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Previewing RAW files in Windows XP

Microsoft RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer

When one starts shooting RAW (instead of JPEG), it doesn't take long before all of the nuances (or nuisances!) of a RAW workflow surface. The most obvious of these is the inability to view your digital photos in Windows XP explorer. Instead, the expectation is that the images will be viewed within a photo catalog program or image browser with RAW support.

Unfortunately, this is a hassle, as one may want to quickly navigate to a dated folder and scan through the photos, instead of having to load up the browser. Similarly, it is easy to run into the situation where you would like to share your digital photos with friends, but they may not have a suitable Raw converter installed.

This is where Microsoft's free RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer comes into play.

The RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer is very much like Windows Picture and Fax Viewer, except that it supports RAW images as well (from both Canon and Nikon). The interface is nearly identical, with the RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer providing a few more options.

Before RAW Image Thumbnailer:

Prior to installing the program, a folder full of RAW images (in Folder Thumbnails View mode) will simply display as an icon representing the file type (typically either the generic file icon, or Photoshop's default image icon).

After RAW Image Thumbnailer:

Once the RAW Thumbnailer has been installed, the folder will immediately display fast previews in the Folder's Thumbnail view mode.

Download RAW Thumbnailer and Viewer

To download the free utility, please go to Microsoft's Digital Photography site.

Configuration Options

  • Set an association with .CRW, .CR2 and .NEF Raw formats, in addition to the usual image formats
  • Background processing (lookahead), which allows a specified number of images to be processed ahead of time. This will greatly speed up sequential image viewing.
  • Delay the onset of full-sized processing. Presumably to increase responsiveness when one is advancing through images quickly, one can specify the length of time before processing begins.
  • Processing of Canon RAW TIFF thumbnails.
  • Slideshow speed.


Microsoft's free utility is extremely useful both for photographers and those who want to view RAW images from other photographers. Not only does it provide a basic Raw image viewer/converter but it also hooks into Windows XP explorer to provide thumbnail preview (which is probably based on the embedded JPEG image).

Double-clicking on the thumbnail brings up a full size view, which can then operate in a slideshow mode. While viewing an image, they can be rotated, printed or automatically opened up in your favorite editor such as Photoshop. ICC profiles are loaded to ensure proper color-managed display. One is also able to convert to JPEG or TIFF, which is nice, although most serious hobbyists will use Adobe Camera Raw or another dedicated utility instead for conversion purposes.

Unfortunately, the tool does require the .NET Framework 1.1 to be installed first (a sizeable download, but most people already have it installed by now), automatically installing it if necessary. The thumbnailer doesn't automatically hide the "buddy" .thm files, which may have been a nice feature for casual users.

Overall, I think most digital photographers who shoot Canon or Nikon will find some benefit from this free extension to Windows XP explorer. Serious photographers who already have a RAW image converter or image browser may still enjoy the occasional ability to use a lightweight viewer. Thankfully, the tool appears to be updated regularly to accommodate the most recent digital cameras.


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