Category: Reviews

ScreenFlow 2.0 v Camtasia for Mac

How does ScreenFlow 2.0 stack up against Camtasia for Mac?
How does ScreenFlow 2.0 stack up against Camtasia for Mac?

So, ScreenFlow 2.0, the latest version of the ScreenFlow screencasting application for the Mac, has finally arrived. Despite issuing a press release back in August stating that the update was slated for September, the makers of ScreenFlow finally got their new product out the door this Monday (26th October) – almost a whole month after September had been and gone. Interestingly, Telestream initially revealed their intention to update ScreenFlow to version 2.0 on the very same day that TechSmith launched Camtasia for Mac. A coincidence? I think not. Some might conclude that Telestream were anxious not to lose customers to their new rival on the Mac platform and therefore rashly promised a new version that they were then unable to deliver on time.

Having said this, I’m more than happy to overlook the delayed launch if the final product is a winner. After all, I’d much rather that they made sure that the application was stable before releasing it into the wild.

I’ll get around to my initial impressions of ScreenFlow 2.0 in a moment but before doing so I’d like to mention some of the limitations that I’ve encountered in the previous release. I’d also like to comment on the recently released Camtasia for Mac as it is likely that many people will see these as the two main options for video screen-capture on the Mac and will be trying to decide between them.

I’ve had a little bit of experience of using different Mac screen-capture software over the years. I had a brief flirtation with Snapz Pro back in the latter days of OS 9, but I then got frustrated when it took Ambrosia Software what seemed like an age to publish an OS X compatible version of the software. In more recent years, since the Mac moved to Intel, I’ve had some experience of using Camtasia Studio, the Windows-based progenitor of Camtasia for Mac. This worked nicely under Parallels Desktop and enabled me to create some good quality screencasts featuring Windows software. However, what I really wanted was a native Mac screencasting application and so I was delighted to discover ScreenFlow shortly after its 1.0 launch. ScreenFlow’s easy editing features really appealed to me and it instantly felt like a proper Mac application, with an attractive and intuitive interface.

However, ScreenFlow 1.0 did, in my opinion, have some significant room for future improvement. It certainly wasn’t perfect (is any application?). I soon became frustrated by the lack of easy media management. Moving captured video between documents was a far from intuitive process, involving dragging files to the desktop and then back into another project. This occasionally resulted in me accidentally deleting media files from the desktop that were actually in use in one of my projects. Another irritation was the inability to re-join clips that had previously been split. This became particularly problematic when I wanted to add a video action that spanned two clips. Other limitations included the lack of more sophisticated audio editing features and the non-existence of any video transition effects. Whilst many folk got round the latter weakness by exporting projects into apps like Final Cut for further editing, my personal Holy Grail, in screen capture terms, is an application that removes the need for further editing in additional applications. I’m pleased to say that ScreenFlow 2.0 takes a big step in the right direction in this regard. More of which later.

Now, not long ago now, TechSmith used the experience that they had from years of developing Camtasia Studio – highly successful screencasting software for Windows – and built a native Mac screencasting application, imaginatively named Camtasia for Mac. I’ve had a bit of a play with Camtasia for Mac, and my first impressions have not been entirely favourable. Perhaps its Windows heritage makes me slightly biased (I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case) but I just don’t find it as enjoyable to use. The interface, although similar in many ways to that of ScreenFlow, feels slightly too busy and just a little clunky. However, whilst I’ve bemoaned the lack of video transition effects in ScreenFlow 1.0, Camtasia for Mac offers several of these. It also offers various filters, such as color adjustment, drop shadows, glows and reflections. I’m sure that these filters will appeal to many users but I rather like the ‘less-is-more’ approach of ScreenFlow as this enables me to focus on the most important aspects of effective screencasting, rather than getting distracted by the more gimmicky frills. And whilst Camtasia for Mac offers what at first sounds to be a magical ‘Smart Zoom’ feature for automatically zooming relevant areas of the screen, I found this action didn’t always behave as I expected.

Perhaps more significantly I’ve also found that Camtasia for Mac, in its current 1.0 state, doesn’t cope very well with processor-intensive graphics – at least not on the Macs that I’ve tested it with. Other users seem to have experienced similar issues (for instance, read the MacWorld review). Conversely, I’ve always found ScreenFlow’s playback to be very smooth, whatever source I’ve been capturing.

Now, I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I think Camtasia for Mac is a heap of junk. It most certainly isn’t. And given that it is currently only a few months old, I expect that it will only get better in subsequent iterations. But, despite being tempted by some of its features, I found myself sticking with ScreenFlow 1.0 in preference to switching to the new kid on the block.

So how do I feel about ScreenFlow 2.0 now that its finally here? Well, in truth I’ve not yet had an opportunity to give it a thorough workout but my initial impressions are mostly very positive and I feel glad that I made the decision to stick with ScreenFlow, despite having my head turned by TechSmith’s Camtasia for Mac.

Telestream have added a number of video transitions in ScreenFlow 2.0 and for many people these will remove the need to use other applications for further editing of their screencasts. Much improved audio editing features also help in this regard. For instance, the audio ducking feature will mean that I no longer have to use GarageBand to create the intro/outro audio for my screencasts (where I narrate over a music track). The publish to YouTube feature will be a bonus for many, although it’s not a feature that I expect to use myself. There are also a number of small but very useful additions in this release. For instance, I like the option to ‘Hide Desktop’ from the menu bar icon. This simply hides any files/folders that are visible on your desktop, giving you a nice clean environment for your screen capture.

