12/09/11 15:21:00

Camtasia 2 and ScreenFlow 3: Which one should you buy?

I’ve been beta testing a nice app for the last couple of months. An app made by the great folks of TechSmith. Camtasia for Mac 2 is a very good update to their screencasting software. New features:

I think to most of my readers and people who know me as professionell screencast it’s most interesting to read how I think Camtasia compares to ScreenFlow.
In the past this used to be a 100% recommendation for ScreenFlow. With Camtasia 2 this has changed. Camtasia now has some unique features its competitor hasn’t and the other way around. Every app has its advantages and disadvantages.

Camtasia 2 for Mac


First, Camtasia 2 still doesn’t feel like a 100% Mac-only app1, but TechSmith is on a good way. Camtasia 1 felt like an app that was written, or at least the person who made all final decisions, by a Windows person. The app just felt strange. Camtasia 2 is better in this regard.
There are still some minor annoyances in the app though. My biggest complaint (a typical first world problem): When you press ⌘E to export, the export dialog shows a Flash logo, which means you’re going to export a Flash video, which means you never want ⌘E, you always want ⇧⌘E.
Camtasia breaks with some conventions other editors have. Like you can’t move the playhead frame by frame with ← and →, but editing is actually easier once you get used to it. In Camtasia you can just click a clip and start dragging to create a selection.
ScreenFlow tries to add it’s own “smart” quirks to the world of video editing. I think the editing part is just a thing of getting used to, rather than being a relevant judgement point for quality of a software.

Camtasia also allows you to crop screencasts. This is good to make area zoom ups. (Zoom up an area, rather than the entire interface of an app.)
Click highlights have finally made it to Camtasia. And adding these is also easier than in ScreenFlow.
Lastly: annotations. They are better in Camtasia, even though ScreenFlow added annotations in verion 3 too. But their usage, the vast choice of annotations, and customization of annotations makes this point clearly go to Camtasia.

For me one of the most unique selling points for Camtasia is actually the company who makes it. They care, they listen. You complain loudly (which is what I did2) about their app, but they still try to listen and improve their app. Screencasting for TechSmitch is not a hobby. To speak in “Apple terms”: Screencasting is in their DNA. That’s how much they care about it. They own screencast.com and have over 10 years experience in this business. For TeleStream though, it sometimes feels like it’s just a project. They keep improving the app, they add tons of features, but in the end they are not as passionate as TechSmith is.

ScreenFlow 3


ScreenFlow has more Mac specific features. Version 3 added Lion’s Versions, Resume, Auto-Save for instance, which are not currently in the app (as of version 3.0.13).
Until version 2 of Camtasia, ScreenFlow was the defacto tool to use for screencasts on a Mac. It has a long history. Originally written by Vara Software, which has been acquired by Telestream. Because of this long history and the polish and attention to detail Vara put into ScreenFlow. ScreenFlow just felt better.
Also new in version 3 are export presets and annotations.

The way animations are used in ScreenFlow annoys me ever since I started to edit my screencasts. When you start editing a video you end up with a ton of clips. Selecting a clip in ScreenFlow starts a little animation. No problem with few or just one clip, but a huge problem when you got hundreds. And I always have hundreds after editing a rough cut. This is what it looks like when you attempt to select this many clips. So my bigest complaint actually is: too many animations.
Another thing where ScreenFlow is more than annoying is zooming. There’s a shortcut that allows you to zoom the timeline so you can make more precise edits. The shortcut is + and -, but the step size ScreenFlow zooms in/out is just so ridiculously small. So small that it’s unbearable to use it. I’d rather click the timeline zoom slider, because it’s faster than +++++.
The aforementioned export presets are a pretty nice idea, except rendering in ScreenFlow is utterly slow. When exporting with the Web High (Double Pass) preset it takes about 2-3 the time of the screencast itself. Just changing to Lossless speeds up exporting to about 0.2 times the time of the screencast, which is really really fast. After exporting with Lossless you can use any other encoder (iVi, Permute, HandBrake, Compressor) to encode the final version. Overall this saves me about 1 hours per export.4

I may sound a bit harsh. ScreenFlow is a really good tool, but it lacks some polish and love after 1.0 has been released. It always felt a bit “unfinished”. It’s what I use for almost all projects since 2009, but I feel it’s days are numbered.

Summary: Which one do I recommend?


Honestly, I can’t tell anymore. I’d say it’s a tie. I know that when Mac people hear “Versions, Resume, and Auto-Save” they wouldn’t even consider the other app. I’d say: at least give it a try. Try for yourself and find the features you think you’re going to use more and then buy the one you feel more comfortable with. ScreenFlow has some interesting features, whereas Camtasia has some as well. ScreenFlow has some annoying features, but Camtasia lacks some too. It’s a tie.

  1. Although being entirely written from scratch and by a dedicated Mac team. 

  2. And I get even free swag for complaining. How cruel. 

  3. These features were removed due to “performance and stability reasons”. 

  4. I have to admit that I’m not making the final edit in ScreenFlow. I do a rough edit in ScreenFlow and then do the final edit in Final Cut and Motion.