Photo browser util­i­ties for the Mac

Quickly sort through a photo shoot.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY JEFF CARLSON

When many pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers fin­ish a job, they go to a Mac and use the so­phis­ti­cated, $150 Photo Me­chanic ( go.mac­ to copy, re­view, and cull photos quickly. Un­like a tool such as Adobe Light­room ( go.mac­, which man­ages a photo li­brary for you, Photo Me­chanic is a me­dia browser that reads which­ever Finder fold­ers you point it at.

That’s overkill, though, for peo­ple who sim­ply want to man­age their photos in the Finder, or re­view the images be­fore im­port­ing them into Ap­ple’s Photos app. Even when you view items in a Finder win­dow as icons and scale them to their largest size, they’re still not large enough to re­ally eval­u­ate which shots are keep­ers. Us­ing the Finder’s Quick Preview (press the space­bar with one or more images se­lected) can be a slow process,

es­pe­cially with RAW­for­mat­ted files.

As an al­ter­na­tive, I looked at three sim­ple util­i­ties that quickly re­view me­dia in the Finder and give you op­tions for act­ing on the files: Spect ( go. mac­, Full Frame ( go.mac­world. com/flfr), and Phiewer ( go.mac­ and its ex­panded sib­ling Phiewer Pro.

Not ev­ery­one needs a full photo li­brary sys­tem the likes of Ap­ple’s Photos or Light­room, so it’s great to have these slim­mer op­tions. With a taste of these fea­tures, though, I want more. In­stead of a bi­nary keep/trash choice, I’d like to see the abil­ity to ap­ply a Finder la­bel to se­lected photos as a way to flag images with a higher pri­or­ity for later edit­ing, for ex­am­ple. They don’t have to be­come as ex­ten­sive as Adobe Bridge or Photo Me­chanic, but a few steps fur­ther would be wel­come.


Full Frame ( go.mac­ starts at the photo im­port process, look­ing for an at­tached me­mory card or cam­era. Un­less you re­flex­ively copy ev­ery im­age to your hard disk first, this is the nat­u­ral place to be­gin, es­pe­cially since nei­ther the Photos app nor Ap­ple’s Im­age Cap­ture util­ity give you large pre­views to see what you’re im­port­ing.

Full Frame can scale thumb­nails up to 400 per­cent of their na­tive size, which cer­tainly lets you see what you’re work­ing with. If you need an even larger preview, click­ing the zoom (+) but­ton in the top left cor­ner of a thumb­nail fills the win­dow with that im­age in slideshow mode (which doesn’t ac­tu­ally play a slideshow—it just makes the preview large enough to view one photo at a time). It can also re­veal the full Exif meta­data for one im­age or mul­ti­ple se­lected images, and op­tion­ally re­name files dur­ing the im­port process. Meta­data pre­sets ap­ply cus­tom in­for­ma­tion to files

as they’re im­ported, such as adding a copy­right no­tice.

Since the ap­pli­ca­tion is de­signed as a mech­a­nism for im­port­ing photos, its pri­mary task in­volves set­ting a des­ti­na­tion folder and click­ing Im­port (or Copy if the source is an­other folder). If you’re us­ing it to sort through ex­ist­ing fold­ers of images, you can ig­nore that part and use the Delete but­ton to cull the shots you don’t want to keep.

Any of the meta­data pre­set fea­tures ap­ply only when im­port­ing or copy­ing images. You can edit some fields man­u­ally in the Info win­dow, but the fields that ap­pear de­pend on the file for­mat; JPEG files in­clude an Im­age De­scrip­tion field, but the iphone’s HEIC for­mat does not. You won’t find a com­mon Ti­tle or De­scrip­tion field that ap­plies to ev­ery im­age.

If you do edit the meta­data, you can then save the change, but not all file for­mats are sup­ported. The app threw up an er­ror when reading raw .RAF images from my Fu­ji­film X-T1, a fouryear-old cam­era, say­ing that ver­sion of the for­mat hasn’t been tested yet. For those that do work, the meta­data is saved into the raw file, not to a side­car file.

Full Frame is free to use for 100 images, af­ter which in-app pur­chase op­tions kick in: $4.99 for an ad­di­tional set of 100 images, or $29.99 to re­move the amount re­stric­tion. As an al­ter­na­tive to Im­age Cap­ture or Photos for im­port­ing images, the ap­pli­ca­tion pro­vides a bet­ter way to re­view images at im­port.


The new­est en­trant to this cat­e­gory of photo browsers is Spect ( go.mac­ sptt), a speedy and sim­ple util­ity for view­ing images within fold­ers. When you point it at a di­rec­tory, large-sized thumb­nails ap­pear. At the largest zoom level, Spect fit four images (six when the nav­i­ga­tion side­bar is hid­den) on my 15-inch Macbook Pro screen,

which is large enough to eval­u­ate the qual­ity of the im­age. A slideshow mode ex­pands the im­age sizes to fit the ap­pli­ca­tion’s win­dow (and au­to­mat­i­cally switches be­tween images); you can also play a ran­dom­ized slideshow.

