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There are many image viewing tools available. FastStone Image Viewer is free, fast, easy to use and includes several commonly used editing features.

After the demise of Firehand Ember, my previous favorite image viewing program, I began searching for a suitable replacement. Window's built in "Picture and Fax Viewer" just doesn't cut it for me.

After much experimentation with various products in this class, I've settled on FastStone Image Viewer.

FastStone includes not only basic display and print ability, but also a number of simple modification tools, a slideshow creator, a contact sheet creator and more.

At it's heart, FastStone, like many similar products, is much like a Windows Explorer tailored for viewing photos. Fire it up and you'll get the familiar navigation tree on the left, and images on the right:

FastStone Image Viewer main window

Double click on an image and you can view it full screen or in a window:

FastStone Image Viewer single image

One of what I consider FastStone's hidden gems is that simply by mousing over to the left hand side of an image displayed in full screen view gets you this popup menu:

FastStone PopUp Menu

You can see that there are a number of image adjustment and modification features at your finger tips, including perhaps the most used rotate, resize and crop.

Of course if that's not enough for you, you can configure FastStone to launch an external program of your choosing with a single keystroke. In my case, "E" (for External editor) launches the displayed image in Adobe Photoshop.

FastStone includes a stand-alone slideshow creator which you can use to create a Windows ".EXE" file that when run displays a series of images in slideshow form - a much better alternative than Power Point for sending and displaying slide shows.

Contact sheets are another popular feature. Simply put a contact sheet is an automatically generated single image that contains multiple images within it. Here's a 2x2 contact sheet containing 4 images:

FastStone 2x2 Contact Sheet

Contact sheets are a quick and easy way to generate a collection of images on a small number of printed pages for easy review.

I've really only touched on some of FastStone's features. At it's heart it's a simple and intuitive image viewer, but comes with a set of easy to use and compelling features as well.

FastStone Image Viewer is free for personal/home use.

I recommend it.

Article C3486 - August 30, 2008 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

August 31, 2008 11:29 AM

Incredible program! Don't forget it plays music and videos. Click the area with drop-down menu that says "Images". There you will find Images, Videos or Both. Play music while watching a slideshow. You'll love the program!

James Moberg
September 1, 2008 9:30 AM

I've been using this for a while. The slideshow feature is awesome! I was going to use PowerPoint or a dedicated slideshow program for a 20 Year Reunion presentation... but I opted to use FastStone Image Vier's built-in slideshow feature. The transition effects are nice and it can automatically display the image name as a caption.

Nelson Webber
September 2, 2008 7:46 AM

Hi there. I've been using FastStone Image Viewer for several years and I do like it very much. FastStone makes several great programs and one I use fairly often is FastStone Photo Resizer. It will resize your photos (obviously) but it can do so much more! You can use it to convert, rename, manipulate, crop, rotate, etc. You can even add text or a watermark to your photo. An added plus is that it will allow you to do all of the above and more in batch mode. It's fast, efficient and it doesn't suck up a lot of memory while it's running. This combined with the Image Viewer pretty much give you all the basic editing tools you're likely to need.

In short, FastStone anything rocks!


Kathy Dennis
September 2, 2008 11:52 AM

Looking at this for my husband to use, and it's frozen 3 times in a few minutes. Any stability problems? Do I need to download extra software for some of the features?

September 2, 2008 1:45 PM

To the person below or anybody having freezing or stability problems:

Click on the link that Leo provided, called 'FastStone Image Viewer' - it will take you to the FastStone home page.

Under 'Products', click on the 'download' link. You will then see 4 different versions of the ImageViewer. (ie: exe, exe (site 2) zip and portable).

Click on the 'portable' download link to download a portable zip file called ''. Once downloaded on your PC, unzip the file and it will create a new folder with the same name as the zip file.

Inside are ALL the portable files. Place the unzipped program folder anywhere on your PC or flash drive.

The program is now yours! With no-installation, there are NO files scattered in your Windows System folders.

