On the subject of Camtasia for Mac and Screenflow

The wait is over: TechSmith’s Camtasia for Mac is here. Finally, a challenger to Telestream’s ScreenFlow, which until know has (pretty much) been the only game in town for Mac-based screencast producers wanting to capture and produce professional screencast video in a single app. There’s sure to be a ton of blog and Twitter buzz about Camtasia for Mac and, because of the new app’s close similarities to its predecessor Screenflow, there is bound to be a lot of comparative talk. If you’re researching blogs to determine the best product for you, what’s very important to consider is the date of whatever you’re reading (and of course, the quality of the review).

Things in the world of screencasting are changing fast. In the same week as Techsmith released its Camtasia for Mac product, ScreenFlow announced its version 2.0, which is set to match the advancements of TechSmith’s new product and possibly up the ante with its release scheduled for late Sempteber. Adobe is throwing its hat into the Mac arena with a Captivate for Mac product currently in beta. And finally, this post was held up until the anticipated release of Mac’s Snow Leopard because the new OS was rumored to have native screencast capabilities. Sure enough, Mac OS 10.6 can record to QT and upload the video screen captures straight to YouTube.

For years, TechSmith’s Camtasia product has been the largest selling, most commonly used professional screencasting software for PC users (and by default, computer users in general). For almost as long, the company has been hinting at entering into the Mac market. Tuesday August 25th, the day that TechSmith released Camtasia for Mac, they also announced that a Mac version of their popular screen capture tool SnagIt is soon to follow. Game on.

My company, Scraster Professional Screencasting, has worked exclusively with ScreenFlow since it was released by Vara Software in the early 2008. Since Vara was acquired by video software company Telestream, ScreenFlow has matured from being fatally buggy to a mostly stable work environment. A few features that were sorely missing from ScreenFlow’s initial release were introduced in a February update. There are still a lot of unaddressed workflow issues in ScreenFlow, but the software’s v2.0 has already been announced and is being advertised on the company’s website. The ScreenFlow v2.0 update will cost existing ScreenFlow users $29 and details of what to expect don’t seem to offer anything more than what Camtasia for Mac has presented the consumer. It seems apparent that the timing of Telestream’s ScreenFlow’s v2.0 announcement was an attempt to hold on to their market as interest moves towards Camtasia for Mac.

Camtasia for Mac Screenflow

When I launched Camtasia for Mac for the first time, my initial impression was, “Wow. TechSmith has recreated ScreenFlow. Looks great, but is this what we’ve been waiting for?” About five hours later, involved in a complex project, I began to realize just how meticulously thought-out and user-friendly TechSmith’s new software is. The wind is at the Camtasia for Mac user’s back for sure. Things just work. There were no spinning beachballs. With my one unexpected crash over the course of a couple weeks of use, I was greeted with a dialog box that said an error occurred. The dialog asked if I’d like to accepted the auto-saved changes. Sure I would! I thought a screencast software would never ask.

A lot of reviews are hating on TechSmith for leaving so much out of the Mac 1.0 release–as compared to all the offerings of its Windows version. These haters must be a different set of haters than all those folks complaining about (PC) Camtasia Studio’s cluttered UI and feature bloat. Camtasia for Mac strikes an excellent balance of useful features and a sleek GUI with which Mac users will be comfortable.

Camtasia for Mac ScreenflowParamount among Camtasia for Mac’s new contributions to the world of Mac screencasting is its introduction of preset Transitions, Actions, and Filters. These elements are great to have at an editor’s disposal, particularly if your videos feature a lot of overlays. Still-image overlays are crucial to the videos Scraster produces, which has to do with neither ScreenFlow nor Camtasia for Mac having a native way to hightlight screen areas. For this kind of work-around, drag-and-droppable transitions and actions are an invaluable time-saver. The manually created transitions that continue to be a maddeningly tedious process in Screenflow are apparently going to be addressed in ScreenFlow’s v.2. In the meantime, Camtasia for Mac’s Transition/Action/Filter presets are the real deal maker.

Smart Focus is an effect that Camtasia for Mac has borrowed from its PC version. When a user drags and drops the Smart Focus Action to the timeline, zooms are intuitively placed on important portions of your screen capture. While SmartFocus works with varying success and most often needs some fine-tuning by hand, it’s worth putting to the test and another time saver—particularly for producers working on deadline or producing quick-and-dirty vids.

