008, MaxView is no longer free, the license fee is now $20. You can download a 45 day free trial version to see if you like it.

To make MaxView the default viewer for ALL image files, start MaxView. Go to the Association tab in Settings:

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Click on "Select All". Then if you still want PSD files to automatically open in Photoshop, uncheck that box. Then click OK:

(Note: If you don't want to pay for MaxView I recommend making FastStone the default viewer for image files. In the settings for FastStone Image Viewer you'll find almost exactly the same associations tab as shown just above and below.)

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I now just open everything in MaxView because it's so fast. Saves starting up Photoshop when you click on a PSD file by accident. If I want to edit I then just press the letter E because I've set Photoshop to be MaxView's external editor. Takes almost no extra time, and only one more keystroke ... I've decided it's worth it.

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With MaxView as my default viewer, I now see these icons (but that's not really any better):

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What I really want to see are Thumbnails. If I look at the same folder from another machine on my network I see:

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And if I click on an image I start to see more information, like the dimensions, in the Details Pane:

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And if I grab the border between the thumbnails and the Details pane and expand the Details pane, I really see lots of information:

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The images in the folder above haven't been keyword tagged. For Tags, you see it says "Add a Tag".

Update (4/2012):  Last time I looked neither Nikon or Canon offerred 64-bit versions of their codec's (described below). Microsoft now offers 32 and 64-bit versions of a codec that works for almost all cameras, but it does not allow editing keyword tags, although you can view them. Google "microsoft raw codec" or download from here.

If I click on an image in another folder where I've added keyword tags, you can see all the tags applied if you hover over that field with your mouse:

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If I go back to the other folder and click on the field it opens up a box where I can enter tags. Also note that Save and Cancel buttons have appeared so you can confirm or abandon your edits:

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When adding keywords, be consistent in the names you use and separate keywords by semicolons.

(It will even let you change some of the EXIF information it probably shouldn't, so you can lie about the technique you used when taking the image.)

OK, Why does this work on this machine and not others?

The answer is I installed a codec on this machine. What's a codec? A codec is a device or computer program capable of encoding and/or decoding a digital data stream or signal. The word codec is a portmanteau of 'compressor-decompressor' or, most commonly, 'coder-decoder'.

Many camera manufacturers provide codecs for their RAW files which you can download and install. Here are links to the Nikon and Canon codecs (but note that both only work with 32-bit operating systems, one of the many reasons I've advised against anyone getting a 64-bit system for now):

Update (4/2012):  Last time I looked neither Nikon or Canon offerred 64-bit versions of their codec's (described below). Microsoft now offers 32 and 64-bit versions of a codec that works for almost all cameras, but it does not allow editing keyword tags, although you can view them. Google "microsoft raw codec" or download from here. There are also other freeware codecs, but as far as I know none of the free ones allow you to edit keyword tags. If you're willing to pay $20 you might want to checkout the codecs offerred by www.ardfry.com.

The Nikon link gets you right to the download page. The Canon link requires you to fill in some blanks:

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Next I had to select an operating system (no idea why since I think you download the same program for both XP and Vista):

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Next you have to click on the program name:

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Finally you should see:

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Scroll down to the bottom and click on "I agree - begin Download"


If you scroll down on the Nikon link you'll see this:

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The "I agree - begin Download" is above these details.


Save the file you download where you save all the software you download and install (normally in a Downloads folder). You see that both are huge downloads. The Canon one is 60MBs, the Nikon one 30MBs. After the download is complete double-click on the file to start the install and follow the directions. You probably have to reboot after the install is complete to see thumbnails.


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