What does Camtasia or ScreenFlow Offer That Screencast-O-Matic Doesn’t?

What does Camtasia or ScreenFlow offer that Screencast-o-matic Doesn’t? snapshot - facebook question

I see this question — or variations of it — a lot in discussion groups where folks are creating their first online course.  Usually, it’s in context of someone wanting to spend the least amount of money for screencasting/editing software as they create their first online course.  Understandable.

First some helpful references

  • Camtasia Studio (for Windows – $299), Camtasia For Macintosh ($99) and ScreenFlow (for Macintosh – $99) are powerful, multi-featured downloadable software products that let you — in a nutshell — capture, edit and publish video and audio of anything you can display on your computer screen. 
  • Screencast-o-matic ($15/year for a Pro account), is a low cost alternative that you can use directly online with either a PC or Macintosh.

My Response

For my part, in response to the oft-asked question about the main advantages of software like ScreenFlow or Camtasia over Screencast-o-matic:

I think screencast-o-matic (SOM) is actually a pretty good (I daresay even excellent) software if the course objectives (and of its marketing) call for BASIC screen/voice capture with the occasional bubble, box or text callout as an overlay. In fact, at $15/year (for the Pro version), I think it’s actually quite powerful for the price.

At some point though some online content creators (though not all) find the need to differentiate their presentations a little more from the “basic” look and feel.  (And, let’s face it, to differentiate theirs from the run-of-the-mill “death-by-PowerPoint” type presentations.)  So it’s for those folks that I think one of the other tools like Camtasia or ScreenFlow might actually be more cost effective.  (As an aside: Contrary to what some may believe, the learning curve for comparable functions in Camtasia or ScreenFlow isn’t really more steep than that for SOM.) 

Indeed, there are many features that will teeter the scale one way or the other if you were to compare each feature one-by-one.   But one of the key features that I think gives a lot of power to tools like ScreenFlow or Camtasia over SOM is in their capacity for you to have many more LAYERS (“tracks”) in your screencasting project.  This multi-track capability gives you the ability to layer video objects, images and audio clips over your main presentation and with much more flexibility to change different properties for each of those objects independently of any other object.

For example, in addition to a basic PowerPoint and voiceover narration, some folks may want to overlay a music track, a video clip, and/or a video interview that supports the main presentation — these require 3 or 4 layers (or more). In contrast, SOM only gives you one layer.  (Two layers could be argued, but certainly not more than that.)

(Click here to watch free previews from this ScreenFlow course.)
(Click here to watch free previews from our Camtasia Studio course.)

The video above is an excerpt from Lecture #2 in my course, “Beyond PowerPoint: Teach Online Now With ScreenFlow For Mac.” It shows some of the layering and property manipulations (animations) I mentioned that is much more powerfully done in ScreenFlow or Camtasia than in Screencast-o-matic.

Camtasia or ScreenFlow isn’t for everybody

Again, not everybody will need or want all that extra “flair” in their presentations.  In which case, if you’re in that camp, then screencast-o-matic should work just fine — especially if price is a huge factor.

How I Track Re-usable Video Assets In Online Learning Projects

I have a tracking problem with regard to my list of video assets



By using Bento, Filemaker’s personal database product (it’s Mac only, but Filemaker Pro  is their flagship multi-platform database product that will do the same thing–and more), I recently solved a growing problem I was having about tracking my ever growing list of video titles across the similarly growing list of online courses into which I embed those titles.  (By the way, here’s a link to the Bento template exchange site that I alluded to in the video above.  That’s where I submitted my database structure as a template you can download for free.  It has to go through a review process but, once approved, you should be able to find it with the title Video-Module-Course Inventory Tracker.)

Bento DB Template For Videos-Courses Assets Tracking (v-1.0)|580.32 kB|downloads: 699
This is the Bento DB template mentioned in the post about How I Track Re-usable Video Assets In Online Learning Projects. You must have Bento 4 installed for this to work. Simply doubleclick to extract the template from the zip file; then double-click the template to populate it into your Bento installation. I use this DB to associate video titles with course titles so I can quickly see what related courses and course modules need to be updated when a video changes. You can customize this for your needs. Keep in mind, Bento is Filemaker's personal DB for the Mac platform. If you need something for Windows, you may want to look into Filemaker's Filemaker Pro product.