Ripple Delete is a feature familiar to most video editors. Ripple Delete allows you to remove a chunk of your timeline content that is set with in and out points so that the rest of the content of the timeline shifts left flush to where the “in” point of the deleted selection was. I rarely used this feature in Screenflow because the Ripple Delete would remove all the contents of the timeline between the selected in and out points. It’s a pleasure, then, that in Camtasia for Mac, one is able to Ripple Delete the content of a selected track (or selected tracks).

Another huge workflow improvement offered by Camtasia for Mac is the ability to upload produced videos straight to web. There are three direct upload options here: iTunes, YouTube, and screencast.com, the last of which is a property of TechSmith and the home of uploaded Jing content. While YouTube is the elephant in the room of online video, it simply doesn’t stack up for video quality and features. Screencast.com plays videos uploaded in their native format, (optionally) enables downloading of videos in their native format, and offers most of the sharing and security options of its competitors.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, there is no known way to integrate Screencast.com’s player into the blog-hosted lightbox players that are becoming commonplace for online video presentation. This will be a disappointment for some users, but not any concern for most. If anyone has a solution to the screencast.com lightbox problem, please feel free to contribute a link to your code in the comment section below.

Screencast.com is not just a YouTube or Vimeo–it’s a veritable media CMS solution that makes it easy to sift, sort, and manage your uploaded content. Free accounts are easy to set up, but caveat emptor: if the user plans to use screencast.com heavily and isn’t ready to commit to $9.95/mo (or $99.95 annually) to upgrade to a premium account when the 2gb of free storage/bandwidth is exceeded, it would be questionably worthwhile to invest time and energy into the free account. While the Pro Account’s features are probably worth its cost (and its convenient integration from Camtasia for Mac sure is a beautiful thing), the upgrade from free to Pro that a user may have to make should be kept in mind from the get-go.

Camtasia for Mac Screenflow
If there’s something glaringly absent from Camtasia for Mac, it’s the mouse callouts that are so useful in Screenflow. Mouse callouts, which either visually illuminate mouse movements or make a clicking sound when clicks are made, are standard in most other screencasting softwares (including Camtasia Studio for PC). Mouse callouts are hugely important for demonstrating on-screen processes, particularly in fast-moving demos involving a lot of mouse movement and clicking. I thought for a while that I was missing something and that surely the feature would appear somewhere less obvious in the GUI, but to no avail. Hopefully this will be considered in an update or subsequent version, but in the meantime, the integration of Mouseposé 3 from Boinx Software into your workflow is the best alternative. (You can read an April ’09 scrast.net review of Mouseposé here.)

Other comparative reviews of Camtasia for Mac and ScreenFlow have at their conclusions attempted to declare a winner in the close race between these two great softwares. Several reviews have considered Camtasia for Mac the winner while others have suggested that their differences are so few that there is no point in chosing sides. Another clever reviewer has said that the real winner is we the customer, which might very well be true.

What the release of Camtasia for Mac has brought to mind is how cutt-throat competitive software design—and particularly Mac software design—can be, and how important it is for the software development teams of these companies to have a crystal-clear line of communication with their user base in terms of their suggestions and feature requests. In this writer’s opinion, the best screencasting software product will be that of the company who listens best and implements their user’s collective feedback in the smartest way possible.

If you’d like to weigh in on the Camtasia for Mac vs. ScreenFlow discussion or have other comments about the world of screencasting software, please share them below. Thanks for reading.

Other recent articles about Camtasia for Mac:
from SkillCasting: Smackdown: Camtasia Mac vs ScreenFlow
from Absolute Presence: Camtasia verus Screenflow and screencasting for Macs
from TUAW: Camtasia for Mac looks like a screencasting powerhouse
from MacWorld: Camtasia screen recording app comes to the Mac
from Download Squad: Camtasia screencasting software now has a Mac version
from Scraster.com: Fluid screencast created with Camtasia for Mac
from PaulColligan.com: Camtasia for the Mac
from the Web Video University Blog: Video Review – Camtasia For Mac

PS. This article was written and complete last Friday, but was held up before publishing because I wanted to add some photos from a recent Camtasia for Mac project. Unfortunately, when I went to re-open that major project (2.1gb work folder), it wouldn’t open and no reason given for the problem. The dialog simply said, “The document “name.cmproj” could not be opened.” This was very alarming. TechSmith support escalated my issue to its development team and restored the project in the form of a stand-alone file in about two days. The failure to open problem could have had to do with the fact that the project was begun with the Beta version and completed with the 1.0 release version. It was also suggested that updating/changing a piece of media outside of the Camtasia for Mac project could have been the cause. I’m glad my issue is resolved and my project is recovered, but this experience shook my confidence and deserved mentioning.

