GRAB THE FRAMES

If we ever did a top 10 list, Camtasia Studio would definitely be on it. This is TechSmith’s master program for creating instructional videos. Camtasia captures screen frames, either singly or strung together in motion, to create a new video. Its primary use is making tutorials and training videos, but it can also save companies a ton of money answering tech support questions.Camtasia Roxio found this out when it used Camtasia to make tutorials for its award-winning video editing software. Using Camtasia saves it about $20 million a year in tech support.

The new version 5 of Camtasia is the easiest to use so far. It holds your hand every step of the way, guiding you through the creation of a video, including the capture of all or any part of a PowerPoint presentation or external video that can be merged into your own. If you have a web camera recording action outside the computer screen, you can click “add camera.”

We came back to Camtasia after spending weeks with a similar program, Adobe’s Captivate 3. It’s not that Captivate 3 couldn’t do training videos; it was that it took such a long and winding way to get there. We weren’t captivated by that. Camtasia, by contrast, was easy to follow. There are free online tutorials available for Camtasia Studio, but tips on screen as we ran the program made them unnecessary. There’s also a big price difference between the two programs: $699 for Captivate 3, but only $299 for Camtasia Studio 5.

What’s noticeably new in Camtasia 5 is the big “capture” button. Instead of having to figure out how much of a screen you want to capture as you move through the frames creating a video, the program can capture the whole screen and use “smart focus” to zoom in on the area you were focusing on before.

Everything takes just a few steps. Click to define an area of the screen you want to record, or take the whole screen. Choose where the sound is coming from, either a microphone or the computer’s own sound system. Click “record” when you’re ready.

Videos created with version 5 of Camtasia now run at 30 frames a second, the speed we see as natural motion. They can also be edited that way, which means video from external sources can be brought in without having to synchronize it to your own video.

With any video you make you can insert call-outs, comment boxes, voice commentary, picture-in-picture, and cut or keep whatever you think best when you do the final edit. People making training or instructional videos with Camtasia can add quizzes or surveys to the final cut. The quiz can freeze the video until a correct answer is typed or clicked.

When you’re all through, you can let Camtasia show you how to share it. The program usually recommends saving a file as FLV, the format for Adobe Flash Video, which loads quickly on the Web. But there are many other choices, including one for producing a video for iPods. Lots more info on features can be found at Camtasia.com.

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