The two leading screencast tools, Camtasia and Captivate, both have strengths and weaknesses that make selecting a clear winner difficult if not impossible. But lately I've been using both of these tools and have been particularly impressed by Camtasia's zoom-and-pan feature.
The new zoom-and-pan feature in Camtasia is, without argument, the most exciting feature in Camtasia. The zoom-and-pan feature allows you to easily zoom in or pan to a different area of the screen in a smooth way. This allows you to have a small frame size for your video without forcing users to break out a magnifying glass to read the screen.
I made a little screencast to demonstrate what I'm talking about. I recorded this with Camtasia over the breakfast table this morning.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.idratherassets.com/video/camtasia/camtasiavideo/camtasiavideo.swf" height="300" width="400"/]
Here's the same attempt with Captivate.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://idratherassets.com/video/captivate/captivate/captivate_skin.swf " height="300" width="400"/]
I hope it's obvious that with Camtasia, users can still view the video in a small space, whereas with Captivate, you need a magnifying glass.
The more I think about the zoom-and-pan feature, the more Camtasia wins me over. We live in an age of mobile devices — BlackBerry, iPhone, PDA, iPod, cell phones, and so on. To deliver screencasts for these applications (as well as youtube and the myriad other online video sites), you don't have much real estate for your video.
If you shrink the application frame you're documenting, at some point the buttons and toolbars start disappearing, misaligning, or not displaying all the columns and text you need to capture. This can be a real problem, because large frames simply do not fit into the size of your publication space. And resized frames can leave the text so small as to render the screencast useless.
Another growing publication medium is the blog post. As blogs become more common among businesses, bloggers will need to fill their posts with interesting, video content. Unless they take a video camera around to capture footage of people and scenery, most likely much of the content will be screencasts (at least for software companies). The average blog post width is about 400 pixels wide — not a lot of room if the application you're showing spans twice that space. Smart companies will also want to get the screencasts into youtube's space.
The only drawback of the zoom-and-pan is increased file size. You want the motion to look smooth rather than jerky, but turning up the framerate to 15 frames per second results in a larger file size. A 4 minute video can have a 10 MB flash file (but you can reduce the size by lowering the image and voice quality, or by breaking up the file into multiple small videos, and lowering the number of special effects, including the zoom-and-pan).
One of Captivate's strength is that it doesn't consolidate all the information into one flash file. Captivate breaks it up into smaller chunks that load faster. It not only breaks up the audio, but spreads it across multiple slides. (Captivate also has a zoom/magnify feature, but it just doesn't work in the same smooth way as Captivate.)
Overall, I'm still too new to Camtasia to really provide an extensive analysis of the two tools. But I'm leaning toward Camtasia for several reasons. First, I really, really like that zoom-and-pan feature. But second, I also like voice and full-motion recording. I tire of screen demos that force me to click in specific areas to keep the video going. Clicking around is a hassle, and it doesn't teach me more efficiently. I prefer to sit back, munch on something, and soak in the tutorial, listening to a human voice.
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I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.