Screencasting is a useful tool to show people what you see on your computer screen. It’s also a great way to record PowerPoint & Keynote presentations. Therefore, screencasting is an essential element to what I call SkillCasting and sharing your knowledge.
Comparisons between the two are natural so I think it’s time for a good old fashion smackdown featuring the two top dogs for Mac screencasting.
Round 1: Company
Both products come from mature, stable companies. TechSmith is a leader on the PC side and Camtasia is arguably the best screen recording software for the PC. In addition to Camtasia, TechSmith also makes SnagIt which is another standard for screen captures.
ScreenFlow, previously from Vara Software, is now available from TeleStream. They’re the makers of several media applications with the most notable being Flip4Mac and Wirecast.
What I like about both companies is that their support is top notch. Both companies are active and quite responsive on Twitter and to emails. You’ll find ScreenFlow tutorials quite good and informative. I’ll give the nod to TechSmith though because their Learning Center is a little better organized.
Round 2: Recording
Recording from both applications is straightforward. Recording options include webcams and microphones. Both interfaces are clean.
It’s interesting to note that both applications record the entire computer screen and not just a window. I find this very helpful because it includes any new windows that might pop up or an application I may have to switch to during the recording. This means you’ll narrow the focus during the editing phase.
My experience shows both capture good video. They both allow you to record system sounds (like audio from a movie or Flash application) along with your microphone. You can use the internal microphone, or better yet, a high quality USB microphone.
One thing I did notice, is that Camtasia has a more difficult time capturing video that’s playing on your screen. So for example, if you wanted to capture part of a QuickTime video with Camtasia so your could edit parts of it, you’ll get a noticeably slower frame rate for the video.
Chip over at Absolute Presence makes the same distinction between Camtasia and ScreenFlow. He’s noticed that Camtasia handles audio capture & scrubbing better but ScreenFlow handles the video better.
Video and animation capture are pretty important to me so this is a key difference.
Round 3: Interface
You’ll notice striking similarities between the interfaces. They both utilize a dark, high-tech theme. This is similar to iMovie and most Mac users should feel right at home with either one. They both present the video canvas front and center with a timeline below it.
Both ScreenFlow and Camtasia offer intuitive controls and are easy for a beginner to use.
Round 4: Editing
Okay lets face it, this is where the comparison gets interesting. I’ve led the production of hundreds of screencasts and everyone thinks (including me) that we should be able to create them faster. A good editing interface and set of tools will streamline the workflow and allow us to really crank out a screencast.
Camtasia introduces a new set of video effects including transitions, filters, and actions. You’ll notice these on the left side of the interface. These effects are applied by dragging and dropping them over the clip. The most talked about action is the Smart Focus. This automatically zooms into the section of the video where the cursor or action is taking place. In my experience, I feel I always need to manually adjust the Smart Focus so I’m not getting a whole lot of value from as a time saver.
Camtasia does provide some quick actions by right-clicking while over a video. This attention to detail is a great time saver.
Camtasia also introduces a media library for arrows and callouts now. This makes adding clip art to your video very easy. I’d like to see a way to add scalable objects to your library because this would be a great way to add custom watermarks. Though one way to accomplish this in both programs is to use transparent png files on the top most layer.
ScreenFlow doesn’t offer as many effects. Their palette of tools is on the right side of canvas. There are two things that stand out to me though.
First, I find adding a video pan or zoom to be very easy in ScreenFlow. I go to the desired place in my video and click Add Video Action. ScreenFlow places a transition type box on my timeline where I then reposition my focus. This box then acts as the “tweening” action as I pan and zoom to a new location. This gives me a greater sense of control and I’m not cleaning up after a “smart focus” that I don’t agree with.
The second feature I find helpful on ScreenFlow is the cursor control and keyboard capture.
I can record mouse clicks and highlight them with sonar type rings when I click or double-click. I can also create a magnifying glass around my cursor while dimming the background out. This allows a presenter to use their mouse as a pointer and focus the users attention even more than simply panning and zooming. In addition, ScreenFlow will automatically capture keyboard selections and show them on the screen. This is very useful for software training videos.
Round 5: Publishing
Both tools allow you to create export your video into different formats including MP4′s and QuickTime movies. However, Camtasia introduces direct uploads to YouTube and Screencasts.com for hosting. If you haven’t used Screencast.com, it is a hosting service by TechSmith and even gives you free space to start with. Upgrades are reasonable too so if you don’t have your own hosting, you may seriously want to consider it.
What both applications are lacking is a direct FLV output. This is necessary if you prefer to run your video in your own JW FLV Player or something. I do sometimes prefer to use a FLV file and have to use an external tool to convert my videos over. Camtasia for Windows offers this but not the Mac version.
TechSmith has introduced a strong 1.0 product to the Mac market. They are a great company and without a doubt, Camtasia will continue to get better and better. TeleStream has already announced a new upgrade for release in September ’09 that will introduce transitions, YouTube support and more. We may need to wait and compare them again in 30 days. In the meantime, I encourage you to download both applications and see which one you like best.
I’m inclined to call this dog fight a draw. But in the end the winners are all of us consumers.