Shai Almog

@Codename_One

Creating an Online Course on Mac OS

I just finished teaching the Codename One bootcamp and while for the most part the participants liked the materials I produced I can’t say I’m completely happy with my results.

One of my main goals was to improve my video creation skills and online instruction skills so I can make more (better looking) screencasts. I think both skills have improved but I feel there are still a lot of problems. One of the biggest problems with my videos relates to the tools, they all have their issues and I still don’t feel I “found the right one”.

This is all based on my personal impression of working with these tools over the years and they are obviously subjective. I’d appreciate feedback from other users with different experiences…

If you are looking at screencasting/video creation from a non-creative standpoint (I’m not a pro-video guy) then this might be interesting to you.

Keynote

I used keynote to make many videos, it has a great feature to record presentations which you can then export to a video. It makes really complex animations and graphics relatively trivial and produces a smooth high definition video.

Recording with keynote is a bit unpleasant. You can’t go “back and forth” if you want to redo a segment you need to overwrite everything from that point on. Also once you start recording you can’t change the slides in any way, that means you will need to re-record everything from scratch if you need to make any change to the order of the slides or their animations.

This is understandable but a bit frustrating…

The click to transition between slides is sometimes audible in the recordings so you need to remember to use the space bar silently to move between the slides.

Elements such as video can be integrated by adding a pre-recorded video to the slide but this makes narration difficult sometimes as you need to record a video in advance and narrate it based on the pace of running. You can’t ad-lib as much as you might sometimes do with a recorded video and you have limited options of editing. I did some creative tricks with recorded video which I usually captured via quicktime (which is pretty great for that sort of thing) but this process is often slow and painful as I need to go over everything and make sure it is all correct before I start the narration process.

I made this video purely with keynote, it’s relatively old so not too many animations etc. notice the high quality of the video itself though. I don’t have too many visual effects or any embedded videos in this specific example though:

A video created with keynote

Screencast-o-matic

This is probably my favorite tool of the bunch. I like it because:

  • It’s written in Java
  • It’s MUCH simpler than pretty much any other tool for most screen casting use cases
  • It works really well
  • It’s affordable
  • The script system is WONDERFUL (albeit currently problematic)

Screencast-o-matic isn’t a video editing tool although it has some features relative to that. It’s very focused on the screencast aspect and has simplified tooling to support that exact use case. If you want to do a simple screencast this is probably the best tool on the market as it’s just easy to use and almost powerful enough to do anything you will need.

The paid version is 15USD per year which is very affordable, I used the paid version in this case. The killer feature for me is the script recorder, you define a “script” and then record the text of the script. Then when you capture the screencast your recording is played back as you perform the operations you recorded.

This allows me to create very “tight” & focused screencasts that follow a flow of narration rather than the other way around. It’s useful for shorter videos where I want to “stay on message” and don’t want to run off. Here is an example I made with screencast-o-matic, the beginning and end are based on a keynote recording (more on that soon):

Screencast-o-matic video with keynote presentation playback

I mentioned that I like screencast-o-matic a lot but it has a lot of faults in the advanced usage level. I’d recommend it without a doubt for anyone doing relatively simple videos but in my cases I had some issues:

  • The maximum resolutions are full screen or 720p — I can live with that but when I moved the video into iMovie for post processing this created issues with the 1080p mode of iMovie
  • If you add a video it overrides the recording — I wanted the keynote presentation in the beginning to be a video. However, since this isn’t a video editing tool you can’t add a video and replace the audio
  • When recording keynote I had serious issues in capturing it. The only workaround I could find was to finish everything in iMovie by editing the resulting clip and cleaning it up

If you don’t need to integrate a pre-existing video or keynote presentation this can be a really great option. You can implement most of the features with smart use of images as the effects within screencast-o-matic often outshine the more “professional” tools e.g. I was able to blur portions of the screen that were irrelevant, this is something I was unable to do in other tools!

iMovie

I used iMovie for many of the recordings, it “works”. It’s slow as hell and the results leave something to be desired. You can’t really manipulate the captured video in any significant way, e.g. you can’t zoom to a specific area dynamically. That’s actually not 100% accurate, you can zoom but it won’t be smooth and isn’t intuitive.

iMovie was designed as a tool for home videos, not as a tool for screencasts. You can use it for narration over the split up video but you will get audio gaps and it’s sometimes hard to put all the pieces together. It forces you to work in 1080p mode which is sometimes slow and annoying and has some defaults (like the ken burns effect) which make sense for a home movie but not for a screencast.

One of the bigger pain point is the HUGE file sizes it generates and saves. This blows up my drive forcing me to move or delete projects constantly. So it’s hard to keep historic projects and reference them.

The good part is that it’s an actual video editing tool and relatively simple as such. So you can create pretty impressive videos with relatively little practice, e.g. this is a relatively old video I did with iMovie well before I learned to control it to the full extent:

One of the early works I did with iMovie

I’ve also done this with iMovie where I was able to tie in narration from someone else into a video I recorded and transcribed. The initial effect was generated in keynote as a video and then added to the iMovie project:

Later work with iMovie that included external narration

iMovie really shines with shorter promo videos but becomes a pain when the project grows.

I’m considering making the leap to final cut pro, I’ve experimented with it quite a bit and it’s really cool but I doubt if it will give my productivity the necessary boost. It might help me make better looking videos and might make narration better in post as its recording tools are far superior. One of my bigger concerns is that I might start going overboard with a tool like that and misuse effects. I plan to experiment with it and see where it leads.

Screen Flow

Screenflow is a reasonably nice Mac native screen casting tool. I was able to use it to build some things and it felt faster than iMovie for most features. It has some pretty powerful features such as the ability to grab video from iOS devices (which I didn’t try but might come in handy). The blocker for me was with narration and recording. Narration sends you to the standard capture dialog where you can effectively record audio instead of video.

This isn’t convenient and made the process of adapting a video painful and slow. It has some nice effects such as the ability to layer highlights on the video although surprisingly they aren’t more powerful than the simpler screencast-o-matic. However, unlike the former it’s a full fledged video editing tool and has some powerful features that are pretty hard to accomplish even in iMovie.

Ultimately, I didn’t use this tool to produce a final video. After working with it for a while I found my workflow was hampered due to the bad narration experience and I eventually didn’t use it.

I might go back to it for very long videos where the audio and screencast are bound together. However, since I became pretty comfortable with iMovie I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort.

Camtasia

Techsmith’s Camtasia is pretty much the gold standard with most of the people I talked to. It’s recommended by some online course companies and is generally considered the leader in the field.

I can’t say I reviewed it enough, I played with it a bit and just preferred the interface of Screenflow for most basic tasks. It might be worth re-evaluating it in the future. It’s been a while since I originally played with it and I don’t recall the exact pain points I had with it but I do recall that I found the workflow pretty confusing and had issues with narration.

Bottom Line

I didn’t discuss some of the more esoteric options such as using an external tool to record the audio and bind it which might work well if you get someone to narrate for you but is a pain to bind to the clip rate.

I’m still not sure what I’ll use for coming videos as each one of the tools above has its own advantages and disadvantages. I’m still using keynote alone for some of the simpler videos as that’s a convenient, high quality solution. I might use screencast-o-matic for “quick & dirty” videos where I need the script to be “exact”. In those cases I might be willing to compromise on bells and whistles for the sake of fast production.

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