[Windows] Best free screen recording program (aka best free video capture program) [2nd Edition]

The ability to record screen activity and gameplay are undoubtedly an important part of digital media today due to the entertainment value as well as educational value of this feature.  As a result, several tutorial and instructional videos are made by recording the activity occurring on the author’s computer screen. It can be seen that screen captured videos are a large part of the complement of sites such as YouTube today. These screen recording functions are enabled by programs such as the four reviewed here today. Below are the best free screen recording programs available for Windows, however as you already know, only one program will take the title of Best Free Screen Recording Program.

[Note: If you are looking for screenshot programs, check out dotTech's review on best free screenshot program for Windows.]

This review is part of our Best Free Windows Software section. Check out more articles on the best free Windows programs from here.

Table of Contents

Best Free Screen Recording Program

active_presenterProgram Name: ActivePresenter

Developer: Atomi Systems, Inc.

Download Size: 31.6MB

Version Reviewed: 3.7.2

Requires: Windows XP/Vista/Win7/Win8

Pros

  • Allows you to record screen capture for the purposes of showing something on your screen, doing a demonstration (i.e. teaching something), or to capture a streaming/playing video
  • You can record your whole screen, a specific window, or a rectangle region that you define
  • Has a mode that allows you to take still screenshots while recording your screen
  • Has the ability to automatically follow and pan along with your mouse cursor while recording
  • Gives you the option to not capture mouse cursor and, if you do decide to capture mouse cursor, has the ability to highlight the mouse cursor during videos
  • Gives you the option of recording all sound that passes through your sound card (i.e. what you hear from your speakers) or to record via your microphone (i.e. so you can narrate while screen is recorded)
    • The ability to capture audio along with video means you can use this program to record online streaming videos
  • Has a built-in video editor that has very extensive video editing capabilities. Via this editor, you can perform edits such as cut/trim, crop, delete, join, change volume, split, add annotations, add zoom-n-pan effects, highlight mouse path, sync audio with video, add highlights, add text, record narration (after capturing the video), and more.
  • Videos can be exported as WMV, AVI, MPEG4, WebM, and SCORM 1.2/2004
  • Screenshots can be exported as JPEG and PNG
  • Supports hotkeys

Cons

  • Has a steep learning curve
    • Has multiple different capture modes and the names of these capture modes (or what they are) is not very self explanatory. New users will, without a doubt, be confused as to which mode(s) to use. (The good thing is the ‘Help’ file is very helpful in explaining what each mode is and what it does.)
    • After you capture a video, you are sent to the video editor. This video editor is extremely busy and will confuse new users.
  • Does not show any sort of “Get ready, capture starting in 3… 2… 1…” screen when you start a new screen recording.
  • Does not have ability to record webcam and include webcam recording with your screen recording
  • Has the ability to highlight mouse cursor but does not have the ability to highlight mouse clicks
  • Free version is free for home and non-commercial use only. If you want to use for commercial or business use, you need to pay for Standard or Professional, both which are extremely expensive ($350 and $450, respectively, or $99 for Professional for students, teacher, educational institutes and non-profits). See BB FlashBack Express for a screen recorder that is free for everyone.
  • 2013-02-07_235837Free version doesn’t have all the features of Standard/Professional. The two most notable areas where free version is lacking is exporting to different formats (e.g. free version cannot export to FLV) and the ability to add interactivity to a video. The image to the right of this bullet point explicitly lists out the differences between all the versions.
  • There are no separate installers for the Free, Standard, and Professional versions. As such, you will find some options/features in the free version that are actually not available in the free version, such as exporting to FLV. If you try use these options or export to formats that the free version does not support, output videos will have a watermark. If you only use the free version options and export only to the output formats supported in the free version (WMV, AVI, MPEG4, WebM, and SCORM 1.2/2004), there is no watermark.

Discussion

I have one word to describe ActivePresenter: wow! This easily the best video/screen recording programs I have ever used.

What makes ActivePresenter awesome is not necessarily its screen recording capabilities, although they are rather impressive… especially the ability to take still screenshots while recording a program, the ability to automatically pan the video with your mouse cursor, and the ability to record all sound that you hear from your speakers or record via microphone. What makes ActivePresenter awesome is the video editor it comes with.

You see after you record your screen with ActivePresenter, it sends the video to its built-in video editor. From this video editor you can perform simple to advanced functions, functions such as cutting/trimming, cropping, modifying the volume level of recorded sound, adding zoom-n-pan effects, adding annotations, adding text, highlighting something, insert overlaying images/videos/audios, insert closed captions, insert shapes, and much more. Really it is hard to ask for more in a free screen capture program.

