It's not uncommon for me to return from a hike or outing and have 500+ images to "sift" before getting started on post processing.

Is there a better way to compare 5-10 photos of the same image besides copying the files to the harddrive and using Windows Image Viewer to navigate through each (deleting the unwanted shots along the way).

My main issue is the 1-3 second delay when selecting an image. Surely there is a program that buffers 5+ images ready for "instant" image previews, allowing someone to quickly alternate between a set.

I save my images in raw format, and have photoshop CS5 - perhaps someone knows of a way to achieve this with CS5?

I'm all ears!

  • 2
    Have you tried Bridge that comes with CS5?
    – cmason
    Aug 29, 2011 at 12:50
  • 1
    As others have noted: are you averse to mass-converting these to JPG (or PNG or whatever) before looking at them? I assume thumbnails won't suffice?
    – user2844
    Aug 29, 2011 at 14:47
  • 6
    I think the first thing you should do before any editing is copy all images to your hard drive (and ideally then backup elsewhere), before culling/editing. Better safe than sorry...
    – RedFilter
    Aug 29, 2011 at 16:30
  • As ~everyone is saying, Lightroom is great at this. I import all but obvious blunders i know i can't use. LR can auto-stack images taken within a timespan (ex. bracketed exposures). Also, there are several tools to breeze through images, comparing, picking/rejecting in passes, etc. The RAW processing seems pretty fast--sub-second per image (YMMV). Windows has a new RAW image codec so you can view thumbnails in Explorer. Problem with converting to jpg is that you then have to delete the jpg and corresponding RAW image.
    – b w
    Aug 31, 2011 at 17:55
  • 1
    Well, you could take fewer photos. :) Do you really need that many burst-mode series?
    – Reid
    Sep 2, 2011 at 18:28

9 Answers 9


My solution for this was to purchase Lightroom.

My reasoning:

  • Lightroom's workflow is an awesome solution for this problem.
  • It's not too expensive (certainly not cheap either though).
  • It's a one time cost that saves be a lot of time.


  • Lightroom allows you to run through and flag your images (Yes/No/Unflagged) using keyboard shortcuts, so I take one pass through them and just flag them all, spending no more than 2-3 seconds per image.
  • I then filter them down to only the ones flagged "yes", and take a second pass through, spending maybe 10-15 seconds each and rate them using the 1-5 star range (I rarely set higher than 3 at this point though)
  • I then filter down using the ratings until I have < 20 or so images that I spend some time editing.
  • After I've finished I delete all the ones flagged "no"

This process works extremely well with Lightroom, but would also would work with any program that allows for fast rating/tagging.

  • 4
    Strangely, I use Lightroom too but find it unsatisfactory for this part of the process, it's just too slow. So I filter things first with PMView Pro on Windows and Geeqie on Linux. I do not think PMVIew Pro reads RAW files, so it does not the OP's question.
    – Itai
    Aug 29, 2011 at 13:25
  • I think the question was how to do this without downloading the images? As in, he wouldn't import them to Lightroom.
    – dpollitt
    Aug 29, 2011 at 14:03
  • 1
    Yeah, I don't know of a good solution that doesn't rely on copying the files. Also, @Itai, do you generate full previews on import? or just basic... I realized that by generating full previews you can significantly speed up the sorting process because all the processing is done during the import.
    – chills42
    Aug 29, 2011 at 14:27
  • @chills42 - Good question. Where can I check that setting? I also shoot JPEG only, do previews still apply?
    – Itai
    Aug 31, 2011 at 15:42
  • I'm not sure, but I believe they do. It is a setting in the import dialog. help.adobe.com/en_US/Lightroom/3.0/Using/…
    – chills42
    Sep 1, 2011 at 16:05

You didn't mention what RAW files do you have but at least Canon's CR2, Nikon's NEF and Sony's ARW have all embedded thumbnails which are in fact JPEG at a fairly workable dimensions but still very small (few kB in size).

So, you can use a freeware picture manager which can be set to display only these thumbnails and if you press a shortcut/button/whatever, the full image will be loaded.

For example try the FastStone Viewer - be sure though that after the installation to go to 'Settings' > 'Settings' > 'RAW' and change the 'View RAW files in:' to 'Embedded Preview Image'. It works very fast and I use it exactly for the job you describe.

Another option is XnView which has a similar feature. Dig in its GUI for the setting.


