Just a couple of years ago screen recording apps for the Mac were a rather rare species. Your only real “choice” was SnapZ Pro X, which, based on what I’ve read about it, is quite good but still not up to par with Camtasia, the market leader on Windows. And it has since become rather dated.
Times have changed since then, and they have changed massively. Video is becoming more and more popular on the Web, and Macs have been gaining market share rapidly. At last count, I was able to find six applications for creating screencasts on the Mac. Camtasia is still Windows only (although TechSmith have announced that they are developing a Mac version), but the selection of shareware apps and the features they offer are nothing short of amazing. And the prices for these apps are nowhere near Camtasia’s $299 price tag either. So let’s take a look at your options for creating screencasts on the Mac.
Snapz Pro X
SnapZ Pro X from Ambrosia Software has been around for quite some time now. It was once the go-to screen recording application for the Mac, and it still has a fair set of features.
When you launch SnapZ Pro X you can select from static screenshot options (full-screen, specific windows or a portion of the screen) and recording a movie. The screenshot mode lets you preview your image before exporting it to JPG, PNG or a number of other formats. You can also overlay a watermark on top of the image, which is nice for embedding a logo into your screenshots.
The screen recording mode first lets you select the area of the screen you want to record. You begin and end recording via a user-definable hotkey and, once the recording is done, the resulting movie is immediately exported to a QuickTime movie. There’s no apparent way of pausing a recording and there’s no way of editing it.
An aspect of SnapZ Pro X that is rather unusual, of not slightly annoying, is that it doesn’t have a Dock or menu bar icon. When you launch it all you see is a palette window that lets you adjust the recording settings. If you switch to another application, say, to adjust something before recording (which is quite a common thing actually), you might have a hard time getting back to the SnapZ Pro window since you can’t find it in the Dock and you can’t Cmd-Tab to it either.
Another thing that was quite annoying is that the installer automatically inserts SnapZ Pro X as a login item, so it launches every time you log into Mac OS X. I consider this to be really bad behaviour. If it makes sense to launch an app at login, make it an option for the user to decide.
All in all, SnapZ Pro X has a somewhat dated feel to it. The homepage shows a Macworld award from 2004 and the demo movies are all from 2005. The handling of the app is rather unusual, to say the least, and the featureset, which leans heavily towards taking static screenshots rather than creating screencasts, has a hard time justifiying the price of the app.
SnapZ Pro X costs $69 and is available from Ambrosia Software. A free trial version lets you launch the app 100 times before it automatically inserts a watermark into any exported image.
Screenium reached version 1.0 in October 2008 after having been thoroughly tested in a public beta. It gives you the choice of recording either full-screen, a fixed area, the mouse area (which can be a bit dizzying, since the recorded screen area follows the mouse pointer around) or a single window.
You can select the source from which to record audio from a list of devices available on your system. You can select any number of audio sources, so it’s possible to include yourself narrating into a microphone while still including the system sounds. You can also include a live image from a webcam, such as the iSight, and include it into the screen recording as a picture-in-picture.
A unique feature of Screenium is called HotText. HotTexts are simply text labels that you can overlay on top of your recording. You define any number of texts before recording your screencast and then trigger them via a hotkey at the appropriate point in time during your recording. You can define the position for the HotText from one of nine predefined positions on the recording area.
Screenium is a neat little screen recorder with some unique and very useful features. The interface is very clean and easy to use, although it takes some time getting used to all the options and where they’re located. But once you’ve set them, starting a screen recording is merely a matter of launching Screenium and hitting one the big buttons in the upper area of the window or pressing the appropriate shortcut key.
Screenium costs $54.99 and is available from Synium Software.
ScreenFlow from Telestream is a class of its own when it comes to screen recording applications. Not only can you record screencasts, ScreenFlow also lets you edit your recordings, adjust audio, add other media such as images, other movies etc.
ScreenFlow’s approach to screen recording puts emphasis on post-processing. Where other apps let you select what exactly you want to record before starting the recording, ScreenFlow simply records the entire screen and lets you select any portion of it later. And where other apps require you to do any highlighting or zooming live during the recording (which can become quite stressful), you can add these features during editing with ScreenFlow.
You can set ScreenFlow to show key presses on screen. This is very useful for video tutorials, so viewers can see that you pressed a hotkey to trigger the action they’re seeing on the screen.
