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The Best Screen Capture Software for Different Budgets

Lewis McGregor

From capturing software tutorials to sharing workflow information, screen capture software is a must-have for any online creative.

Ten years ago, you needed a video capture card to do anything remotely similar to what screen capture software can do today. I’ve tried and tested different programs over the past few years, and here are my top three recommendations for different budgets. I’ve also included some free options, but in my experience, these all tend to lack one or two essential tools.

1. Adobe Captivate

Adobe Captivate is an authoring tool designed for users creating e-learning content. It’s incredibly powerful, but it is the most expensive of the options on this list at $1,099 for a full license — or you can purchase the subscription service for a more affordable monthly cost of $29.99. However, you are locked into a yearly contract of $29.99. Like the Adobe CC subscription plan, you can terminate the contract early by paying a cancellation fee.

If you’re looking for software dedicated solely to screencasting, then skip down to options 2 and 3. However, if your business creates a wider range of e-learning products, this may be the option for you. Captivate has all of the standard features you would expect from a premium screencast package. It offers enhanced mouse movement and keyboard activity, system audio, and other options. The beauty of Captivate is its support for responsive design. Captivate automatically detects the screen activity and will pan to that specific area if the user is using a tablet or mobile device.

Captivate also offers all of the features of the other screencasting programs on this list.

Favorite features:

  • Roundtrip with most Adobe CC applications.
  • iOS device capture.
  • Responsive screencast.
  • Familiar UI.

For: The e-learning professional.

Ultimately, Adobe Captivate is top-of-the-line screencast software. If you just want to record tutorials for your online audience, you might be better off with something a little less expensive. If you’re creating online pay-per-use training content and want an abundance of additional features, Adobe Captivate is for you.

2. Camtasia Studio

(Bonus points if you recognize the audio track!) 

Camtasia Studio is currently my go-to screen capture software. I’ve been using it for a few years now, and honestly, you can’t ask for a more dedicated program. I sometimes read that “Camtasia has a steep learning curve,” but I don’t know where this statement comes from. Camtasia offers a simple UI that editors familiar with any NLE can use very easily. The screen recorder includes a customizable panel where you can choose what area of your screen to record.

At one point in time, Camtasia was a secondary tool to augment your NLE. I know many would capture their screen, render the file, and import the video clip into their NLE for final touches. Now, Camtasia has become an all-in-one tool to produce and finish a video. From animations to chroma keying, it has more or less everything.

With a $199 one-off license fee, it certainly is something that you should look into if you create online instructional content.

Favorite features:

  • Mouse Cursor Effects
  • Add webcam video to screen capture
  • Edit at 4k
  • Multitrack editing like other NLEs

Best use for: Educators and Online Tutorials

3. ScreenFlow

ScreenFlow is a more affordable option at $99, but it still packs a powerful punch. Like the other options, it also comes with a built-in video editor, so you don’t have to cross-platform your screen capture into another NLE.

ScreenFlow has an incredibly easy-to-use but powerful animation function. There’s not a steep learning curve in comparison with a compositor like After Effects. As you can see in the video, the animation introduction sets up within minutes. It’s elegant and smart, and it doesn’t require a textbook to learn.

ScreenFlow is Mac-only software, so if you’re looking for a cheap option for the PC, this isn’t your solution.

ScreenFlow can also capture recordings from an iOS device. This is incredibly useful if your educational content includes phone applications.

I think the best word to describe ScreenFlow is “easy.” It’s very much an A-to-B application with little to no fuss. You can even publish your screen capture straight from the software to Facebook, which is super cool if your audience is primarily based on your Facebook page and not YouTube.

Favorite Features:

  • Professional animation features
  • Simple UI
  • iOS Recording
  • Multiple tutorial tools

Best use for: Beginners

4. QuickTime

The Best Screen Capture Software for Different Budgets — QuickTime

If you have a Mac, you already have pretty solid screen capture capabilities with Quicktime. Just open the QuickTime Player, go to File > New Screen Recording. You’ll see a pop-up screen capture menu, and you can choose the area of the screen you want to capture. Select the dropdown icon next to the record button to select a microphone if you have one plugged in.

QuickTime is great all-purpose video tool, but there are no safeguards in place if your recording becomes corrupted. If QuickTime crashes twenty minutes into your recording, you will lose everything. It’s also unable to capture copyrighted material, so if you are teaching a class and want to reference a movie clip — you won’t be able to do so in QuickTime.

Favorite features:

  • Simplicity
  • Full screen capture or selected areas

Best use for: Quick general screen captures, Beginners, Tutorials

As promised, here’s a list of free screencasting software. Look into the limitations of these options before you begin a project, but if you need a resource in a pinch, you may find your answer here.

What screen capture programs do you prefer? Let us know in the comments.