Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Foaming at the mouth over Image resizers

I love it. Not too long ago I covered the topic of File Associations in my geek article. I used an image viewer as an example to fluff out the article. I received a response from a reader divulging the biggest secret since sliced RAM, and I’m about to share this secret as I’ve had a few emails asking me to cover a simple Image Resizing Program/Procedure. So there’s this website which lets you download guaranteed adware and spyware free free software. At the recommendation of the reader I downloaded FastStone Image Viewer and have been using it ever since. My respect for this fast, stable, user-friendly image browser, converter and editor has grown by the minute until I foam at the mouth in praise. It’s fantastic and does EVERYTHING I want it to do. It resizes photos quickly and easily, it puts nice frames around the photos at the click of a button, it turns photos to black and white or sepia at a click, it renames - in short : it HUMS!

The only gripe I have with it is that if you don’t have a reasonably fast computer it takes a tad longer to load than a no-frills image viewer. But even for that FastStone has an answer. It has two half-size programs that concentrate on two of the most common usages:

One program is useful if you just want a quick ‘n easy viewer and is called FastStone MaxView which supports all major graphics formats and comes at a size of 1.3Mb to download (translates into about 6 to 8 minutes download time on a 56k modem). It’s bite-size and opens photo’s FAST.

The other is an image converter/resizer which enables users to convert, resize, crop (as in cut out part of the picture), rotate, rename, and add texts or watermark in a batch mode (batch means: take a bunch of photo’s and apply the same conversion criteria to all instead of doing one by one). This converter is called FastStone Photo Resizer and its size is also a measly and manageable 1.3Mb.

So if you literally just want to either view or quickly resize photo’s without too many frills, I suggest you download one of these two freeware programs and make it your program of choice.

If you want a bit more manoeuvrability, try the (also free) FastStone Image Viewer, which clocks in at 2.9Mb. It combines the features of both the small programs mentioned above plus a whole lot more.

If you have the time, Image Viewer has a downloadable 37-page manual in pdf format. Pdf means that to view it you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader, which you can download from and plenty other places.

But let me rather concentrate on the important tasks we all use.

How to install: Once you’ve downloaded the program, double click on it and go through the setup. When it comes to asking whether it can associate all graphics files with this program in future, select all and click ok. This means that if ever you double click on a picture it will use this program to open it. This is the file association bit I covered recently.

Here’s a picture of our Publicity House, which, unadulterated, clocks in at 5 MegaPixels (97mm x 65mm = 2764 x 1873 pixels) and 3.3 megabytes electronic size. Too large to email, for sure. To resize, open the photo (double click) and activate one of the four hidden menu’s by moving the mouse to the left-hand side of the screen. Now choose “Quick Resize / Resample”. Depending on how small an electronic file size you’re after pick one. So if you choose 1024 x 768 pixels the picture will shrink down to a more manageable 388Kb. If you instead choose 640 x 480 pixels, you will get an electronic file size of 183kb and at 320 x 240 pixels the file shrinks to 64kb at the expense of the clarity of the picture. I think a good middle of the road is somewhere between 320 x 240 pixels and 640 x 480 pixels as this will email well and still be quite clear.

Unless you want to overwrite the original photo, remember to “Save As” under a different name so you don’t loose your original. To do this move the mouse to the left screen menu again and click on Save As and give it a new name.

I was most impressed when I moved the mouse to the right hand side of the screen and saw that a list of my camera and its settings, including the date I took the picture, my F-stops, if my flash fired (it did not), and my ISO setting. Wow, what better way to learn which settings work best by analysing pictures afterwards. This info is called EXIF Metadata, which stands for Exchangeable image file format.

Each screen edge (left, right, top and bottom) has a hidden menu tucked away and I have spent many an exciting hour discovering all the options. It’s easy to teach yourself and you will be amazed what you can do with a simple little happy snap.

The program even has a feature which lets you email the chosen photos straight from Image Viewer instead of saving the photo and then opening up your email program and assembling an email with attachments from there, but I found my setting wanted to use Microsoft Outlook, not my default Outlook Express and I haven’t yet found the place to change it.

Also note that although FastStone products are freeware for home users and NGO’s, if you want to use it commercially, you are requested to register them. For Image Viewer this will cost you $34.95 for one license and MaxView costs $19.95. Payments are made over PayPal or ShareIt.

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