Everyone knows that a picture is worth a thousand words. And when we talk about blogging, movies are worth even more – probably a million words. I find screencasts especially useful to visually describe steps of any given process, so the viewer has no problems getting exactly the same result. In this article I would like to describe how to configure and use excellent free screen recorder – CamStudio.
What is CamStudio?
CamStudio is an open source tool that allows you to record the content of your screen as well as sound from your microphone. It also has some features unique to screencast recorders – cursor highlighting, autopan and region recording. If you don’t want to use built in sound recorder, CamStudio comes with integrated annotation tool (although it is not very important now as YouTube has it’s own annotation system). Output files can be saved as AVI or ShockWave Flash. The best part is that CamStudio is COMPLETELY FREE program!
How to install CamStudio?
Installation is very simple as CamStudio comes with standard Windows installer. By default CamStudio uses default codecs for AVI encoding – unfortunately their quality is not very high. There is an option to download and install optional free CamStudio Lossless Codec but I didn’t like it either. In my opinion best option to use CamStudio with is DivX – it can be downloaded for free and offers excellent encoding quality. DivX code is constantly updated: it supports latest CPUs multi core technology which drastically increases the performance and reduces output file sizes. There may be few little problems configuring DivX and CamStudio together but they are easy to solve. The biggest issue is the fact that DivX encoding needs source area dimensions to be multiplication of 2 – sometimes it is not that easy to manually resize window or region to correct dimensions.
There may be some small issues with Video settings as well – if you get “CamStudio could not record the AVI file using the current compressor. Use default compressor?” dialog please check the info below.
How to configure CamStudio?
There is lots of settings user can adjust to make CamStudio fully customized but for basic recording we don’t need to change all of them.
First thing to decide is what do we want to capture. CamStudio offers few modes in Region menu:
Region – you will have to select part of the screen you want to capture. As said before – if you are using DivX codec make sure width and height are multiplies of 2 (can be tricky… better to use next options).
Fixed Region – here you can set the size of recording region manually by entering numbers. If you want to use region recording, the most convenient settings are to set Width and Height to desired dimensions, tick Drag Corners To Pan while leaving Fixed Left-Top Corner unchecked. Don’t forget to tick Enable Autopan in Options menu as well, otherwise you will have to move recording region manually which can be annoying.
Window – if you record in this mode, CamStudio will ask you to select the window you want to capture once you press Record button. Remember you’ll have resize the window if DivX has problem encoding it.
Full Screen – this is my favourite mode, it creates biggest files but gives viewer best understanding what’s going on. Screen sizes are multiply of 2 which resolves dimension problem with DivX.
Once we have decided what we want to record, let’s configure Video settings from Options menu.
As Compressor select DivX Codec and set other options to the values from screenshot by dragging the sliders. Now press Configure button and set DivX config options to these:
Now if you are in Full Screen recording mode you should be able to record videos using DivX codec by simply pressing Record button. While recording you may pause and resume. After pressing Stop button CamStudio will ask you where you want your video to be saved – initially it is saved to CamStudio installation directory (you can find videos there if you use Automatic file naming option instead of Ask for filename).
As you probably noticed there was no sound recorded. It is because by default we have Do not record Audio in Options menu checked. Let’s change it to Record audio from microphone.
If we want to tweak sound options bit more, we can use Options/Audio options/Audio options for microphone to change Audio Capture Device, Recording format or volume.
Another useful set of options are Cursor options. Using them we can hide or show the cursor during the recording, change it’s looks, highlight it and visualize the clicks (for both buttons). These options are extremely useful for recording screencasts – without them it would be really hard to notice mouse movement and clicks.
If you use Region mode and you want the recording area to follow the mouse you should set Enable Autopan option – you can also change the speed of panning in Autopan Speed.
In Program Options submenu you can make CamStudio minimize on recording, set temporary directories for recording, increase recorder’s thread priority, turn on autonaming (doesn’t ask for filename on completion), setup keyboard shortcuts and tweak few other options.
Program allows you to assign keys for most useful functions: Record/Pause, Stop, Cancel recording, Enable/Disable Autopan, Next Layout, Previous Layout and Show/Hide Layout.
Tools menu allows you to add annotations to screen and video, but as there is really nice annotation system on YouTube, I think putting annotations directly into video is unnecessary – even unwise (you cannot change it later without re-recording the video).
I think CamStudio is excellent piece of software: it is fully customizable with tons of options and it can use external codecs like DivX. That’s all what I really need from good recording software. I think some options could be a bit better (selecting regions and making them multiply of 2 to increase compatibility with DivX, program could also grab OpenGL and DirectX screens), but… Did I mention that CamStudio is FREE? For this excellent price I am not gonna moan about few minor inconveniences (which are not that bad once you configure the screen recorder correctly).