From Apple’s QuickTime to the widely used ScreenFlow, Mac screen recorders — like dedicated screenshot applications — are useful for teaching and training purposes, communicating computer problems, and making presentations.
Some screen recording solutions are as simple as click-and-record, while others provide a more complex tool set for advanced recording and editing.
Let’s check out what’s available.
QuickTime Player (free)
For a quick, cost-free solution, Apple’s default media application QuickTime is ready and waiting for screen recordings. After launching the application, select File > New Screen Recording. When the recording window appears, suse the drop-down menu to select the microphone you want to use, or select None if you don’t need audio recording.
Note: You can also record video beyond the desktop using the Mac’s iSight camera or an external video camera by choosing File > New Movie Recording.
After you click the red recording button, you’ll get instructions for fullscreen recording or for a selected part of your screen.
For the best recording, you’ll probably want to record a window or part of the screen instead of the entire screen to capture a higher fidelity recording. Click the Start Recording button when you’re ready.
You can stop the recording by clicking the QuickTime icon in the menu bar, or clicking on the icon in the dock and selecting Stop Screen Recording.
The latest version of QuickTime also includes some basic editing features in the timeline. You can trim a recording from both ends, split the clip into parts, and insert another recording at the end of a screen video, or just after where your cursor is placed in the timeline.
Editing a QuickTime video recording is not easy as the other solutions I tried. The timeline is small, and you can’t add annotations. Recordings can however be quickly shared to Mail, Messages, YouTube and other other websites and applications.
If you want to get more out of QuickTime, check out Mark’s handy tips for the application.
For more control over the recording and editing of desktop videos, the widely used ScreenFlow allows you to record everything on the desktop, and then parts of the screen recording can be cropped, zoomed, and panned for a professional looking production. We reviewed an earlier version of ScreenFlow over a year ago, and here’s a demo clip from that article.
With ScreenFlow, you can add annotations, callouts, and display one or more video clips on top of the main video. The latest version of ScreenFlow (5.0) includes in-app access to the iTunes and iPhoto libraries, the ability to delete unused raw footage, action templates for applying your favorite video actions to clippings in the timeline, and a long list of features you’d expect from a hundred dollar screen recording app.
ScreenFlow has a significant learning curve, but it’s so much more advanced than QuickTime — it’s up to you to decide if you need such a powerful tool.
I use ScreenFlow for my longer, more complex video tutorials, but I have recently started using the screenshot and screen video recording application Snagit for short, quick videos that I can insert into blog posts.
Unlike QuickTime and Apple’s screenshot application, Snagit retains all your recordings in a tray where they can be quickly retrieved. Similar to QuickTime, you can start screen recording by using the keyboard shortcut, or by clicking the red button in the Capture window, conveniently parked on a designated side of your desktop. You can select to capture the entire desktop or draw a frame around the area or window you want to capture.
Like QuickTime, Snagit only allows for simple edits of the beginning, end, or middle of a recording. You can pause recordings and create screenshots from a frame in a recording, but you can’t add titles and other annotations.
I find Snagit useful for quickly uploading short videos to Screencast.com, and then embedding linked recordings in blog posts. Snagit videos can also be shared privately and managed in your Screencast account, with a free or a monthly paid version.
Monosnap is another quick screenshot and video recording application similar to Snagit. Monosnap is a lightweight solution that allows users to draw a pointer or rectangle during the recording. Unlike Snagit, Monosnap does allow for adding a webcam in desktop recordings, either using your Mac’s built-in webcam or an external camera.
Monosnap also allows you to export screencasts to one of several cloud-based storage sites, including social networks, Dropbox, Amazon S3, the notebook application Evernote, and to Monosnap’s web sharing space.
Monosnap’s editing is limited to cropping from the beginning and/or the end of a recording, and then saving a version of the edited recording. The original video stays in tact.
Like Snagit, Monosnap is mainly for one-off recordings that will probably be short and quickly shared.
Camtasia Studio ($99)
Camtasia is very similar to Screenflow in that it also records your entire screen, and then allows for editing, zooming in and and out of different parts of the screen in the recording timeline. Just like ScreenFlow, you can record at the same time using the Mac’s built-in iSight camera or an external video camera.
Camtasia also includes advanced features and tools for adding titles and annotations, transitions between clips, and zooming and panning animations. Like ScreenFlow, external video and audio clips can be imported into desktop recording projects, and final productions can be exported to Screencast.com, YouTube, Google Drive, iTunes, or exported as a web page.
Camtasia’s most useful and unique features are smart animations. For instance, you can drop a SmartFocus animation onto the timeline, and Camtasia will make some guesses about where to zoom and pan based on where you cursor was placed on the screen during the time of the recording. Of course, SmartFocus is not 100% accurate (and it can’t always predict what you want to focus on) but it makes adding customisable animations quick and easy.
Another smart focus animation, Zoom To Fit, when dropped on the zoomed in part of your timeline takes the recording back to a full screen view. This saves you the trouble of having to manually resize the clip after you’ve zoomed in on a part of the screen in your recording.
With ScreenFlow, you have to manually scale your zooms and pans, which is okay because that provides control over the look and feel of the production. But Camtasia’s smart focus tools could be huge time-savers in the editing process, especially if you produce screencasts on a regular basis.
The Best Recorder
Except for Camtasia and Monosnap, I have used all the above screen recorders for different purposes. I tend to use Snagit because it’s a lightweight and quick recorder, nearly as fast taking a regular screenshot. However, for longer and more complex screen recordings, either Camtasia or ScreenFlow is a must. Each comes with a free trial download, but they both have a pretty significant learning curve. The two programs in my view are not hugely different in what they do, but I’m considering switching to Camtasia for while thanks to its time-saving smart focus features.
I suggest QuickTime only if your video recording needs are not that great. If you just need to shoot a few simple instructional videos to share with other people, QuickTime should suffice.
All of these screen recording applications include corresponding hotkeys for triggering recording features. I have hotkeys for ScreenFlow and Snagit mapped to the finger gesture application, BetterTouchTool, and the voice command application, Dragon Dictate so that I can quickly start, pause, and end recordings, and trigger other features I regularly use.
Which is your screen recorder of choice on Mac OS X?