Monday 8 June 2020

Camtasia 2020 Review

Camtasia 2020 $249

Camtasia is a long-established and widely-used screen-casting program, available for both Windows and Mac. It lets you record direct from your computer so it’s ideal for making software demos, tutorials and walkthroughs. Here I look at the newly released update, Camtasia 2020, which I tested on Windows 10.

Camtasia is a great tool for making screencasts. It lets you record from the whole screen, from a selected window or from a marked rectangular area. Optionally you can make a simultaneous recording from your webcam and there are even tool to add annotations – boxes, circles or free-form drawings – while you are recording. When you stop recording, your new video clip is added to the Camtasia editor. In the editor you can arrange multiple clips on a stack of tracks. Clips can be cut, moved, slowed down or sped up. Adjacent clips can be smoothly joined using transitions to fade one into the next or create dissolves and folding effects. You can zoom in or out, add annotations and callouts (text and speech bubbles), and apply various types of animation. You can do basic audio editing to change the volume and remove background noise. And, if you recorded your webcam video in front of a coloured backdrop (usually a green screen) you can remove the background colour so you appear ‘in the scene’ that you recorded from the computer screen.

The latest release of Camtasia is less focussed on adding big new features than making the existing features easier to use. For example, whereas previously each new project started as a blank workplace waiting for video to be added, there is now the option of picking a pre-designed template that sets up a project complete with intros, outros, animations and titles. You can also create your own templates and save those for re-use.

These are some of the downloadable templates that can be used when starting a new project

The theme management has been extended too. You can create themes to do things such as set the colours and fonts of annotations and callouts. Camtasia 2020 now lets you preview the effects of those themes in the Callouts panel.

A Favourites panel has been added to the workplace. This lets you group together the tools and effects you use most often. For example, if I find I frequently use the Fade transition but rarely any others, while I use the noise-removal tool but not the other audio tools, I can click a ‘star’ icon in the corner of each tool or effect in order to add it to the Favourites panel. Then when I need to add transitions, audio effects, visual effects and annotations, I can select them from the Favourites panel instead of having to load up half a dozen different panels and scroll down to find the item I need.

The editor has gained a few handy features too. You can now add placeholders to the timeline. These are like ‘empty’ clips. You can move, cut and resize placeholders and then add an actual piece of video by dragging it onto the placeholder. This also makes it easy to replace one clip with another. If, for example, you’ve already finished a project but decide to replace a single clip, you can change the existing clip into a placeholder then add a new clip to it without being forced to re-edit the rest of your project.

Tracks have an optional ‘magnet’ mode. This means that adjacent clips automatically snap to one another, eliminating any gaps. The timeline can be detached so that it can be used in its own floating window. This is particularly useful if you are editing on a multi-monitor system, since you can place the timeline fullscreen in the second monitor.  

Here I'm editing on a dual-monitor PC. I've detached the timeline so that I can use it fullscreen (left) on my 2nd monitor

Track mattes are a new effect that can be enabled for media with ‘transparency’. In effect this removes the transparent areas from an image or video to allow clips beneath it to show through. If you want to share your customised changes to Camtasia – themes, shortcuts, templates and so on – the new package exporting tool simplifies this process by giving you the option of selecting the specific things you want to export. These are saved to a file and can be imported into an installation of Camtasia on another computer.

The official Camtasia 2020 demo

Although Camtasia can be used to edit and produce video recorded from any source (such as digital cameras), its real strength is in recording action from the computer screen. There is little change to the screen-recorder in this release apart from the ability to record up to 60 frames per second (the previous maximum was 30 fps but see HERE for a technical explanation of the actual framerate). It would have been nice to have had the option to record from webcam alone (without also recording from the screen) but this still isn’t possible. If you want to record a plain ‘to camera’ video you have to record the screen as well and then delete the screen-recording in the editor. 

The Recording toolbar

While there are various free templates, themes and resources available for Camtasia, these have to be downloaded, one at a time, from the web site . It seems to me that it would have been better if they were installed by default or, at any rate, downloaded in a single step. To be honest, this would seem to be the perfect project for Camtasia’s new package import/export feature to let the user import all additional content in one go.  Also, bear in mind that while some of these ‘added extras’ are free, others require a subscription. A subscription also gives you access to other resources such as royalty-free video footage,  images, music loops and sound effects. The subscription costs £192.95 a year, so you would probably need to use quite a lot of the available content to make it worthwhile.

Which brings me to the subject of the cost of Camtasia itself. At around £241, it’s not cheap. Bear in mind that many general-purpose video editors (software aimed mainly at editing video recorded from a camera) now include a screen capture tool, including modestly priced software such as Cyberlink PowerDirector (about $99) or even free software such as OBS Studio.

Obviously, if free is what you are looking for, OBS Studio is the way to go. But while it is extremely powerful (and can be used for streaming as well as recording), it’s by no means as easy to use for recording and editing screencasts as Camtasia. If, on the other hand, your main requirement is a general-purposes video editor and only occasionally need to record from the screen, PowerDirector is a good choice. 

But if screen-casting is your main requirement, Camtasia remains my top recommendation. The purchase price is justified if you regularly need to record and edit pro-quality screencasts. Given the relatively modest updates since the previous release of Camtasia, however, I can’t help thinking that the upgrade cost for existing users (£96.48) is a bit steep.

So, in short. Camtasia 2020 is an excellent screen-casting suite. The additions to this new release (as in the last couple of releases – see my reviews of Camtasia 2019 and Camtasia 2018) are useful but not extensive. While it’s not the cheapest software of its type, if you need an easy-to-use, fast and efficient screen-casting tool that lets you get your work done quickly, Camtasia would be a great choice.