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You would typically expect an article on a photo editing/utility program to be about the new latest-greatest thing to come out. Instead, this article will tell you why Irfanview, a program that has been around since almost the dawn of digital photography, is still as useful as ever and, as a photographer, it’s something you’ll want in your toolbox.
You no doubt have heard of Swiss Army knives, those pocket multi-tools that have all manner of flip-out gadgets to perform whatever task you might require. Need a knife, a corkscrew, scissors, screwdriver, bottle opener, saw, tweezers, you-name-it? You can get all those things in one pocketable tool.
The largest such knife made by the company Wegner is the model 16999, and it has 87 tools that can perform over 141 functions. It’s hardly pocketable, but probably more of a demo of what is achievable. More typical Swiss Army knives have about 15-30 functions and are very pocketable.
Sure, a dedicated screwdriver or saw might do a better job, but the idea of having an entire toolkit in your pocket is the attraction.
Such is the case with the utility program Irfanview.
This little do-all program is the brainchild of student Irfan Škiljan, from Jajce, Bosnia/Herzegovina, who first introduced the program in 1996. To put that into perspective, the first commercially successful consumer digital camera, the Apple Quicktake 100, was introduced in 1994. I would venture that some of the readers of this article weren’t yet born.
Not only has Irfanview been around for 23 years, like the Swiss Army knife, but it also is small, compact, can fit on, and even be run from a thumb drive and performs more functions than I’ll even be able to cover here.
If you could only have one digital photography tool to work with, I daresay this might be the one you’d want. (Providing you work on a PC, sorry Mac users, this one’s not available for you unless perhaps you use a Windows emulator).
If you have been involved in digital photography for a long time, you may already be familiar with Irfanview. (Especially considering that since 2003 it’s been downloaded over a million times each month.)
It could be that you’ve used it in the past, but have forgotten about it. If so, you might learn some new tricks it can do now that you didn’t know about.
If you’ve never heard of it, it’s time you did. Either way, the list of Irfanview tools, features, functions, and tricks is impressive.
And did I mention it’s all free?
Yes, Irfanview has always been free, though Irfan Škiljan does accept donations and sells the product when used for commercial use. He has pretty much been able to live off the program.
I bought my first personal digital camera in 1999, a Nikon Coolpix 950. One of the first tools I used to work with my photos was, yup, Irfanview.
Over the years, new features and functions have been added, many of those created by other contributors who’ve created “plugins.” Adding to the already impressive list of functions the native program can perform, there are now over 70 plugins for Irfanview, expanding its capabilities even further.
It might be easier to list what the program can’t do rather than what it can do, but I will attempt to give you an overview of its basic functions. This will not be a “how-to-use” Irfanview article. One of the great things is the program is very easy to learn, and there’s no end of support available.
The official site for Irfanview is what you’d expect, Irfanview.com. Once there, you will see there are now two main versions, one for 64-bit and the other for 32-bit versions of Microsoft Windows. It will run on Windows XP, 7,8, and 10. If for some reason, you need older versions, those are available too.
Pick the version suitable for your computer. I suggest downloading the versions with the installers build in (these will be .EXE files).
Once downloaded, just double-click the file, tell it where you want it installed, and let it do its thing. (I also mentioned if you want a “portable” program, you can download and install it to a flash drive. It can be handy to have the program with you when you may want to use it on someone else’s computer and not have to install it to their machine.)
You don’t have to install the plug-ins, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t, as they greatly expand the list of what Irfanview can do.
The easiest way to do this is to download and install the All Plug-Ins Installer. Be sure to pick the one that matches the version of the main program you downloaded and installed, 32 or 64-bit.
Run the .EXE file just as you did the main program. It will find Irfanview on your machine (install that first) and then put the plugin-ins where they need to go. The whole process is very easy and straightforward.
With so much capability, I think the easiest way to give you an overview of the features is to look at the kinds of tasks you might want to accomplish and how Irfanview can handle those. I’ll briefly describe common tasks, though this will not be an in-depth instruction on how to perform the functions.
You might find this website a good resource for that purpose. The beauty of Irfanview is it’s very easy to learn and quite intuitive.
As a photographer, you will likely be working with image file types like JPG, TIF, PNG, GIF, or possibly raw files like Canon CR2 or Nikon NEF. What’s great is Irfanview opens dozens of different file types, even things you probably haven’t even heard of. Here’s a link to a full list.
To open a file/image, go to the File dropdown, pick Open and use the next menu to browse to where your file is located.
Click it once and, with the Preview Active box checked, you will see a thumbnail below. There will also be information on the width and height of the image in pixels, the color depth, the size in RAM, and the file size.
Click Open or double-click the image and it will open in Irfanview. If you want to go to the next image in the same folder, just click the spacebar on the keyboard or use the arrows on the top menu bar.
A powerful feature of Irfanview is the ability to convert one file type to another. For example, open a TIF file and save it as a PDF file or maybe a JPG. It’s as easy as opening the file and then saving it as whatever else you like.
