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Review: TechSmith Camtasia 9

Camtasia remains an indispensable tool for screencam producers. As an editor, it's ideal for beginners and even pros seeking to quickly produce simpler, business-oriented features that benefit from Camtasia's attention-grabbing effects.

New Behaviors

Behaviors are a new addition to Camtasia 9 and are complex animations that you can apply to media elements on the timeline. In Figure 4 (below), you see the hinge effect applied to a title. Note the controls on the right that let you configure the behavior at the start and end points and in the middle. For example, in this case, I configured the title to enter is if it were hinged on the bottom and swings up into the frame. You see the title about halfway up its path in Figure 4. At the end, it acts as if it were hinged at the top and swings up to 90 degrees and disappears. Between the entry and exit, I configured the effect to “None” to keep the title still, though I could have set the title to drift, fade, jump and fall, or any of the canned behaviors shown on the left in the Behaviors bin. I can also configure all the options shown in the Properties window on the right.

Figure 4. Behaviors are a major new feature of Camtasia 9. Click the image to see it at full size.

Certainly, I could do all this in Adobe Premiere Pro, or more likely After Effects, but it would take major chunks of minutes rather than seconds, at least the first time. Again, while many of these effects have no place in most projects I produce in Premiere Pro, they’re ideal for holding a viewer’s interest, or impressing your boss, in day-to-day business videos.

Moving down to the next category of effects, Animations are effects that change the size, position, rotation, and/or opacity of a media element. If you’re familiar with video editing, think of animations as keyframe settings that you apply with the very simple arrow shown twice in the timeline in Figure 5 (below). The first takes the full-screen video into a picture-in-picture within the screencam; the second zooms into the screencam to highlight a section that I’m describing in the video narration.

Figure 5. Applying animations to create a picture-in-picture and zoom into the video. Click the image to see it at full size.

There are some presets you can apply that simplify operation, and customization is a snap. Just drag the start and end points of the arrow to the desired start and end points of the animation, and click the dot at the start or finish to configure the media element either directly in the preview window or using the properties shown on the right.

The only funky thing about Camtasia animations is that if you add the animations first, and then apply visual effects (such as color correction), the animation will control all applied visual effects, even if that wasn’t the intended effect. The simple workaround is to apply all visual effects first, and then add animations. I tried it the other way first, which prompted a call to tech support for help. Once you understand the recommended schema, it’s easy enough to avoid any problems.

The next item is cursor effects, a significant feature for screencam creators. There are three categories. The first, General Effects, let you highlight the cursor, spotlight the cursor, which darkens the entire screencam save a small circle around the cursor, or to use the cursor as a magnifying glass. Then there are effects for both left and right mouse-clicks, including visual effects that show when the mouse was clicked, and audio effects that create a clicking sound when you clicked during capture. You apply these effects once to an entire clip, simplifying production for longer projects where you might have dozens or hundreds of mouse-clicks. In Windows, this is another case where you must capture in .trec format, as the AVI format doesn’t capture this information.

Voice narration is a simple way to record narrations from inside the program, while audio effects include fade-ins and fadeouts, which worked as advertised, and noise removal and noise leveling, which I didn’t test.

Visual effects include the ability to add a frame, glow, or drop shadow around a video, as well as a spotlight within a video. Notably missing is any kind of sophisticated color control; you’re limited to a single brightness, contrast, and saturation adjustment. In contrast, even consumer editors typically supply more sophisticated color and white balancing adjustments. The Mac version of the editor comes with several effects not available in Windows, such as gesture controls like double-tap, pinch, swipe, and tap when producing screencams for mobile or touchscreen devices, and a window spotlight that lets you highlight a window within the screencam.

Beyond the features included above, Camtasia offers several interactive features, including a table of contents, closed captions, search capability, hotspot functionality, and quizzing—all of which require playback in the TechSmith Smart Player which is most easily accessible in TechSmith’s hosting service. Under the assumption that most users create videos to deploy via their own CMS or enterprise YouTube systems, I didn’t test these features.

When you’re ready to output your file, click Share, and you’ll see options for saving a local file, and outputting to, YouTube, Vimeo (Windows only), Google Drive, and My Places, or other services that you can access by logging into your Camtasia online account. In Windows, saving a local file opens a wizard that gives you a range of encoding options, including output to AVI, WMV, or MP4, and the ability to create an encoding preset. On the Mac, you can output to MOV, GIF, or MP4, via simple QuickTime-ish type controls.

Overall, Camtasia remains an indispensable tool for screencam producers, irrespective of where you edit the footage. As an editor, Camtasia is ideal for beginners and even pros seeking to quickly produce simpler, business-oriented features that benefit from Camtasia’s content and attention-grabbing and retaining effects. You wouldn’t want to produce a feature-length film or multi-cam production in the Camtasia editor, but for a two-minute video on how to log into the corporate CMS, it’s faster and easier than your current video editor.