EZ Viewer 3
Digital Image Organizer, And More

Main window of EZ Viewer with file list on the left and the selected image displayed on the right.
Photos © 2001, John Stewart, All Rights Reserved

Many photographers in the market no longer carry heavy cases full of prints or transparencies to display their craft. Instead, many send out samples of their work on computer CDs. As the world becomes more wired and Internet connection speeds increase, the use of online photo albums have and will become increasingly popular.

As soon as you start digitizing your work, you find that creating image files is one thing but keeping track of them is another. At least with a box of prints, you could quickly sort them or just thumb through them. Computer files with cryptic names all look alike, especially when you or your client are in a hurry to locate something.

That's why EZ Viewer 3 from GJC Software, Inc. may become your new best friend as you seek to organize and retrieve your computer-based image collection. At $59.95, EZ Viewer 3 is a multi-use tool a lot like a software Swiss Army knife. It allows you to view, sort, modify, and display images using one uniform set of controls. This also means you don't have to buy (and learn) five programs to get one job done.

Like the knife, there are some tools you will use all the time and others less often. While the key strengths of EZ Viewer are viewing, sorting, and printing, the more time you spend with the program the more useful things you'll discover. For example, a large number of users take advantage of the "slide show" feature and even use the new built-in MP3 player to present music or commentary along with the images.

Using one of the many muliple view and print templates.

The Basics
Obviously any product called "EZ Viewer" is first designed to let you quickly view images stored on your hard drive or other media. Happily, it displays the file information just like Windows Explorer with folder icons and file names. In fact, it's what is known as "Explorer compliant." This means that if you have any special programs available via a right mouse click, they are still available from within the program.

And like Explorer, the file view can be toggled to suit your browsing preferences. If, for example, you only wish to look at file names and not icons, you simply need to click on "change Explorer view." Using this Windows-like approach keeps the learning curve to a minimum and doesn't reinvent the wheel.

As you select a file, the program presents the image in a frame to the right of the file's display. Each either appears as the file icon is clicked or as you scroll up and down the list of files using on-screen or keyboard arrow keys. Once in the viewing window, these same images can also be displayed full screen by clicking on them. Particularly nice is the linear zoom feature that lets you steplessly zoom the displayed image with right and left mouse buttons.

For an even more visual approach to file management, EZ Viewer can also display thumbnail versions of image files. When the thumbnail option is selected for a particular folder of picture files, miniature versions are created in that folder and are also displayed on screen in a separate window.

EZ Viewer has superior sepia tint control and a good selection of borders.

Thumbnail Versatility
Thumbnail images serve many purposes. First, they are a very easy way for a photographer to quickly survey all the photos in a given area. As with the file name method of browsing, these photos can be renamed, deleted, copied, or moved. They can also be modified using other built-in software features (more on that in a bit) or the user can right-mouse-button click on them and launch them into other external programs, such as e-mail or even other editors. EZ Viewer also gives you several display options that let you show or hide file names and other information, such as file size along with the thumbnail views.

Second, the thumbnail views may also be printed. This is a convenient way to make what amounts to a contact sheet of your work. And please note that the printed images are based on the original larger image files, not the smaller thumbnail versions. This greatly improves the quality of the output, and is not something that every thumbnail software program provides.

EZ Viewer has another important printing feature: You can select and title images for easy comparison and printing on a single sheet of paper. It offers 25 templates that let you place the same or different images on one sheet of paper to print out enlargements, sets of wallet size or even sticker size prints in a variety of combinations that maximize the use of the page. For best results, you may have to rotate the images to better fit the space allotted, but this is easily done with the built-in controls.

Image-Editing Controls
There are the usual offerings of brightness, contrast, and color controls, plus sharpening and smoothing and something called "pixel fix." This is a utility to help reduce small imperfections in an image, commonly referred to as noise. It can be applied to an entire image, or to a specific area using an area selection tool. You can work at the actual size, or you can zoom into an area from the tool bar.

Color controls break down into red, green, and blue channels. Correction, including contrast and brightness, can be isolated to highlights, mid tones, and shadows. And there is the Gamma control, described as "a non-linear method to adjust the contrast of a image."

Thumbnail display and printing window of EZ Viewer.

With Gamma control, the pixel's intensity changes depending on its original intensity. This can be used to make dark regions brighter without burning up the bright regions. Or, it can make light regions darker without losing the dark regions. While Gamma control is found in an increasing number of programs, it is not always found in the typical "viewer" programs in this price range.

About the only thing we miss from our high-end editors is the eyedropper tool that lets you define the white and dark areas of the image and then move the mid-range tones with a slider. But don't be surprised if this shows up in a later version, which is always a free update. More on that later. We had very good luck with all of our TWAIN devices. This is important, because if you become an EZ Viewer devotee, you will not want to launch the less powerful viewing/editing/sorting program that probably came with your camera or scanner. The standard "select source" and "acquire" menus are found in the usual place, the file menu.

Bonus Features
EZ Viewer makes adding borders and text quite simple. Redeye reduction offers a variety of colors for more realistic color matching (or an eyeball makeover!). And it seems no program is complete without special effects to posterize, convert to line drawing or oil color, etc. Here EZ Viewer delivers on all counts with a degree of control that goes beyond the norm. For example, in the sepia tone effect, there are controls for filter levels, tint and depth, as well as a consideration of whether the original image is black and white or color. This gives unprecedented control of the process.

OK, so what beefs do I have with the program? Not too many and none too serious. While an increasing number of tools offer a "real time mode" where the images change as you tweak the settings, some still require clicking a preview button, which offers less flexibility. The original reason for doing this was that computers weren't powerful enough to do real time changes real fast. Since this is quickly become a moot point, I expect this kind of legacy programming to be phased out. Speaking of legacy, the present version has a very modest system requirement of a Pentium computer and 8MB of free memory. Given that many machines are sold with 128MB, I don't think that the company will lose too many users if they choose to make enhancements that increase the requirements to, say, 32MB.

My second criticism is that as more features are added, the EZ Viewer window has gotten busier. Creating an interface that doesn't present the user with icons, buttons, and menus is always a challenge, as the trick is to keep the program looking clean while not making it hard to find the abundance of tools.

Happily, the folks at GJC Software are the real authors; the program is not bought from someone else and simply renamed. This means the staff is unusually responsive to user suggestions and offers free upgrades to the product at their site. Since these upgrades not only fix "bugs," but offer new features, it is like getting something for nothing. My advice is to visit the site often!

Best of all, a "try before you buy" version is available for download at their site.

Chances are you won't use every feature every day, but if you are like me, you will find that as your needs grow, EZ Viewer already has the features you suddenly find you need to use. I experienced no crashes, no lockups, and no errors while putting this program through its paces. Download a copy today and give it a try.

For more information contact GJC Software at (732) 269-6799; fax: (732) 269-4099; www.gjcsoftware.com.