Since the program is PORTABLE, this *should solve all your freezing and stability problems. (*Depending [of course] on the stability of your entire PC).

It works with Windows XP, Windows Vista, both 32bit and 64 bit systems. By the way, the viewer does what the 'Resizer' does and much much more. You only need this one program: FastStoneViewer! It's the BEST!

September 2, 2008 2:08 PM

I use Irfanview, which seems to have all of the same functions. If anyone uses both, please tell me which you prefer, and why.

I found FastStone's UI more intuitive. IrfanView always annoyed me in some way - not displaying pictures zoomed when I wanted it to, and just not generally obvious how to make it do what I wanted. I know many people are happy with IrfanView.


September 9, 2008 7:38 AM

I think this program is really neat, but I stick with Irfanview because of it's support for EPS and AI images.

Well, in theory. I'm still trying to get that part to work.

Morgan Schweers
December 6, 2008 2:55 AM


I know this article is about FastStone, but thank you for the info on Firehand Ember. It was (and is!) my favorite image viewer and manager ever. I have a license for it, and I treasure it. There's all kinds of great touches, like an image scaling algorithm that makes even VERY scaled up images still look very good. It's blazing fast, and perfect for my needs.

If you know where to download the last version of Firehand Ember, I'd love to know. I have various versions, but I was an idiot and didn't save the download for the most recent of them years ago when I downloaded it, and that makes it hard when changing computers.

I wondered what happened to the company, and while I imagined that they didn't make enough money due to a lack of exposure, I never imagined the truth.

Thanks again; while I didn't know the author personally, I also count it a sad loss to the software industry.

-- Morgan

April 18, 2009 5:28 AM

I too have used fully licensed firehand products for MANY years and I too am sad to see my favorite image viewer no longer being upgraded or produced. The authors of it were very talented and will be missed. I will definitely give FastStone a try.

May 15, 2009 5:34 AM

firehand ember has been my favorite image viewer for many years -- super-fast and no bloat. i'd always suggested it to my colleagues. thanks leo for recommending faststone. i'm delighted with the features and performance so far and glad to be using a supported product. i'll definitely be offering the author a donation -- and a few suggestions! [j]

Ember Lover
March 24, 2010 2:24 PM

I just did a full review of all products and came to the same conclusion that you did, Leo. FastStone beats out other competitors to Ember but is not as good. I was hoping for an equivalent program that took advantage of multi-touch since I've now got a multi-touch monitor.
Note that Ember 7.1.1, which is the latest version, does work on Windows 7 (64 bit) except for trying to open the new Libraries folders. I've been using it for months now and have used a variety of batch and individual file functions with no problem.

April 18, 2010 11:40 PM

with the sample to view, i can see that it only supports jpeg file. most of the pics i recovered are in png file. do you have one?

FastStone support many, many different image types, including PNG.

Digital Artist
April 27, 2010 11:31 PM

I found this while looking for an image viewer that would allow me to open an image in one window and a second image in a second window. To take it a bit further, I would like to "page" through the images in a folder in one window while keeping a reference image (from any folder) opened in the second window. Any suggestions?

Jonathan Blair
August 22, 2010 3:59 AM

I have version 7.3.1 still going strong which is more recent than 7.1.1; sorry to hear he died. Thx for the update.

November 23, 2010 7:50 PM

I am grateful to Leo for clearing up what happened to Firehand. I am sorry to hear that the software and website disappearance were due to the seemingly early death of its author. Equally I'm sorry to that the source code seems lost. For all those, me included, that were faithful consumers of all the various releases of the Ember line, it is really sad that no one will be able to carry it on. I treasure my legit copy of the last release and install on whatever computer I deem current, including my Win7 laptop, using WinXP Mode.

My most sincere, if much belated condolences to those Matthew left behind.

Jim de Graff
June 14, 2011 10:41 AM

One of the nicest features of FastStone is the ability to display up to four pictures in one window for comparison pictures. In a similar vein, I want to recommend the program VisiPics. It compares image files based on content. The "strictness" of the similarity can be selected. Similar images are displayed in a panel with one row for each image set. You can preview the matched images and determine which (if any) you want to delete. It's free. The VisiPics page is

If anyone has a recommendation for a similar (and free) utility I'd like to hear about it.

