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Review: TechSmith Camtasia 5

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When you edit your captured file, if you select a production preset smaller than the capture resolution, Camtasia will ask if you want to apply SmartFocus or if you’d like to simply shrink the entire video to fit. Or, you can elect to apply SmartFocus to any imported Camtasia clips in your project so long as they were recorded in Camtasia 5.

When you apply SmartFocus, Camtasia Studio automatically generates pan and zoom effects throughout the video, generally focusing in on your cursor movements. These are standard Zoom-n-Pan effects that you can edit or delete. Notably, SmartFocus customizes the quantity and degree of pan and zoom effects according to the selected target resolution, which is an impressive feature.

For example, to test SmartFocus, I captured an 8-minute screencam at 1024x768 to demonstrate the workflow of Microsoft’s new Expression Encoder, and I produced it at different resolutions. When I produced the file at 640x480 resolution, SmartFocus created 46 Zoom-n-Pan effects with 16 of the zooms maxing out at 100% resolution. This means that 35% of all zooms were to 100% resolution.

In contrast, when I produced at 320x240 resolution, the program produced 63 Zoom-n-Pan effects, and only 13 (or about 20%) were at 100%. By customizing the number of effects and their intensity by output resolution, SmartFocus optimized both presentations, earning its name (at least in my book).

I do have a couple of criticisms. The most significant one is that SmartFocus tended to cut off windows and other interface elements rather than aligning on the edge. Typically, when you’re panning or zooming, you’d prefer to align with the edge of a window or interface box since cutting off windows looks sloppy and can exclude critical information.

I’m not a software engineer, but I’m guessing that Camtasia has no programmatic way of ascertaining where a window within a program ends. Still, you would think that by analyzing rows of similarly colored pixels and the like, Camtasia could make more reasonable guesses and align its zooms accordingly.

The other items on my wish list would be some control over the zoom resolution applied during SmartFocus. For example, in the first 10 Zoom-n-Pans in the 320x240 project, Camtasia used nine different zoom ratios (54, 35, 100 twice, 40, 74, 59, 79, 78), which felt peripatetic. Though the numbers were more consistent in the 640x480 project (four different resolutions in the first 10), Camtasia applied some silly resolutions, like 98% and 99%, which blurred the text and were close enough to 100% that 100% should have been used instead.

You do have the option to limit SmartFocus to the editing dimensions, which essentially makes all zooms to 100% resolution; this is a good choice for fairly large presentations, like 800x600, but not for smaller presentations, like 400x300 or smaller. The lack of a big picture view might cause viewers to lose their perspective of the entire program. In addition, however, TechSmith should consider grouping windows into relatively standard sizes. For example, windows currently produced at 78%, 82%, 83%, 84%, and 88% resolution might all be displayed at 85%, which would improve consistency. The program should also round up any windows presented at 95% and above to 100%.

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