What I really like about this new version is that it remains consistent with the older version. Telestream haven’t made the mistake of trying to add too many new features. The new features that they have added are all really useful and they serve to enhance the overall experience of using the application. I can now simply drag and drop media from one document into another, which is a big improvement over the previous workaround. However there is still no option to re-join clips that have been split. Hopefully this option will be added in future releases but, on balance, so far I’m very happy with this update. I’m looking forward to using it in earnest over the coming weeks and months.

If you want to make a suggestion for a future feature, Telestream have set up a page on their blog where you can do just that. Some great suggestions have already been posted and seem to have been noted so I think we can look forward to ScreenFlow continuing to mature over the coming years.

If you have any tips for getting the best out of ScreenFlow, or Camtasia for Mac, please post a comment below.

Some more detailed reviews of ScreenFlow 2.0 and Camtasia for Mac…
MacWorld review of ScreenFlow 2.0
MacWorld review of Camtasia for Mac
MacSparky review of Camtasia for Mac

OmniFocus v Things

OmniFocus IconI’ve recently felt that it was about time I got round to using some kind of computer-based task management system and, since I’ve found the To Do features in iCal and Apple Mail to be pretty useless, I began looking around for something more effective. I briefly used Remember the Milk, a web-based offering that makes a reasonable fist of the job (particularly given that it is a free service), but it wasn’t long before I felt that I needed something more powerful.

Having heard lots of good feedback about OmniFocus, particularly from David Sparks of the excellent Mac Power Users podcast, I thought I’d give it a go. After a couple of days playing with the trial version, and some time spent watching a couple of helpful screencasts, I was soon sold on this solution and I bought myself a licence.

Just a couple of days later I read a post on David Sparks’ blog that prompted me to check out a competitor to OmniFocus called Things. Things, it turns out, has a rather lovely user interface and it has to be said that it looks more elegant than OmniFocus. Being a sucker for things that look nice, I found myself feeling annoyed at myself for having so quickly committed myself to OmniFocus. More in hope than anticipation, I sent an email to the OmniGroup asking whether they would consider refunding my licence and explaining that I had only just stumbled upon Things. Rather surprisingly, given the fact that I mentioned how my head had been turned by the UI of Things, they agreed to do so and wished me luck in testing out the competitor. I immediately felt guilty for betraying the friendly OmniGroup people and wondered whether I had made the right decision.

Things IconBefore getting a response from the OmniGroup I had fired off an email to Cultured Code (the developers of Things), explaining how I’d recently bought a licence for OmniFocus and that I’d since discovered Things. I told them of my love-at-first-sight experience of Things and brazenly asked whether they would consider giving me a discount on the purchase price (remember that at this point I hadn’t had a response from the OmniGroup). I received a very friendly reply, stating that they would be very glad to have me as a Things user, thanking me for my ‘kind words’ about their UI and offering me a 20% off coupon.

I now found myself feeling indebted to both the OmniGroup and Cultured Code, since they had both been so very friendly and accommodating. However I decided that I really needed to carry out a more thorough exploration of Things before finally making up my mind about which of the two task managers would actually meet my needs best.

Deep down I knew that I shouldn’t be too swayed by a glamourous UI as there is so much more to an application than the way it looks, and so I started to put Things through its paces. Before too long a glaring flaw became apparent. Whilst OmniFocus allowed me to easily sync my tasks between multiple computers (vital for me as I work from my home office iMac as well as my work-based counterpart), Things didn’t offer any such option. I sent another email to Cultured Code enquiring about this. They promptly replied and told me that “doing over-the-air (Internet) syncing” is a top priority for future releases. They even teased me with the promise that they intended to do it better than in competitor apps. This, I concluded was all well and good, but since I needed a solution that worked for me today, rather than one that might work even better but that I couldn’t have until sometime in the future, I decided to settle on OmniFocus and I sent off yet another email.

This time the email was addressed to the OmniGroup, asking them whether they would consider having me back, even though I had considered cheating on them. They, of course, welcomed me back with open arms and I am now an avid and very satisfied user of OmniFocus. Yes, it still rankles a little that Things has a nicer UI and a more seductive application icon, but ultimately I know that I’ve made the right choice.

Aside from the syncing issue, I also found that the Things approach to organising tasks was less intuitive (at least for me) and didn’t seem to conform so well to the Getting Things Done method which both apps are intended to accommodate. The various views and ‘perspectives’ offered by OmniFocus just seem to suit my way of organising tasks much better. I guess I will keep one eye on Things, just to see how it evolves (both apps are still in their first major release stage) but for now I remain an enthusiastic user of OmniFocus and would recommend it highly to anyone who needs something beyond a basic task manager.

If you want to learn more about either of the apps then I recommend that you check out the free screencasts listed below. More than anything this whole experience has confirmed for me what a nice bunch of folks these small Mac developers are – both Cultured Code and the OmniGroup made me feel like they cared about me as a customer and that is an experience that is increasingly rare.

Learn more about OmniFocus & Things with these screencasts:

OmniFocus Basics screencast at ScreenCastsOnline
Advanced OmniFocus & iPhone Client screencast at ScreenCastsOnline
Things – Part 1 screencast at ScreenCastsOnline
Things screencast from Cultured Code