Camtasia: Screencasts Made Easy

Posted by | September 25, 2009 | Apps | No Comments

Various screencasting and screen-recording tools are available for the Mac, and we have covered these previously in a fairly extensive roundup. Today I’ll be taking a look at a new kid on the block – Camtasia.

Designed by TechSmith, Camtasia is a long standing screencast application for Windows that has recently made the move across to OS X. It costs $99, and is aimed at making the process of recording a screencast as simple as possible. I’ll be looking at the various features on offer, and drawing a few comparisons to ScreenFlow, another competing screencast application.

Getting Started

When opening Camtasia for the first time, you’re presented with a remarkably simple interface to start recording:

Recording Settings

Recording Settings

This allows a few different pre-recording settings to be tweaked, including whether to include iSight video and how audio should be recorded. Clicking “rec” will start a three second countdown before video and audio capture begins.

When recording, Camtasia stays hidden away in the menu bar. There are two ways to end the capture – either through a keyboard combination (Command-Shift-2), or by clicking the menu bar icon and selecting “Stop Recording”.

One major limitation immediately apparent was the inability to capture anything other than the main display. This could be frustrating if you have a multiple monitor setup, and would prefer to capture a secondary display.

Another slight niggle centres around Camtasia’s capture of video or fast moving content, which produced a choppy result in some of my testing. Overall, the quality of recording produced with ScreenFlow is slightly superior. This will undoubtedly change over time as the developers of Camtasia progress through a few release cycles.

Editing the Finished Screencast

After recording completes you are automatically transferred to the editing interface, which draws inspiration both from the Windows version of Camtasia and other screen recording applications such as ScreenFlow. The main window is split into three panes:

Camtasia Interface

Camtasia Interface

The left hand media bin is where all the videos, images and audio for this particular project are stored. The right hand canvas showcases a preview of your final screencast, and the timeline at the bottom allows you to organize the different pieces of media to put the screencast together.

You’re also offered the chance to view an excellent introductory video that gives a good overview of the features included in the app. It’s certainly worth watching!

Transitions

Transitions

Each “recording” you make will last for 14 days before it is automatically removed by the application. Saving the project will move any recordings into that project folder and save them permanently. It’s a great way to ensure that your hard drive doesn’t end up cluttered with half-finished and discarded video clips.

It’s fairly simple to enhance your screencast with different transitions, text and graphics. These are readily available in the left sidebar, and can be quickly added through a drag-and-drop process. I found working with transitions slightly easier than doing so in ScreenFlow, but the number of options and settings available overall are considerably more limited. In addition, there’s no way to work with the cursor after recording (so hiding it, or drawing attention to it’s current position are not possible).

When moving media around on the timeline, everything “snaps to align”, making moving different parts far simpler. You’ll quickly feel at home in Camtasia if you have experience with another similar application, though the editing features are not yet as powerful as a competitor such as ScreenFlow.

SmartFocus

One of the innovative features that starts to set Camtasia apart from the competition is “SmartFocus”. This system keeps track of what you’re doing as you record – mouse clicks, window size etc – and can automatically zoom in and focus on particular parts of the finished screencast.

It worked surprisingly well in my testing, though did require a few tweaks from time to time. This is straight forward, and the time saved through having SmartFocus available was certainly welcome.

Exporting and Sharing

Everyone has different requirements after recording a screencast, so the export options available need to cover a wide range of needs. Camtasia certainly delivers in this area, with a few basic export operations and a more advanced mode for those requiring it:

Export Options

Export Options

It’s simple to export quickly to iTunes, Screencast.com or YouTube, or you can delve a little deeper to adjust settings such as file formats and frame rate:

Advanced Export

Advanced Export

Pricing and Conclusion

As mentioned previously, Camtasia is available for the currently discounted price of $99 (increasing to $149 on Dec 31, 2009). It requires an Intel Mac with Quartz Extreme support, running anything later than OS X v10.5.6.

On the whole, I feel that Camtasia is an excellent first release. It has been moved across from Windows well, although doesn’t retain quite the same feature set (you can view a comparison chart to see which features didn’t make it across).

For the same price, I would still recommend opting for ScreenFlow over Camtasia – but it’s a fairly difficult call to make. Competition is certainly a good thing, and I look forward to experimenting with future releases of this new player in the screencast arena.