You can add callouts (e.g. spot highlighting of specific screen areas), zooms and pans in the editing process. Insert and trim clips, move things around, add audio and static images (such as presentation slides)…
ScreenFlow is really a screen recording app with a trimmed-down version of iMovie attached to it.
One thing that is currently missing from ScreenFlow is the ability to add text, such as titles or labels, to the recording. This would make the editing suite more or less complete. As of now, you’ll need an external app such as iMovie or Final Cut (Express) for the job. It’s quite likely that they’ll add this feature in a future version, though.
ScreenFlow costs $129 and is available from Telestream.
Screenflick from Araelium was previously named Screencast, but had to be renamed for trademark reasons. It’s a fairly simply app that, apart from the usual, features highlighting of keypresses and mouse clicks. You can set the colors for highlighting of left and right mouse clicks and you can set how long the highlighting is visible. For keyboard events (keypresses), you can change just about any setting, such as the duration, font size, colors and more.
Apart from being able to record audio from any audio device available on your system, Screenflick can also record system audio, which requires installation of a kernel extension.
Recorded movies are collected in a dedicated section, so you can, for example, easily access them again and export them in an alternate format.
One neat feature you won’t find in other screen recorders is the ability to hide the desktop, either by overlaying a solid color or an image of your choice.
Screenflick costs $35 and is available from Araelium.
Screen Mimic from Decimus Software has some unique features that set it apart from its competitors. For example, it lets you pause and resume a recording at any time, so you can piece together a take without creating lots of separate movie files. And you can add transitions from one segment to another too.
Another very handy feature is Flash export. All the other screen recorders export only to formats supported by QuickTime, so you’ll need to wrap the exported movie into a Flash player yourself. Screen Mimic saves you that step by exporting directly to .flv or .swf format.
Lastly, another useful option is audio dubbing. Select any QuickTime-readable file and make it your soundtrack. You can still record audio along with your screen recording using your system’s built-in audio interfaces. But if you want to replace the recorded audio with something else, you can, and you can also set the imported audio to loop.
Using Screen Mimic is a very linear process: immediately after launch you are greeted with a wizard that helps you set the options for your recording. When you’ve answered all the wizard’s questions, you hit Go and the recording begins (with a user-definable delay, if you wish). When you’re done recording, you choose export options (Flash, Flash Video or QuickTime) and you’re done. There’s no way to edit your recording, so you’ll need an external program for that.
The biggest advantage to Screen Mimic (among those apps that don’t support editing) is its capability of exporting directly to Flash.
Screen Mimic currently free and has been discontinued. You can download it from Decimus Software website.
iShowU / iShowU HD
iShowU comes in two flavors: Classic and HD. The Classic version runs on Mac OS X 10.4 and up, while iShowU HD requires Leopard.
Apart from the system requirements, iShowU Classic and iShowU HD are quite different creatures in the way they work, too.
The features common to both versions include mouse pointer highlighting, pause/resume, audio recording (with the ability to record system sounds using a kernel extension) and custom presets, which let you organize settings into reusable sets. So if you’re creating a movie for the iPhone, you can save the preferred video size, the format and other options and load those setting with a single click.
But that’s where the similarities end. The HD version is capable of scaling the recording in realtime. You can also include iSight footage, customize the desktop background and automatically upload a recording to web-based video sites, such as YouTube, Blip.tv and Viddler. The HD Pro version also features watermark embedding, keystroke recording and drag&drop support for editing your recording in Final Cut.
While the recording options of both iShowU and iShowU HD are pretty much complete, some other features such as callouts and titles are missing. There’s also no editor available, so you have to rely on an external app such as Final Cut or iMovie to give your recording the finishing touches.
iShowU Standart costs $20, iShowU HD and iShowU HD Pro cost $29.95 and $59.95, respectively. All versions are available as trial downloads at Shiny White Box.
None of the screen recording apps here are perfect, and none of them are terrible. Which one will work best for you depends on how you work.
If you want to be able to add callouts, zooms and pans after recording, your best bet is ScreenFlow. Its sophisticated editor allows you to add all the bells and whistles to your screencast after the actual recording, which makes the recording process less stressful. On the other hand, full-featured video editors such as iMovie and Final Cut offer much more features, but their learning curve is steeper (especially Final Cut’s).
If you like an app that makes it easy to just “launch and go”, take a closer look at Screenium. It features a very approachable and clean user interface without too much bells and whistles at an affordable price.
Finally, if you absolutely need to be able to export your movies directly to Flash, your only option at this time is Screen Mimic.