If you like keyboard shortcuts, Irfanview has many. For example, an open image, click the “S” key to Save and then use the menu to tell Irfanview the file name, type, and location you wish to save it.
Irfanview goes beyond just opening photos. It can also load and play audio and video files. Want to play an MP3 music file or maybe an AVI video file? Irfanview can do!
If Irfanview can’t do what you need, you can have it send the image to an external editor of your choosing. You can specify up to three different editors in the Properties/Setting Menu.
This is a useful option. (The “T” key is the shortcut). Pick this, a submenu will open, and you can then browse all the folders on your drives. Find the image you want, double-click it, and it will open in Irfanview. The Thumbnails feature is very robust, offering many ways to view your files and see information about them.
This is one of my favorite features of Irfanview.
You can create an impromptu slideshow from images on any drive – even a plugged-in flashdrive. You can have the images automatically or manually advance, set timings, add music, show text such as file name, or even complete EXIF data.
If you want to save and take your finished slideshow elsewhere, you can save it to a self-contained EXE file, burn it to a CD or DVD, or even create a Screensaver file (SCR). With your computer connected to a projector, Irfanview makes a great presentation program, even allowing you to do things on the fly.
I have not found a better program for this kind of work than Irfanview. Say I need to convert 200 TIF images to JPG, resize them to 1200 on the long side, sharpen them slightly, and rename them all to the same name but with sequential numbering. Irfanview has many of these options. You can tell it exactly what to do, how to do it, and where to save the results.
Once set up, it can work with as many files as necessary and, when set in motion (Start Batch), will quite quickly perform the assigned task.
Yes, the menus are quite extensive in this portion of the program, and taking the time to prepare your batch command carefully is important. What’s great, however, is the extensive options giving you very precise control of what you want.
There’s only one caution I’d give (and the default settings will usually protect you from doing this); if you convert or rename your files, be sure to set Irfanview to make a copy of those instead of overwriting the originals. You don’t want an “oh no!” moment if you discover you made a mistake and overwritten your originals.
I won’t suggest that Irfanview will replace your dedicated photo editors like Lightroom, Photoshop, or whatever editing tool you use. That would be like saying the saw on a Swiss Army knife is a fine substitute for a chainsaw when felling trees.
However, in a variation of the saying about the “best camera,” let me say that the best editor is… the one you have with you.
Since Irfanview can work from a thumb drive, if necessary, without even installing it to the host computer, it’s easy to have it with you.
It’s installed on my desktop and notebook computers, and I carry a copy on a thumb drive on my keychain. Don’t leave home without it!
So what can you do with Irfanview as an editor? Here’s a quick list:
Irfan has other great tricks it can perform. Need to create a contact sheet? Make a montage image? Yes, Irfanview can do these things.
While it also has a “Panorama” creation function, this is not a stitching program that can detect and seamlessly merge multiple images. It works better for making horizontal montages with multiple images where the edges need not match.
For stitching panoramas, I would instead suggest another free program, Microsoft ICE, on which I wrote this previous article.
Irfanview can connect to scanners and other TWAIN devices to bring images directly into the program. Point Irfanview to the device, and it will allow you to scan single or multiple images.
If you need to make a quick copy of something and have both a scanner and printer connected to your computer, Irfanview has a Copy Shop feature that scans the image and immediately sends it to the printer.
You will want to explore Irfanview on your own as there are more possibilities than I can possibly write about here. As with many things, the best way to learn is to experiment and get some hands-on experience.
Here a few other things you may wish to try:
Need a screenshot to save or send someone? Use the Print Screen function on your keyboard to capture the screen. Then open Irfanview and Edit->Paste the captured image. Crop it as desired and save the image for attachment to your email, further editing, or printing.
There could be times you might want to display Exposure data or other text on your photo. Here’s a simple way to do it in Irfanview:
When you really want to dig deep into what Irfanview can do, you can explore the plug-ins and filters option. Here you can do such things as OCR (Optical Character Recognition), which will allow you to scan in a page of text and then convert it to editable text.
There is Facial Recognition (which I’m still deciphering), and there are the Image Effects (with an image open in Irfanview, click Image->Effects->Effects Browser, to get an overview of the various looks you can achieve.
Want even more? There are plug-ins under the Effects Menu like Filter Sandbox or Filter Factory. Irfanview can also use any Adobe-compatible 8BF filters.
The Swiss Army Knife analogy is a perfect description of the way I use Irfanview. It may not be the tool I use routinely, and certainly isn’t my primary photo editor, but, like carrying a utility tool in my pocket, it is oh, so handy when I need it. It’s also easy to always have around.
For a few tasks, it even does things commercial programs can’t or does them in a simpler, better way.
I have used the program for over 20 years, and I can say even as I prepared this article, I learned some new things I’d not yet discovered. If you try it, you, too, will find a place in your photo-editing-toolkit for Irfanview.
Let me know in the comments how you found it useful in your work.