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12/28/2003: ScreenHunter [>> Go]

    Screen captures aren't something that most people need to do very often. But when you do have a need to take a picture of your computer screen, having a better tool than Windows' default capture ability can make your life a little easier. ScreenHunter, by Wisdom Software, gives you some extra flexibility that anybody who uses screen captures on a regular basis will find helpful, but it's advanced features are only available in the non-free "Plus" and "Pro" versions.

    Versions of Windows since at least Windows 95 have allowed you to copy a picture of your current computer screen to the clipboard for pasting into applications (like Word or Photoshop) using the "Print Screen" button on the keyboard. Pressing "Print Screen" all by itself captures the entire desktop; pressing ALT+"Print Screen" captures only the active window. (I've never gotten CONTROL+"Print Screen" or SHIFT+"Print Screen" to do anything; I suspect one of them is supposed to activate the "System Request" functionality of that key, but I've never found a modern program that used that particular function.) In order to save a screen capture, you have to perform your capture, paste it into Word or Paint or Photoshop, and then save that picture somewhere. Screen captures can usually be e-mailed by pasting the image directly into your e-mail client (if you're using a client that can send RTF, HTML, or some other kind of "rich text" format), or by saving to a file and then attaching the file to an e-mail message. Windows' screen capture abilities usually do not allow capturing from games, videos, or DVD movies.

    ScreenHunter can perform the same actions as the default Windows screen capture can, but adds a couple of additional useful features. First, you can set which key on the keyboard activates the screen capture program. You are limited to the "Print Screen" key and the F1 through F12 keys (the ScreenHunter setup screen gives you more options - the entire alphabet and numbers 0 through 9, but they don't work), but at least you've got more flexibility than Windows. (Note that if the application you're currently running already uses a particular hotkey, like F6, that application will respond when you press they key, not ScreenHunter). Second, you can capture a rectangular area of the screen that you choose - you're not just limited to the entire desktop or the active window. Third, ScreenHunter can automatically save your captures to a folder you specify in either BMP (raw, uncompressed file format), JPG (with a fixed quality setting around 50%), or GIF formats. Fourth, ScreenHunter can be told to capture the screen so many seconds (up to 60) after you press the ScreenHunter hotkey.

    What these additional features allow you to do is to work more efficiently with your screen captures than you can with Windows alone. For example, if you've got a friend or relative who needs some assistance with some new software, you can use screen captures of the application to create a step-by-step guide for them. To that end, you can capture the entire application screen for a reference, then add captures of individual buttons or options to highlight them throughout the guide. I work at a software company, and I use the screen capture almost daily to grab a picture of some screen in an application and e-mail it to someone. I used to e-mail the entire screen, or spend the extra time in Paint to crop out just the area I wanted; now I save time and bandwidth by just capturing the part of the screen I need to tell someone about. If your e-mail client doesn't support pasting images directly into e-mail messages, or if you want to grab a sequence of screen captures for later reference (such as writing a book or how-to guide like I mentioned earlier), the automatic saving of captures and being able to specify the file type saves you a lot of time and disk space (since JPG and GIF captures can be as small as 1-2% the size of a raw BMP capture). Being able to specify the hotkey hasn't been that important a feature to me, but it could come into play if you've got an application that already uses the "Print Screen" key for something else. (The time-delay feature I also haven't found a good use for.) The rectangular area capture allows you to click and drag a box around the part of the screen you want to capture, so that your capture is as small as necessary to get the part you want. A zoom-in window pops up next to the mouse icon once you start dragging to help you line up the rectangular capture area with the screen (this is especially helpful if you've got your screen set to a high resolution - I keep mine at 1600 x 1200 pixels).

    There are a couple of things that I wish ScreenHunter did differently. First, you can't use hotkey combinations to tell ScreenHunter which type of capture you want to perform (full screen, active window, or user-defined area). In Windows, you can use "Print Screen" to capture the full screen, or ALT+"Print Screen" to just capture the active window; ScreenHunter could definitely benefit from being able to use ALT and CTRL with the hotkey you choose to capture in each of its 3 different modes. Instead, you have to bring up the setup window, switch which mode of capture you want to use, then click the "Stand By" button (or the "Capture Now" button) to switch modes. Second, when you run ScreenHunter it first brings up its setup screen (pictured above) and waits for you to click the "Stand By" button before it will minimize itself to the system tray. If you set ScreenHunter to start up automatically when your computer boots up (by putting it in the "Startup" folder of your Start menu), it does this every time you reboot. It would be nicer if it would just assume that you want to use the same settings as last time and default to minimizing to the system tray when it starts up. Third, the zoom-in window that pops up when you do a user-defined area capture only pops up after you click and start dragging the mouse; so while you can very easily line up one corner of the capture box to what you're capturing, the other corner (the first corner where you click and start dragging) is just a "best guess" as to where the edge of what you wanted to capture is. It would be better if the zoom-in window popped up as soon as you pressed the ScreenHunter hotkey, so that you can line up both the starting and ending corner. Fourth, you can't control the JPEG compression level in the free version of ScreenHunter - for that ability, and even more capture and editing options (such as the ability to capture games and video being shown on the desktop), you need to upgrade to ScreenHunter Pro.

    If you find yourself using screen capture on a regular basis (daily, or even weekly), a tool like ScreenHunter can definitely make it easier to get and work with your captures than Windows' built-in capture behavior. While ScreenHunter could be made even easier to use, it's easily worth installing and using if you have screen capture needs beyond what Windows offers. And it does this without any nags or "Upgrade Now" prompts that often detract from free versions of more advanced software.

©2019 Tyler Chambers