When you are happy with your video, you can export it as AVI, MP4, MPEG4, WebM, SCROM 1.2/2004 with the ability to control output quality and the option to export closed captions a subtitles .SRT file. (While it is true supported output format is limited, you can always use a freeware video converter to convert your videos to another format after export.)

Really the only downside to ActivePresenter is that it is so featured-filled, it can confuse new users. Indeed, when you first use ActivePresenter you will most likely feel overwhelmed. However, as you use ActivePresenter more and more, you will get the hang of the program and be less intimidated. Plus the program has an excellent ‘Help’ file which you can reference if you don’t understand something.

Overall, ActivePresenter is a *brilliant* screen recording program. Really you need to look no further than this gem. The only reason you should not grab ActivePresenter is if the learning curve is too high for you. If that is the case, then check out BB FlashBack Express.

[Thanks Hamza for tip on ActivePresenter!]

Runner Up

2013-02-08_003306Program Name: BB FlashBack Express

Developer: Blueberry Software

Download Size: 12MB

Version Reviewed: 4.1.1 Build 2498

Requires: Windows 2000 and higher

Pros

  • Allows you to capture whole screen, specific window, or a user-defined rectangular region
  • You can record all sound from sound card (i.e. what you hear from your speakers), record from your microphone, or record from sound card plus record from microphone on top of that
    • The ability to capture audio along with video means you can use this program to record online streaming videos
  • You can include a recording of your webcam with the recording your screen (i.e. you can record both at the same time and include them both in you video)
  • Has the ability to highlight mouse cursor and mouse clicks
  • Can crop videos
  • Can trim the beginning/end of videos to exclude stuff you didn’t intend to capture (you do this while exporting)
  • Shows a countdown timer before actual recording of screen starts, giving you time to get ready
  • Can export videos as FLV, SWF, or AVI and save locally to your computer to upload directly to YouTube, Blip.tv, Revver, Viddler, Coggno, or FTP server
  • Very easy-to-use
  • Express version is free for everyone — home and commercial users

Cons

  • 2013-02-08_003050Express version does not have all the features as Standard and Professional versions. Most notably, Express does includes no video editing capabilities aside from crop or trim — no features like annotation, zooming, panning, etc. See the chart to the right for the exact differences between versions.
  • You must register with the company (which includes providing your name and e-mail) if you want to use the free version past 30 days.

Discussion

BB FlashBack Express is another excellent screen recording program.

The main difference between BB FlashBack Express is ActivePresenter has more video editing feature (much more video editing features). However, BB Flashback Express one-ups ActivePresenter in the area of being able to include a recording of your webcam with your screen recording, showing a countdown before actual recording begins, and user-friendliness. Indeed, BB FlashBack Express is much easier to use with an easier-to-understand interface.

If I were to provide two sentences to help you decide between BB FlashBack Express and ActivePresenter, it would be the following. Use ActivePresenter if you want to do advanced screen recording, such as a demonstration that requires include zooming/panning and annotations. Use BB FlashBack Express if you are looking to do a simple recording of your screen, something that requires no editing or advanced funtionality.

Honorable Mention 1

Program Name: EzvidEzvid

Developer: Ezvid Inc.

Download Size: 1.41MB

Version Reviewed: 0.9.1.2

Requires: Windows XP S3/Vista/7/8

Pros

  • Includes a video editor
  • Allows for direct upload to Youtube
  • Allows for simultaneous screen and voice recording
  • Ability to synthesize a body of text into narration
  • Ability to draw over recordings
  • Allows for addition of music to recordings
  • Allows for users to film themselves with a webcam during screen recording sessions

Cons

  • Users cannot add their own music files
  • All videos are 1280 x 720 resolution — no ability to modify this
  • Comes with a lot of bundled crapware
  • Has no offline installer. The 1.41 MB download needs an active internet connection to download more Ezvid files during installation.

Discussion

Ezvid is a very capable screen recording program which provides users with the ability to handle all aspects of their screen recording needs from the capturing of the video to any editing which needs to be done and the program even allows for direct upload to Youtube.

Users are given the choice of recording with either basic settings or advanced settings. Basic settings allow users to simply get to the business or recording videos with no extra features added. If the advanced capture mode is selected however, users are given the options of enabling the ability to capture audio during the screen recording process, enabling headset mode, enabling transparent screen capture controls, choosing the area of the screen to be captured and enabling simultaneous webcam capture.