Here was my problem in a nutshell:  As you know I make videos that show people how to do stuff with software.  That’s sort of my thing.  Some folks call these training videos.  (We can debate the merits of “training” vs. “information” another time, but suffice to say that I prefer to call these videos screencasts or “how to” videos.)

Each video can be — and often is — used in one or more course modules that I create for my company’s customers.  These modules can, in turn, be re-used in one or more courses.  The subject matter usually pertains to showing learners how to use some software or website.  The thing is, when that software or website undergoes a new release, it usually includes new feature sets.  Those new features usually trigger the need to change one or more screencast videos… which are related to course modules… and ultimately to courses.

With literally hundres of videos I’ve created over time, I needed a reliable way to quickly check which modules and courses were impacted by one or more videos.  The reverse was also true: if a course or module needed to be updated, I needed a way to quickly determine which video titles were involved.  It turns out, I wasn’t the only one who had this problem.

linkedin discussion about managing courses and modules

What software do you use to manage course updates?

After checking my network, I was surprised to find that there weren’t a lot of hosted or off-the-shelf software that was specifically designed to help with this.  There were some decent suggestions that included fancy spreadsheets, CMSs (Content Management Systems), LMSs (Learning Management Systems), Mindmaps and student grading/attendance software.  And, while helpful, they really were still short of that fingertip solution I needed.  So, I figured it was time to just make a custom solution from off-the-shelf database software.

I started with MS Access, but… well, crap.  It was a pain in the ass.  I spent more time thinking about the tool than the solution I was trying to design.

So, after a little time-off hobbling along again with my handy-dandy (increasingly unruly) spreadsheet, I took a look at Filemaker’s Bento personal database software.  At $50, the price was right, it was pretty much drag-and-drop (that’s more my speed for creating databases), and the moving parts were light enough that my feeble mind could wrap itself around key concepts:  libraries, collectionsfields, and related data.

The video above shows the general structure of my tracker database and how I use it on a day-to-day basis.  Depending on the size of your video titles, you may find that a more powerful database might be better suited, in which case you might want to take a look at Filemaker Pro.  In fact, my requirements may demand that soon.  But for now, Bento’s doing the job nicely.

Check out the video video and feel free to download my template; let me know if it ends up working out for a solution to a similar problem you might be having.

What Are the Best Microphones to Record Narration?

The question below came up in the Articulate Storyline forum.

Question - best mics

It’s a question I get a lot — many of you have asked the same question, as well.  So, I thought I’d share my answer with you below.  Make sure to see the reference links at the bottom.  There’s also a pretty useful primer produced by Andre Costa about getting good audio quality.  I think you’ll find it useful.

The Answer

Hi Luis,

I’ve used the Samson condenser mic you referenced.  It’s good. I’ve also used Blue’s Yeti microphone.  Both are very good.  If I had my druthers — and assuming your recording environment is relatively “clean” of ambient sounds — I’d opt for Blue’s Yeti, with the pop filter you mentioned.

The thing is, they’re so good that they will also record any ambient sounds in your recording environment. In fact, I now only use the condenser mics when I’m recording from my home office where my environment is better controlled than my business office — where there are a/c vents and non-padded / hollow walls.   It’s very noticeable.

Interestingly, when I record audio from my business office, I get better audio quality when I record using a plain ‘ol Plantronics headset with a boom mic and then follow that up with a little noise and bass filter processing using Audacity software (free). (Related reference:  How to Remove Background Noise From Your Screencast Audio.)

The Bottom Line

If you’re environment is clean of ambient sounds, I’d go with either of the condenser mics mentioned above. (Depending on your budget.) But, if you have limited control over your audio environment, I’d opt instead for a good headset / boom mic.  

“The Boom” headset mic is one I’m shopping for now.  It’s a bit pricey, but seems to be getting good reviews and is one a friend has recommended.

Also, I thought you might also find this funny, yet informative tutorial that was produced by Andre Costa about sound quality and microphone selection.