Spect swiftly dis­played all the images I threw at it, in­clud­ing raw files from mul­ti­ple cam­era ven­dors. There’s also an op­tion to in­clude PDFS, but the soft­ware ig­nores video files.

One chal­lenge when stor­ing photos in the Finder is deal­ing with folder hi­er­ar­chies. Some peo­ple nest images based on date, lo­ca­tion, or event; when you’ve been shoot­ing for a while, a cam­era’s num­ber in­cre­ment turns over, which can leave you with mul­ti­ple files ti­tled “IMG_1234.JPG,” for ex­am­ple. Spect deals with hi­er­ar­chies by let­ting you set how deep it should scan a given folder. It dis­plays which­ever images it en­coun­ters in the main win­dow, so you don’t need to nav­i­gate fold­ers man­u­ally. Also, you can choose how to sort the images, re­gard­less of where they’re stored, by name, creation date, mod­i­fi­ca­tion date, or file size.

For sort­ing through your photo col­lec­tions, the only op­tion Spect pro­vides is to send files to the Finder’s Trash. If you want to do any­thing else, you can re­veal the im­age in its Finder win­dow and act on it there. That in­cludes re­nam­ing files or even view­ing more in­for­ma­tion than just the file­name. How­ever, drag­ging and drop­ping images be­tween Spect and the Finder moves files as you would ex­pect the Finder to act.

Spect is an im­age viewer that, in this ver­sion, wants to re­main sim­ple and do one task well. It’s the per­fect pre­pro­cess­ing com­ple­ment to Photos if you’re par­tic­u­larly choosy about what ends up in that ap­pli­ca­tion. I re­spect this ap­proach, although it does make me long for just a few more op­tions, such as set­ting Finder la­bels or even send­ing an im­age to a photo-edit­ing ap­pli­ca­tion.

Spect costs $4.99 from the Mac App Store. A free trial ver­sion, down­load­able from the Spect web­site ( go.mac­ spct), al­lows un­lim­ited brows­ing but dis­ables other fea­tures.


The ap­proach taken by the free Phiewer ( go.mac­ and its paid ver­sion, Phiewer Pro ( go.mac­ pwpr), is to em­pha­size view­ing one im­age at a time—no com­plaints about not be­ing able to view a photo here! You can point the app at a folder and view its con­tents, and op­tion­ally delete the im­age you’re view­ing.

A grid of thumb­nails ap­pears in a side­bar, and you can re­size the thumb­nails to get a bet­ter idea of which im­age is which. To make them more than stamp-

sized, though, I found my­self ex­pand­ing the side­bar’s width to view more than one thumb­nail at a time.

Un­for­tu­nately, if you’re brows­ing some raw files, Phiewer doesn’t dis­play a thumb­nail im­age. In my test­ing, it did fine with JPEGS and Nikon .NEF raw files, but re­mained blank for Canon .CR2 raw files, Fu­ji­film .RAF raw files, and even iphone HEIC files.

You need to se­lect each thumb­nail and wait for the ap­pli­ca­tion to read it and cre­ate a view­able im­age in the main view­ing area. Look­ing at a grid of empty thumb­nails is use­less when you’re try­ing to sort through your images.

Ac­cord­ing to Phiewer’s doc­u­men­ta­tion, click­ing a thumb­nail ren­ders the im­age, and then the empty thumb­nail is re­placed by a preview of the ac­tual im­age; there’s even a set­ting to store or dis­card that im­age cache. How­ever, that be­hav­ior worked only when I was re­view­ing images on an at­tached me­mory card, not brows­ing fold­ers on my hard disk. So even af­ter view­ing an im­age, un­less you have ex­cel­lent spa­tial me­mory, you won’t see which images you’ve pre­vi­ously viewed.

Phiewer Pro adds a host of edit­ing con­trols, such as align­ing and crop­ping, and ap­ply­ing fil­ters for as­pects such as bright­ness, con­trast, and the like. There are also sev­eral pre-made ef­fects, although you can’t ap­ply an ef­fect and then tweak its ap­pear­ance us­ing the fil­ters; choose one tool or the other.

Both Phiewer and Phiewer Pro in­clude a ba­sic slideshow tool. Un­less you’ve viewed ev­ery im­age in the cur­rent folder, how­ever, you have to wait for each NON-JPEG im­age to ren­der, which makes the show stut­ter.

Phiewer is free. Phiewer Pro costs $4.99 at the Mac App Store. ■

Re­view­ing the con­tents of a me­mory card in Full Frame.

View mul­ti­ple lev­els of a folder hi­er­ar­chy in Spect’s brows­ing area.

Phiewer Pro in­cludes some edit­ing tools, such as ap­ply­ing pre-made ef­fects.

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