June 14, 2011 8:46 PM

Just to concur with your findings, I have been using FastStone for some time now and cannot praise it enough. Free but really worthy of a generous donation.

June 15, 2011 6:11 AM

Thanks again, Leo. A needed improvement over Windows Picture and Fax Viewer. Slowly, day by day I replace Windows features with better 3rd party programs. Smaller, usuable, easily configurable 3rd party programs. Life gets better day by day. Yep.

Mark J
June 15, 2011 6:35 AM

I'm an Irfan fan, but after reading this I'm going to check this one out. Thanks Leo.

June 15, 2011 7:31 AM

I have been using this program for a few years and not only do I really like it I have come to rely on it.When I first got it I only used for a few things but the longer I had it I was amazed at all the things it can do.IMO its a no brainer as a gotta have pgm. "Try it you'll like it". Michael

June 16, 2011 10:01 AM

I too was a big fan of Firehand Ember, but have lost the installation execs. I have been using Irfan, and it's ok, but it looks like FastStone is what I'm going to start using exclusively. I had never come across FastStone in my searches, so thanks for pointing it out.

September 9, 2011 12:35 PM

Same here...used Firehand Ember for years and was saddened when it was no longer updated. I switched to Picasa for a while, but never liked it. FastStone is great! It comes real close to being Ember and only differs by adding features that make it better. Highly recommended. Thanks Leo!

Mark Tier
January 25, 2012 3:50 AM

Thanks -- and you can view PSDs which you can't do in the Windows viewer.

Dick Thomas
January 29, 2012 9:55 AM

Interesting item! I have been using ZoomBrowser, which came with my Canon camera.
Can anyone give me any comparison info between FastStone & ZoomBrowser???


February 11, 2012 7:22 AM

I, too, have been an Irfanview user for years. Leo's recent article had me look at FastStone and I like it, but I'm far from ready to switch. The beauty of FastStone is: I DON'T HAVE TO 'SWITCH' - I set Irfanview as my external program (in FastStone), and all I have to do is tap my 'e' key and I'm instantly viewing my picture in Irfanview, with those features not found in FastStone - Truly, the best of both programs!

February 11, 2012 10:55 PM

Which one of FastStone free softwares allows you to reduce the FILE size of an image? It seems like their Photo Resizer allows you to change only the physical dimension (height and width) of a photo -- or am I mistaken? Thanks.

Mark J
February 12, 2012 2:56 AM

In FastStone Image Viewer, you can reduce the physical size of the file by using the resize/resample option. Changing the height and width reduces the number of pixels in the photo thus reducing the number of bytes.

Steven Read
May 12, 2012 1:10 PM

Thanks Leo, will give it a try...

ember lover
August 2, 2012 1:41 PM

ember lover is pleased to report that he has tested firehand ember 7.1.1 (which is the internal version when the executable for installation shows 7.3) on windows 8 release preview and it works fine (except for the same problem with windows libraries as in w7). Now I do have the choice of upgrading to w8 if I wish, since my favorite photo program continues to work. I've still never found a photo viewer that has these two unique features: 1, it lets you open an unlimited number of photos to view in separately controlled windows at the same time; and 2, it renames files in the order in which you ctrl+click on them so you can reorder slide shows in a snap!

so we're more or less safe for another couple of years.

I also recently tested about half a dozen photo enlarger programs, from free to $200, and decided that to my eyes Firehand Ember was better or equal to all of them. MWS was a heck of a programmer.

November 2, 2012 8:32 AM

About once each month, I gather family photos from various cameras, cell phones and tablets. I usually sort first by "Date taken" and then start deleting the many clunkers. I was unable to find how FastStone sorts by date taken. Is this feature under development?

Jamie J
November 2, 2012 10:38 AM

Does Image Viewer have facial recognition?

Jamie J
in Tucson

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