Tool Review: ScreenFlow

Computers & Mobile
Tool Review: ScreenFlow

When documenting how to make a technology project that involves the computer, it can sometimes feel a little tedious describing how to get things done within a particular program. On the other hand, glazing over those details can leave many people feeling intimidated by what sounds like a complex process. In those cases, recording a screen capture is an excellent way to show the process. ScreenFlow 2.1 for Mac OS X by Telestream helps you produce and share high quality screencasts with little fuss.

The application opens with a few simple recording options. In addition to recording the screen, you can have it record a video input (such as from a webcam), a separate audio input, and your computer’s audio. You don’t have to use these video and audio tracks in your final output, but of course if you don’t choose to record them now, you can’t use them later. After selecting your options and hitting the record button, you’re given a five second countdown and then the app disappears into a menu bar item while it records your screencast.

When you’re done with your recording, ScreenFlow opens your screencast as an editable document. If you’re at all familiar with non-linear video editing software, the interface will feel very familiar, complete with a timeline, preview window, and a tool palette. The best thing about ScreenFlow is the other paradigm it borrows from non-linear video editing software: non-destructive editing. Put simply, no matter how you modify your screencast within ScreenFlow, the source footage is left untouched and you can always go back to it. For example, when you record, ScreenFlow records the entire contents of your screen. If you decide you want to show the contents of a single, smaller window, you can crop out the rest of the screen. Let’s say that you decide later that you want to show the whole screen again, you can simply modify the cropping. ScreenFlow will not discard what you’ve cropped out.

The editing features within ScreenFlow are surprisingly powerful. They let you cut together different screen, video, and audio recordings; either back-to-back or simultaneously. For example, ScreenFlow automatically creates a picture-in-picture window of your webcam over the screencast if you chose to have it record from the webcam. Users who are familiar with key framing may feel a little confused by ScreenFlow’s analogy, the “action.” This feature lets you change properties of a clip over time and it helps give your screencast a nice polish. To give one example, you can have your screencast start with a full screen view of your desktop and then zoom into a particular window at whatever speed you want. While the feature doesn’t work exactly the way users of Final Cut Pro or Adobe After Effects would expect, getting used to the difference takes no time at all.

Another killer feature of ScreenFlow is its ability to output to a wide variety of video formats. You can export a YouTube-ready clip directly from the application, or you can export to a format that will behave better in a non-linear editor. While there is an abundance of video export presets that you can modify, I wish that I could add and rename presets for my own custom export settings.

ScreenFlow has become an indispensable tool for creating high-quality screencasts from my Mac (sorry Windows users, there’s no version for you). Initially, I wasn’t sure if I should sink $99 into a screen capture application when cheaper options exist, but the excellent output quality and the generous feature set of ScreenFlow make it a great value. For those of you who are on the fence about the product, Telestream offers a fully functional trial download which watermarks the exported video.

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Matt Richardson is a San Francisco-based creative technologist and Contributing Editor at MAKE. He’s the co-author of Getting Started with Raspberry Pi and the author of Getting Started with BeagleBone.

View more articles by Matt Richardson


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