Non-Newtonian fluids can present a complex rheological behaviour involving shear-thinning, viscoelastic or thixotropic effects. We focus here on the characterization of generalized Newtonian fluids as shear-thinning fluids. Rotational rheometers are torque-sensitive, which makes the measurement of viscosity at low shear-rates very difficult, in particular for low viscosity fluids. An accurate knowledge of this value is, however, particularly important for the characterization of several types of flows, in particular those featuring a free surface, a symmetry axis or a symmetry plane. The experimental determination of viscosity and surface tension is enabled from the propagation of attenuated capillary waves. An optical technique has been implemented in order to determine the shear-thinning viscosity at values of the shear-rate as small as 10-3s-1 from measurements of the spatial attenuation and wavelength. We have performed measurements on two different polymer solutions; we show that this technique is complementary to the classical rotational rheometer techniques since it gives access to the zero shear viscosity, which could not be measured by using rotational rheometers. The present technique is thus used to characterize the Newtonian plateau, while a rotational rheometer is used to characterize the fluid behaviour at moderate to high shear rates. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.