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2/7/2004: CamStudio [>> Go]

9/24/2006 Update: In 2005, some people located the source for CamStudio and it is now being developed/maintained through SourceForge.net. You can still download it from June29.com, but any updated releases will only be available via SourceForge.

11/5/2005 Update: The CamStudio version 2 license allows for free redistribution over the Internet, so you can now download the Windows installer from June29.com.

8/24/2004 Update: CamStudio is no longer downloadable from eHelp (now part of Macromedia).  But you can still find some downloadable versions by searching for CamStudio at Google and trying those.  Be extra careful doing this, however, since the programs could have been modified to contain viruses, spyware, or other bad stuff.

    Similar to what I mentioned in my review of ScreenHunter, desktop video captures are not something most people need very often. But unlike still-photo screen captures, Windows does not inherently provide for the ability to capture an area of your screen and create a video file from it. That is where CamStudio comes in. CamStudio, from eHelp, can create a standard Windows AVI video file from some area of your desktop (or the whole thing, if your computer is fast enough) that you can distribute to others via e-mail, Web, or on CD (or just keep for your own personal records).

    Of course, your first question is probably "Why would I want to do that?". As I have mentioned before, I work at a software company, and use ScreenHunter all the time in order to take pictures of our software to send to customers, clients, and within the company (such as the QA department). Sometimes, however, just a picture isn't good enough. When I want to show someone the steps to take in a particular piece of software, or to send a demo of our latest software in action, a video can explain what's going on much more quickly and clearly than a series of pictures. While I admit this isn't something most home computer users need to do on a regular basis, there may be times when a friend/relative who needs computer assistance can benefit from a video you e-mail them showing how to do a particular task. CamStudio also seems to have some ability to capture 3-D accelerated games, so you could conceivably use it to record computer games (to impress your friends with a cool new trick you discovered). (However, CamStudio can't record movies (either video files or DVDs) that are displayed on your screen, which was also a limitation with ScreenHunter.) In any case, the rest of this review is going to assume that you have found some reason to use a screen-video capture tool like CamStudio.

    CamStudio isn't easy to find anymore (fortunately, I've provided a link directly to it above). It used to be available at sites like Download.com; now that eHelp owns it, they've buried it on their site such that I can't find a way to get from their home page down to the CamStudio page. After you download and install CamStudio, it will ask you to register it by sending your e-mail address to eHelp, at which time they'll send you back a registration code. Be sure to uncheck the box saying that you want to receive a bunch of e-mail from eHelp, and use a disposable e-mail address if you're afraid of getting spam (I only recently registered, so I don't know how ethical eHelp will be now that they've got one of my addresses). Once it's installed and registered, you'll see a screen like the one pictured above. To record a video, click the red "Record" button (the red circle) and draw a box around the area of the screen you want to capture. (Under the Region menu, you can also set it to always use a particular size, or default to capturing the whole screen.) Flashing corners will indicate the area being recorded, and anything you do within that area will be written to a video file. When you're done recording, press the blue Stop button, and you'll be prompted for a name for the file and a location to store it; the video file will then automatically play in the included CamStudio video player (unless you turn that option off under the Options menu). You can set up hotkeys to start, stop, and pause the recording so that you don't have to use the buttons. Pausing the video recording lets you do things like skip through a slow task (like opening a large file) or position a new window in your recording area without adding to your video (and without creating multiple videos that you then have to piece together). CamStudio also allows you to create "screen annotations", which are graphics with text which stay on the screen (on top of whatever else is on your desktop). This lets you add notes and other textual information to your videos while they're being captured; you can set up multiple annotation layouts beforehand, and bring them up with a hotkey while you record. CamStudio can also record live audio from a microphone, allowing you to narrate your video as you record it (instead of doing a voiceover later); though recording both audio and video both slows down the frame rate of the capture and makes the video file larger.

    You can customize the kind of video you capture using any installed codecs which CamStudio can recognize, or by setting your own preferred video frame rate and audio frequency/quality. You can experiment with these to find the settings which give you a file size and quality that will match your needs. By default, the CamStudio capture area stays in one place, but you can turn on "auto panning" which causes the capture rectangle to follow the mouse cursor around, allowing you to automatically have the recording area follow where you're working. If you're not recording in full-screen mode, you can also grab one of the flashing corners of the recording area and move it manually to another area of your screen, should you need to. The faster your computer, the larger screen area you can capture at a good quality. I've got a 900 mHz Pentium III processor at work, and 640x480 is about the largest area I can capture with a decent frame rate (which is still only around 10 frames per second). CamStudio does come with a help file that explains all of its features, though for some reason I couldn't get it to come up from the Help menu (I had to use the icon the installer created in my Start menu).

    CamStudio generally does a very good job of capturing a video of my desktop, and has been a very stable application. I'm not particularly happy with eHelp's decision to make a free registration necessary to use it beyond 14 days (previous versions did not have this); but as long as they don't sell my address to spammers I'll overlook it for now. One glaring deficiency that has troubled me about CamStudio since I first found it is the inability to visually identify when I click one of my mouse buttons during a video. In certain settings, you need to demonstrate that you are clicking the mouse at a particular time or in a particular spot; but unless whatever you're clicking on offers some visual feedback (i.e. when a button depresses) it's impossible to tell in the resulting video that anything happened. Another video capture utility that I used prior to finding the free CamStudio would blink the mouse cursor a particular color when you clicked on the left or right buttons, to help the potential viewer realize that something was happening; this would be a welcome addition to CamStudio, though I doubt we'll see many more improvements since eHelp would probably prefer people buy their RoboScreenCapture software instead of using CamStudio for free. My last gripe about CamStudio is that every time you run it, it wants to connect to the Internet and download an ad for other eHelp software (it gets displayed in the purple area of the screen pictured above). Fortunately you can switch the interface to "Compact" mode using the View menu, so that you don't have to see them (and also fortunately, CamStudio will still run if you aren't connected to the Internet).

    If you can find a use for CamStudio, it's a great free tool for capturing your desktop to a video file. As with ScreenHunter, it's a good tool to have around just in case you ever do have a reason to use it.


©2017 Tyler Chambers