One of my goals in producing screencast tutorials is to revue the major screencasting applications available on the market and report back on their usefulness. I’m hoping to work with each one thoroughly enough to understand their operation and identify their best features. In the end I want to compile the best features in order to point out what this field of video production should aspire to.
My most recent production, which I posted yesterday, is Camera Raw Pt4. It was captured using Screenflow, a Mac program I have been using for a couple of years and feel the most comfortable with. Previous tutorials I’ve posted on this blog were made solely using this program. In the past month I began exploring TechSmith’s Camtasia Mac, a 1.x sibling of one of the outstanding screen capture tools on Windows, Camtasia Pro 7. Adobe’s Captivate 5 is the last of the set that I’ve been exploring.
To date I have found Screenflow to be the simplest, and the easiest of these programs to use (Version 3 was been released recently, but I haven’t had a chance to review it to see what new features have been added.). By the way, simple doesn’t necessarily mean useless. While Camtasia Mac has many more features, many of them are automated. When you make something automatic, it sacrifices the ability to control and customize settings. While Screenflow is limited in features, it’s easy to find work arounds.
The truth is, all these applications require workarounds. In fact, I think this whole exercise has made me realize that what I’m learning is not how to create video tutorials using these programs, but how to work around their limitations. I can easily list half a dozen actions I want to perform that are either unavailable or so weak they may as well be.
I’m talking about the ability to highlight or darken specific areas of the screen and easily enlarge a portion of the screen in a custom shape other than a square or a circle. I would like to layer video on multiple timelines, create more complex animations of objects, text and images, have some decent control over text formatting and be able to assign hyperlinks to text and graphics. Cropping images inside the video frame in order to emulate a transparent alpha channel would be a gift!
In all fairness, I may have overlooked or missed any one of these things in one program or another and I just haven’t discovered where they are. I’ll have more to say once I’ve thoroughly evaluated the programs and posted the reviews. Certainly all these programs capture the screen admirably and some of them provide some of the features I mentioned above in some retarded form. For example, the two more expensive programs, Camtasia Pro 7 and Captivate 5 allow for linking internally and externally, but their function is still limited to a few formats once they’re exported.
As I was completing this most recent tutorial I realized that what I’m really looking for is an animation tool like After Effects. The video for this tutorial was captured on a Mac and imported into Camtasia Pro 7 because I was so frustrated by the feature set of the Mac version. Camtasia Pro is a Windows application (and don’t get me started about the hassle of getting QuickTime and Windows video codecs to work cross platform) and I like many of the features it has, but it still leaves me feeling unfulfilled. I’m constantly asking, why can’t it do this, or, just give me a little bit more control over this effect.
Of course After Effects is a hefty program, in cost and complexity, but it’s a product I know very well. I hadn’t considered it up to now for editing screencasts because it seems like overkill, however I know I can do anything that I think of with it.
As an aside, I produce the intro and outro animations for these tutorials in After Effects. Also, working in the timeline of Camtasia is by far the most pleasant editing experience I’ve had so far with a screen capture tool.
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Because I can’t present any argument without a devil’s advocate perspective I will concede the two following points.
1. Screen capture video producers are not video editors and many of the features I’m asking for are perhaps beyond their creative needs. I’m also sure that their production needs insist on a streamlined workflow and consistent, but limited series of features. In their case more choices may not be the right solution.
2. The developers of these products are serving a relatively narrow market as far as their margins are concerned. Screenflow and Camtasia Mac cost about $100 and I’ve heard a lot of professionals who use these tools say they’re enough. Camtasia for Windows costs under $300 and Captivate costs over $500. And I think a lot of the research and development for the last two programs is geared for more interactivity, something else regular video editing software doesn’t provide (though I have to wonder why!).
I just think people should expect more for their money. I can’t be the only one who wants more out of a screen-capture tool, can I? I know that Camtasia and other applications geared toward the eLearning industry, such as Articulate and Lectora, are meeting a larger need than just screen capture tutorials, However the larger, more general audience represented by YouTube demonstrates that the baseline for video tutorials involves the use of flexible animation features, broad text formatting capability and manageable timeline and editing functionality.
I will continue to work through these programs, but for the next couple tutorials I’m going to use After Effects and see whether it’s complexity doesn’t outweigh it’s usefulness.