After screen capturing is completed users can edit their videos with Ezvid for upload to the internet or just for storage on physical media. Additional elements can be added to the screen captured video such as a video clip from another source, text, images or a set list of audio files. The elements being edited are laid out on a timeline which is typical of a video editing program.

After video editing is completed the choice is given to upload videos to the ever popular Youtube and users are provided with fields for inputting the title, descriptions, categories and keywords for the videos in order to make the upload of videos as smooth and seamless as possible.

Although Ezvid provides users with all the features needed to produce decent screen capture videos it is lacking in some aspects. Yes it does cover all aspects of producing the video but users are not given the option of choosing the output resolution of their videos but are instead stuck with the 1280 x 720 format. Additionally there is no option which allows for high definition output. Users are also limited to the set list of audio files which come with the program but it should be noted that copyright issues have played a major role in this limitation therefore much better could not be done by the developer unless companies such as Viacom were to change their tough stance as it relates to this type of media.

With that being said Ezvid provides users with an all-in-one solution for creating their screen captured videos and there is no need to look for other software to complete tasks such as editing. This is hard to beat when it comes to a screen recording program.

Honorable Mention 2

Program Name: TipCamTipcam screenshot

Developer: UTIPU INC

Download Size: 5.41MB

Version Reviewed: 2.2.0.4248

Requires: Windows XP/Vista

Discussion

Tipcam is a screen recorder which offers users a wide variety of options for producing high quality web-standard video or otherwise.

The main menu of Tipcam offers users users the usual record, playback and save options as well as zoom, edit, upload, discard and an option to upload files privately. The zoom option is self-explanatory while the upload option allows users to either upload video to utipu.com or to Youtube. The edit function gives users the option of adding a voice over or “trimming” the length of recorded video. Users have a great degree of control over the video which is output. For example, users can choose audio input devices, choose to set uTIpu.com or Youtube as the default video upload sites, set hot keys for various functions, choose whether to output videos as .FLV for web sharing or .AVI for post-processing with editing software, set the recording quality, choose to record from a remote computer, change the resolution or change the zoom level.

These options make TipCam a very effective screen recorder but there are some issues that I had with it however. Firstly when a recording is being made in Windows 7, the colour scheme is changed to basic which is rather annoying. Also  Tipcam doesn’t offer features such as the video editor or simultaneous web cam recording which can be found in Ezvid. Therefore, although it is a great program, it doesn’t offer the appealing total package of Ezvid.

With everything in perspective, Tipcam will fulfill all of the screen recording needs of most users and offers them a simple one click share/record layout.

Honorable Mention 3

Program Name: ScreenTwinScreenTwin Screenshot

Developer: Elecard

Download Size: 5.75MB

Version Reviewed: 1.0

Requires: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7

Discussion

ScreenTwin is a very effective  screen recorder and provides users with the essentials needed to create high quality video content

When ScreenTwin is opened, the only evidence that it is indeed open is the small square icon in the system tray. Right clicking the icon brings up options such as run/stop and settings. Users can also choose to double-click the icon to start recording or to enable recording as soon as the program is opened. In settings, options such as the height and width of the recorded area can be adjusted or users can choose to record the full screen area. ScreenTwin also gives users the option of enabling the recording of audio input from a selected source such as a microphone and the ability to adjust the quality of the video output. Perhaps the most interesting feature of ScreenTwin is the ability to stream video to a network location. Of course if this is not desired users can also choose to save recordings to a specifiec location on their hard drives. In addition the entire process of capturing, transmission and playback of recorded video takes a very short period of time and after recording my screen for a period of time, I immediately went and searched for the video in the location I specified videos to be saved to and it was there already processed and encoded. This feature is attributed on the developer’s website to Elecard Low Delay Codecs.

Although ScreenTwin has proven itself to be a very effective solution for screen recording there are some issues with it. It does do its job of screen recording very well but unlike Ezvid it doesn’t offer users options for altering the video after it is actually recorded or during recording. For example options such as simultaneous web cam recording and video editing are unavailable which leaves users to rely on other programs in order to produce a fully polished video.

Aside from these issues ScreenTwin is clearly a brilliant choice for a screen recording program.

Honorable Mention 4

Program Name: YouRecorder FreeYouRecorder Free screenshot

Developer: JianChao Zhou

Download Size: 1.33MB

Version Reviewed: 1.6.1

Requires: Windows 2000/2003/XP/Vista/7

Discussion

Don’t let YouRecorder Free’s simplicity fool you, it is quite the powerful screen recording program.