About the author: John Basile of Scraster Professional Screencasting) produces screencast videos to help explain and sell software and online services. John is also head editor of the scrast.net blog, where “it’s all about screencasting”.

This article may be republished with permission from scrast.net

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4 Comments

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  1. Scott Skibell September 2, 2009 at 4:01 AM #

    John,

    I like your review because it’s really thorough.

    Camtasia Mac has integration with Screencast.com and I think this is a great service for those that don’t want to host their own files. You’re right in bringing this up because I think a lot of casual screencasters should take a look at this. For those that work with a lot of video, it may not be the right choice.

    I too looked all over the place for cursor highlights and keyboard callouts and couldn’t find it either. That to me is a real plus for ScreenFlow because it makes computer how-to’s so much easier to produce.

    Both products are strong and with the release of ScreenFlow 2.0, they’re only getting stronger. I do think the consumer wins here because now we have competition that is bringing out innovation and some great products. Now lets see what Adobe Captivate brings to the table.

    Great job again.

    Scott Skibell

  2. C.Price February 9, 2010 at 7:46 AM #

    Hi all,

    Just wanted to let you know about my own experience of ScreenFlow 2.0 and Camtasia, I think you may read this with interest, particularly when dealing with Telestream, the company behind ScreenFlow.

    I was recently given the task of selecting some screen casting software for my company, we have over 129 goegraphical sites throughout the United Kingdom and are the largest company in our field. We wanted to allow the managers to produce their own training videos for the many staff we have and reduce the time on the road for our trainers and managers visiting the various sites.

    I realised this could be done by producing a centralised resource of training videos, and so initially I both trialled and then purchased ScreenFlow V2 (SF), having being very happy with the performance and functions available in SF during the trial.

    On the day I purchased SF, on their website they had a banner running which said that when you bought SF, you got a studio version of Flip4Mac as well for free, so price for price this swayed me that SF was a better deal than Camtasia.

    Upon downloading the software I noticed that there wasn’t a link to download Flip4Mac which should have been a free download. I queried this with the publishers and was then told that the free deal finished in December 2009, even though I had seen the banner that morning (Feb 2010) and asked them to honour the deal as this had influenced my purchase.

    Firstly I was made to feel like I was lying about seeing the banner, being asked to provide a screen shot, which I did, then after several e-mails backwards and forwards it became obvious that ‘Telestream’ the suppliers of screenflow were not going to honour their offer, even though it was their mistake by leaving an old banner on the website.

    Anyway to cut a long story short Telestream, promptly refunded the money rather than admit an error and just supply the free software which would have cost them a few cents.

    Instead they decided to lose a previously happy customer who had not only already bought non-studio versions of Flip4Mac at home, but who was also looking to recommend and purchase more of their software for his company.

    We all know the customer isn’t always right, despite the old saying, but in this case I feel justified in saying that the advertising error was on their part and with a smallgesture of good will they could have kept me as a happy customer.

    For really poor after sales service alone, I wouldn’t purchase from Telestream ever again. Perhaps Telestream will learn a lesson from this, notably that you need much more than a good product, you need great customer service, and “Usually the customer is right!”.

    I don’t know what laws apply in this instance, but certainly in the UK where I’m from, if you advertise something incorrectly then you normally have to sell at that wrongly marked price, or incorrectly worded offer.

    The plus side ….

    I did lots of homework and after trialling it decided to specify Camtasia for our large company, and whilst I know it doesn’t do everything ScreenFlow does at this moment in time, it does do things that ScreenFlow can’t, as the old english saying goes “It’s swings and roundabouts”.

    One thing I would say is that I find the workflow using Camtasia for Mac brilliant, our company is loving the stuff being created, and with truly professional looking results.

    The facility to publish your edits as Flash Video, where the software creates all of the html and supporting files for you automatically is also genius, it takes me seconds to export the data and upload it on to our web servers, what a great and useful option!

    As a company I can say without reservation that we are looking forward to future releases of Camtasia for Mac, and our training productivity is at an all time high!

  3. Training Video Creator February 25, 2010 at 11:38 PM #

    I have been enjoying making very professional training and tutorial videos with ScreenFlow. Fun, easy to learn. My entire impression has changed in a split second after losing a 3 hour project at 1 AM due to an ‘unexpected crash’. Inexcusable.

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