Monday, March 19, 2012

Screencasting for free

Image from Nils Geylen, under a CC

Attribution-ShareAlike license
Although I'm a fan of Camtasia Studio for screencasting, it's an fairly expensive piece of software. Luckily there are plenty of great free options out there for people who want to screencast.

Quicktime Player
Mac users on OS X are privileged in the fact they get a great screencasting tool hidden away in Quicktime Player. By selecting 'New Screen Recording', it's quick and easy to create high quality screencasts, using either the Mac's inbuilt mic, or an external device. The resulting files can be imported into iMovie to edit them, meaning you can polish them up easily, and add text, music, transitions etc.

Screenr is made by the same people as the commercial Articulate Presenter, and runs from your web browser on Mac or Windows. It's easy to sign in with Twitter, Facebook, Google or Yahoo accounts and presentations can be uploaded straight to YouTube, or downloaded as mp4s. The downside is you are limited to a five minute limit (on the free account), but this often more than enough for simple screencasts or software demonstrations, or several videos can be bolted together using editing software.

Screencast-matic is another browser-based system that also works well on Mac or Windows. Ignore the silly name, this is a great system that allows you to record up to 15 minutes, and add webcam footage to your video. Videos can be uploaded to YouTube or Screencast-o-matic's own server, and files can be downloaded as mp4, flv, avi or (if you're feeling old-school) animated gif. Users with free accounts are, however, stuck with a 'Screencast-o-matic' watermark on the bottom of their videos.

Screencastle is a one-click, browser-based screen recorder. It's a newer service, and doesn't look quite as impressive as those listed above, but has an advantage of having unlimited record time. There is no login, instead it hosts the videos, and supplies the links to the video in various formats as long URLs. Unfortunately the only download option is flv, and although it supposedly works on Mac, I've had trouble getting it to work.

Jing is a downloadable piece of software from the makers of Camtasia. It sits on your desktop in the form of a "sun" that hovers at the top of the screen, and it's easy to click on it and create both short screencasts, and annotated screen grabs, which can be shared via Techsmith's own You're limited to five minute videos, and annoyingly in the free version the videos save as swf files (which are useless for editing purposes), but it's still a nice tool for quickly grabbing and sharing onscreen actions.

Camtasia Studio
Hang on, didn't I just say Camtasia was expensive? Well it is, but you can download a fully-functional 30 day free trial that will allow you to evaluate the product, and may be enough time to do that project you need to do... We also have Camtasia in the Information Commons Creative Media Room, so if anyone wants to come and have a go then please get in touch.

So they're the best ways I've found to Screencast for free. Anyone else got any more?


  1. Great post. If you have a Mac, as Pete says QuickTime is really easy.

    For a bit more flexibility (and a modest cost) Screenium is quite good too, as it allows for hot key captions, button-click highlights etc.

  2. Replies
    1. I really should have mentioned Camstudio - I've never really got on that well with it, but it does the job. It seems a little dated now, but hopefully Camstudio 3 will appear sometime soon.

  3. The one thing I've learned about 'free' services for creating screencasts is that if you can download what you've created rather than it only existing online, then this is a very big positive. I had the experience of using ScreenToaster a couple of years ago - and it then closed taking with it the screencasts we'd created. Luckily, we'd downloaded the .mov files, but embedding online screencasts in various places made sorting out those broken links when the service died a bit of a pain. Always worth considering the 'what if the service disappears' issue too.

    Some great links though - thanks Pete (and Chris and Simon!)

  4. The other thing about screencasts using free tools which can be a positive is if you can upload them to YouTube - you can then use the annotation / captioning / closed caption facilities of YouTube and enrich the screencast you've created!

    1. Very good point! Was thinking of doing a post on YouTube, may do that one next...

    2. This is a really good point. I used Screencast-o-matic to record a screencast about how to access Echo360 recordings the other week (PS bonus prize for anyone who realises why I didn't use Echo360, my normal screencasting tool....). It saves really nicely as a compact M4V file which we could then edit and upload to our in house video streaming service, uPlayer.

    3. Because if they had to access Echo to see a screencast on how to access Echo, it would defeat the point somewhat?

    4. Because if people need to see a screencast on how to access Echo recordings, it would be cruel to make them have to access an Echo recording to see it?

    5. I prefer the second one, but both are indeed correct!

    6. I prefer the wording of the second one but both are indeed correct.....

  5. I hang my head in shame. As a long term Mac user I did not know that Quicktime Player did screen recordings, so thanks!
    However, with a 27 inch iMac, recording the whole screen produces an unacceptably large file, so I'll have to stick with my preferred (non-free) option of Snapz Pro X which has served me well for many years.

    1. Oops:
      "Tip: To record just a smaller portion of the of the screen, drag your pointer to select the region of the screen you want to record, and then click Start Recording."

    2. Yup, in Lion you can select part of the screen to record (in Snow Leopard you're stuck to fullscreen).

  6. This is a really useful roadmap through the somewhat confusing jungle of free and not free screencasting apps - thanks Pate!


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