  • 2
    +1 for answering the question without requiring the ability to move the files to some catalog system or from the media card/camera itself
    – Wayne
    Aug 31, 2011 at 10:27
  • Pentax PEF and DNG, too.
    – mattdm
    Aug 31, 2011 at 20:52

Give a try on IrfanView. This is a very small, lightweight, fairly fast, and free! tool to view/browse or do some basic editing. Compared to windows image viewer I prefer to use this tool!


The extra pluggin iv_formats.zip provides support for Raw files!

I usually browse through my photographs with IrfanView to delete, rotate (using another pluggin that is said to do lossless transformation) and select photographs that I want to edit a bit more!

  • I use irfanview for most viewing pics on my comp (when not editing) but it is rather slow for opening large jpgs and RAW. Or is there an updated plugin now that makes that a much faster job?
    – Dreamager
    Aug 29, 2011 at 17:04

After trying lots of different Image Viewers, i would suggest you to Photo Mechanic from http://camerabits.com. It's not for free, but it's by far the fastest Raw Viewer I've worked with. Even when adding over 3000 Raws at once, it's still the same speed.

Usually in my workflow I am copying everything over to the PC, but from the way Photo Mechanics works it should be possible to work on your SD/CF card directly, by selecting the Card in the Disk Browser.

  • If I could upvote this more than once, I would. Photo Mechanic is stupid fast for the selection/classification part of the process.
    – user2719
    Dec 15, 2012 at 16:19

Consider investing in Adobe Lightroom, it has some excellent sorting/cataloging features. For example, you can view an arbitrary number of pictures at once, flag (positive/negative, color-coded categories and assign star ratings) via keyboard shortcuts, and compare similar images side-by-side (with an optional synchronized zoom for detailed comparison.)

  • LR is stupid slow compared to almost anything. And you need to import everything before you can even start removing stuff. Compare that with using FastRawViewer, that can do 10-15 frames per second. You can do all the culling at the SD card.
    – oligofren
    Sep 26, 2020 at 22:10

I am a working photojournalist who works with 1000's of raw per shoot, nothing is as fast as Photomechanic. Not free but the fastest, to view label and select raw's for the final edit.


Both Lightroom and Aperture offer Stacks as a way to speed up working with similar images. Both of these work well with RAW files.

The idea is that similar shots of the same thing are grouped into Stacks. This can be done by hand or automatically by making assumption like if 10 shots were taken immediately one after the other (based on their timestamps) they should be in the same Stack.

You'll then have tools which allow you to view photos in the Stack side by side so it's easy to see which is the best image. Keyboard shortcuts allow you to move between the images quickly, promoting and demoting them up and down the Stack as appropriate.

You can also collapse Stacks in the image browser so when you're looking at all the images in a Project you only see the top one in each Stack rather than all 10 which makes it easier to see what you have shots of.

Here's a video on using Stacks in Aperture which will explain this better than I have.


Lightroom, which the others have mentioned is a great way to organize & sift through reams of images.

However, it does not get around the delay loading images off of the camera's memory card. The reason for this is pretty fundamental: you're loading a lot of data from a large RAW file over a relatively slow USB/memory card. As such, most programs will have this issue.

The way to get around it is pretty much as you described: load up an "instant preview" version of the file (typically by converting it to a much smaller JPEG version) and buffer them in memory. Several photo-management programs do this behind the scenes, including Lightroom. The trick is that you usually have to "import" the program into their libraries before you can zip through them; I don't know any that will do buffering on the card itself.

In addition to Lightroom, I've also used iPhoto and Picasa for photo management; they all have the same general issue. Most people's workflow is to get their pics off of their card and onto their hard drives ASAP, and so the programs are built with that in mind.


In Image View Plus More I go to preferences (press 'p'), switch on "read the thumbnail". Then I turn on "categorization mode" (press 'k'). then I go through my new set quickly, marking those that I consider usable (on keys 1-0). Left hand over key 9 ('keep' category) and 0 (default category) and right hand over Page Up (next image). Takes me around 5-15 min to sift through 500 images this way. Then I go into categorization dialog and delete all images of category 0 (if I want that, otherwise, save the "Showlist" - which includes category tags - and then select all images from category 9).

Then I go through it one more time, I might have accepted some duplicates which I can then analyse further. If I have a portrait with 5 different poses and I want only 1, I open them in raw mode (not thumbnail) and add them to image buffer 1-5 (ctrl+1 to ctrl+5). This means I can fast switch between them without developing the raw files and reading from disk. And I find it easier to compare by switching fast in full screen than side by side comparisons. (side by side can be achieved with ctrl+shift+h (horizontal) or v (vertical).

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