Camtasia Studio 5: Sturdier, sexier screen captures

The brawny Camtasia Studio 5 packs some serious muscle into new features for screen recording. Autozooming on the mouse is just the beginning.

If programs were people, the sleeker, trimmer-looking Camtasia Studio 5 would be the guy or gal who, after emerging from a months-long stint with a personal trainer, has now stretched out on the sand to enjoy the response.

Behind the scenes, TechSmith's Camtasia team has been pumping serious iron into a handful of new features for each of Camtasia's major recording, editing, producing, and playback functionalities. The final result is a more robust screen recording and producing app that's gained significant muscle without added fat. While there are still some flaws to work out, Camtasia Studio 5 offers streamlined performance for the same price as its predecessor--$299 new; $149 to upgrade.

Here's a look at the new and enhanced features in order of appearance.

Camtasia 5
Camtasia Studio 5\'s swank new start screen. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Not above a fair dose of peacocking, Camtasia Studio 5 now opens with a flashy start screen that lassos together quick launchers for several recording functions, recently visited documents, and key tutorial videos.

The screen recorder also sports a new interface, but with much less visual appeal and utility than the start screen. Unexciting microphone, volume, and camera options are available each time the user wants to record; functions that might interest me a little if I switch between recoding styles, but not enough to warrant the space it sucks up.

The red record button is also gone from this screen, having been replaced by an area selection button that, despite its drab appearance, helpfully frames the object, window, or full-screen area where you move your mouse. This makes capturing a rectangular region incredibly easy and accurate. To define your own region, simply click and drag the crosshairs, or click a different button to replicate your previous capture area.

Camtasia also shows its improved tone with the ability to add two buttons to the recording bar--a marker button, and a screen draw tool for free-form drawing and inserting shapes. Add either by going into Tools > Options > Customize toolbar.

Unlike previous versions that launched the recording as soon as the region was defined, Camtasia 5 now adds breathing space before beginning the capture. It takes form in a secondary screen recording window that pops into view once a region is chosen. Here you can manually adjust the capture region's width and height or choose from preset sizes.

Camtasia Studio 5 ScreenDraw toolbar
Customize the record bar with a marker tool and onscreen drawing. (Credit: CNET Networks)

You can also take advantage of a nice new feature, one of the Camtasia team's babies, that locks the recorder to a selected application. Clicking and dragging the handles resizes the entire app within the recording window, which saves equal amounts of time making persnickety adjustments prior to recording, and editing the screencast postcapture.

Video editing has bulked up in this new Camtasia release more than anywhere else.

Project Settings is an entirely new addition that models the formatting intention that I like so much in programs like MediaCell Video Converter. Choosing from Web, CD, Blog, or iPod will start optimizing your video dimensions in this editing stage and contribute to a smoother final output, either by scaling your video or intelligently zooming in on your cursor with a feature we'll discuss next. There's no way to produce multiple divergent outputs yet, but it's easy enough to go back and change the project dimensions and reproduce the video to meet new production demands, for example, producing the video for a blog and then repackaging it for a CD.

The Camtasia team has poured tremendous resources into building features that intelligently act by interpreting mouse movements across the screen. The feature that suggests region selection at the onset of the recording process is one development (discussed above,) but the SmartFocus feature is by far the more impressive.

Camtasia Studio 5 Zoom and Pan
The zoom and pan menu gets refurbished too. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Related to the mildly effective AutoZoom and AutoPan features, SmartFocus adds zoom and pan key frames to the video timeline based on mouse movement. Leaving a mouse in place just long enough and creating additional activity by clicking or circling on an important icon or window causes Camtasia to automatically zoom in, so long as the recording dimensions are large enough to make a tight view worthwhile.

Since SmartFocus creates zoom and pan key frames, their speed, placement, and size are easily modified via the zoom and pan interface--a welcome exercise in simply managing a technically complex process.

Note that SmartFocus only works with videos created in this Camtasia release, and won't initiate for recording dimensions smaller than your project settings, since those screencasts will, in effect, be already zoomed in. In my tests, SmartFocus zooms tracked my mouse movements remarkably well, though they became choppier when I tweaked the key frames. Adjusting the zoom speed and area may smooth that out.

The zoom and pan menu where SmartFocus' key frames live has also had work done. You'll notice that the familiar controls have been slipped into advanced features and sliders now command zoom speed. A selection marquee assumes you want to maintain the video's aspect ratio when you expand or compress the box. Go into Advanced Features to uncheck the aspect ratio if you don't prefer the default. I've never been wild about the placement of the "Finished" button, which still wastes movement by sitting at the top of the page and which still ought to be placed below the main editing action.

Also an editing addition, seven new transitions add cool effects like 2-D and 3-D rotation between clips. Even better is the choice of standardizing any one transition as the master effect between every clip. Right-click to insert a transition after one clip or between them all.

Camtasia Studio 4 provided preset dimensions for faster production in a drop-down list, but this new version makes selecting common formats even swifter, sort of. Click the same icon-signified preset you chose before editing your video, or go through the customization menu to specify video output.

Camtasia ExpressShow
Camtasia ExpressShow assigns your video a Web site for easy sharing. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Going through customized channels is how you reach the new ExpressShow, which serves FLV and SWF Flash videos in a swank, customizable wrapper. ExpressShow is designed to supersede OneVideo in Camtasia Studio 4, which nevertheless remains as an option in Camtasia 5 for suspicious or late adopters.

Finding ExpressShow is a little tricky, which is why the icons only sort of speed the production flow. Make sure you've chosen "Customize" in the production wizard, then the recommended Flash format. In the drop-down box, pick ExpressShow with or without a table of contents. Continue through the wizard, clicking deeper into the Flash and video options to add a table of contents and producer information. Camtasia Studio 5 lets you create an HTML URL for link sharing, and now allows video uploads via FTP. Best of all, you can crystallize the settings into a new production preset, bringing those presets back to the "useful" side of the spectrum.

One complaint--while choosing the "Blog" preset creates an ExpressShow file faster, the information fields are notably absent. To fill them in you'll need to click "Manage" from the presets on the production wizard, then "Edit." Then, use the preset wizard to enter your information. Camtasia's developer team can do much to streamline this confusing, multistep process.

Camtasia Studio 5 isn't cheap, and only you can determine if it fits your video production needs. This new release more than satisfies my requirements for amateur film producing, and it is a program I'd recommend for individuals and businesses in need of creating polished tutorials and videos on their PCs for a variety of formats.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.