Can You Use A Digital Camera As a Webcam For Screencasting?

I stumbled across this question in the Camtasia Users Group forum on LinkedIn.

question - can you use a digital camera as a webcam for screencasting and camtasia

Can an external camcorder be used as a webcam for screencasting software?

The quick answer is yes.  In fact, both Camtasia Studio (Techsmith’s screencasting software for windows) and Camtasia Mac (the Macintosh version) will generally recognize modern HD camcorders that are connected via a high speed cable (e.g., USB 2.0+, Firewire, HDMI, etc.)

Admittedly, I’m hedging a bit by saying that Camtasia will “generally recognize” these camcorders because it will also depend on the configuration of your computer.  Obviously, if you have a computer from the Jurassic age, then this may be a non-starter for you.

Now, getting past the basics for a moment: even if your screencasting software recognizes the external camcorder, it doesn’t mean you’re home free.  My experience has typically been that after you’ve successfully captured the video and screencast, something is almost always out of sync.

A typical set up might go like this:

  • External camcorder video and its audio comes in on one track
  • External audio source (from a high end microphone perhaps) comes in on a second track
  • The video recording of the computer screen (screencast) comes in on a third track

multiple media tracks in screencast need to be synchronized

Each of these tracks is basically its own channel.  And, depending on the speed of your computer’s processor, as well as the speed with which each of the media sources (i.e., video + audio from external camcorder, audio from connected mic, and video capture from the screencasting software recording movement on the screen), then it’s not unheard of to see these all show up on the timeline of your screencasting software out of sync from each other.

Can you re-synchronize media tracks that are out of sync in Camtasia? [Video]

Yes.  That’s the subject of the video below.  Take a look… But, I warn you, it isn’t for the faint of heart.  (But I kid.  It’s not really that scary… well, maybe just a little…)

(Caution: This video is not for the faint of heart!)

Can this be supplemented with hardware?

Now, there’s likely some of my readers who’ve augmented this setup with hardware.  If you’ve done that before, please share the type of hardware you’ve used.

6 Must Do Tips For A Quality Screencast


Stop! Before you get ready to record your next online tutorial for your audience, take a quick looksee at the 6 tips I present in the video above.  These are some of the easiest things to do that, if you pay just a little attention to them, can help differentiate your online screencasts as a step above in quality from all the others.

1. Close un-needed applications

Having multiple web sites or extraneous applications open during your presentation can only distract your viewers/learners from your main message.  If you must have them open for reference, then keep them “off stage” where they won’t be included in your video screen recording.

2. Set up with dual monitors: one for your “on stage” content and another for your “off stage” material

You can greatly improve the smoothness of your online presentations if you set up with two monitors.  Use one monitor as your primary recording “stage.”  Meanwhile, keep your notes, references, websites and other applications you plan to use in your presentation on the “off stage” monitor (the one not being recorded).  Not only will this help you keep your place in your presentation, but it’ll also help to alleviate the burden on your viewers/learners by not bothering them with suffering you stumble around launching applications or typing URLs for those websites you want to show.

3. Clean up your desktop

When your desktop is littered with extra folders and icons for document files, some of your viewers will wander from your main message by wondering weird things: “what’s in that folder?”; “why is that file named that way?”; “hmmm… I wonder what that image file is about?”  Why do I know this? Well, because I’ve done it.  In the video above, I show you how to quickly hide these pesky distractions — whether you’re using a Macintosh or a PC.

4. Maintain a professional background: brand yourself

One pet peeve of mine is to watch someone deliver an otherwise great screencast or online presentation about a professional topic, only to have the presenter inadvertently detract from her own message by minimizing a window that reveals an unprofessional desktop background.  It’s a simple step to quickly change that background to something more professional and which doesn’t detract from your message.  Better yet: why not create a custom background that you can quickly “switch on” right before your screencast and which actually helps brand you or your business?

5. Increase the size of your cursor

Think about it: one of the main ways you communicate with your viewer/learners online is to “point” to things in your presentation.  And the way you do that is via your mouse cursor.  Why then make your viewer/learners squint to see what you’re pointing at?  Bumping up the size of your mouse cursor is an easy trick that will help make it easier for your viewers to “get” your message.

6. Decide on your presentation style: then script or outline accordingly

Should you script your presentation or not?  Answer:  It depends.  This isn’t a hedge on my part.  Far from it.  The fact is, it depends on the type of presentation you’re delivering.

When to write a script.  In much of my work related to eLearning projects, for example, I find myself having to teach a business’ customers how to use particular features of the company’s software.  Some of these software programs are quite complex (e.g., think: medical billing software, electronic health records, or even airplane cockpit instrumentation).  You can’t know it all.  Worse:  if you tried, you’re bound to get something wrong, which often results in hours or days of rework — and money.   In these cases, it’s best to write out a script in storyboard format so subject matter experts (SMEs) like billing professionals, medical providers or pilots can review the flow of your presentation before you go off putting effort into the production.  In a previous article, I wrote about simple storyboard templates you can use and download for this kind of work.  Get it here.

When to use a simple outline.  When I create presentations for my blog — much as I do for live workshops — I find that an outline suffices.  This is typically the type of content that’s often presented in more of an informal presentation style (like a blog affords you), or those where the content takes much more time to present: such as a workshop or a classroom type of topic.  In either case, it certainly does help if you rehearse so that your delivery can come off as smoothly as possible.  In any case, don’t just fly by the seat of your pants.  At the very least, take a moment to outline a few bullets to help organize your presentation and structure your thoughts.

There are likely more tips you could add to his list.  But, by following these 6 tips, you’ll be better-positioned to present a much more quality-oriented screencast for your next project.

What else?  Are there other tips you’ve learned that you think should be added to this list?