YouRecorder Free is capable of recording the full screen area, a region of the screen or simply taking screen shots of a specific area of the screen or the whole screen. YouRecorder Free also allows you to simultaneously record audio while recording the screen. Users are allowed to set the frame rate, size of video and quality of the outputted video as well as the quality and volume of the audio. Additionally there are several parameters for assigning hotkeys for various functions such as the starting and stopping of recording.

YouRecorder Free is great at the things that it does do but it lacks some functionality such as incorporating additional media into the screen captured video. In addition even though it allows a certain degree of customizability of the outputted video, it does not offer as many options in this regard as TipCam which offers more options for setting the resolution and dimensions of the captured video.

YouRecorder Free as stated before is simple but powerful and would be ideal for applications which do not involve many variations.

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52 comments

  1. RealBull

    [@Rob (Down Under)]
    I think for the older PCs the recording programs that need to do multiple jobs such as recording at real-time into a file and audio recording and maybe adding effects to the cursor will probably slow an old computer’s CPU. I don’t know what you need, but if you just need to record then just find one that does only that. Ashampoo’s Snap does multiple jobs so it’s hard on the CPU, that is probably what happened to sgrams’ computer, the hesitations or choppy resolutions.
    Overall, as far as recording, I think most of them do a good job, but Ashampoo’s Snap is pretty good because it has more options.

  2. Rob (Down Under)

    [@RealBull]
    No, I hadn’t tried it.
    I will download it (camStudia) and give it a try.
    Thanks,
    Rob
    PS I have a few Ashampoo programs (I don’t mind their emails, as often they give large discounts). I have Snap 6
    How do you reckon it would compare with the others (for my old PCs).
    The reason I don’t know (haven’t tried them), is I like to have a suitable program available, for the very rare occasions that I might need to capture something.

  3. RealBull

    [@sgrams]
    Yes, I understand. I have a laptop with Vista HP 32-bit with a 1.9 ghz CPU, and compared to my laptop with WIN7 64-bit 2.5-3.0 ghz, Vista 32-bit is S-L-O-W. I’ll never go back to 32-bit and I’m glad MS Windows and other companies are planning to squeeze it out of the market. It’s time to retire 32-bit OS.
    Snagit is probably nice, but it’s not free :(
    NCH’s Debut seems nice, but I installed some of their programs before and they like to put in nag-screens to get you to buy the upgrade version.
    You should try a free copy of Ashampoo Snap 5.
    Maybe it’s what you’re looking for.:

    http://www.ashampoo.com/en/usd/lpa/gift/?c=ASH-FREE

    If the coupon code doesn’t show, it’s ASH-FREE

  4. Rob (Down Under)

    [@sgrams]
    Sorry I turned off PC to cook and eat my one meal of the day, cleared some TV recordings, and went to bed. Just turned on my PC and noticed your comments.
    Thanks for the feedback on playability (I have old PCs).
    I notice that I have Snagit 10
    Which version were you praising ?
    Regards,
    Rob
    PS I would appreciate feedback from others who have tried and compared the free ones mentioned in the above article, particularly for older weaker PCs

  5. Ashraf
    Mr. Boss

    [@Rob (Down Under)] What I plan on doing is writing an article showing how to record online streaming videos/movies/TV shows, including the associated audio.

    [@John] Welcome!

    [@RH] And what is wrong with it? I understand that they are using it as a selling point for their paid version, but the free version in and of itself is great too.

  6. Rob (Down Under)

    [@Ashraf]
    Thanks Ashraf,
    My 71 year old brain perhaps did not clearly spell out what I was attempting ?
    Ideally I would just download the 1 hour show, but there is no download link.
    I have tried a couple of FF Add-ons and one of them managed to download about 5 pieces. I am yet to check if they truly are 5 consecutive pieces. And if they are, I will need to try to join them.
    I reckon that is NOT what you will be covering in tomorrows article ?
    But if John’s request, and what you will be covering tomorrow, is a program that can be told to record what is running in a flash window within the web page, then it may be my salvation (the replay is only available up till the 6th May)

  7. Ashraf
    Mr. Boss

    [@John] Yes. What you need to record streaming video is a screen recorder that records your screen and captures audio. Pretty much all the programs mentioned here do that.

    [@Rob (Down Under)] The programs mentioned here do that but I think I’ll write up a how-to tomorrow to clarify.

  8. Rob (Down Under)

    [@John]
    I am attempting to record an Australia TV sites (SBS) replay of a documentary I missed – Eat, Fast And Live Longer
    Not having much success, as it has about 5 chunks.
    I reckon we are both looking in the wrong DotTech article, as this article appears to be about capturing what is on the screen.
    Does DotTech have an article on the type of program that John and I are looking for ?

  9. Paul

    Oops…, You editors here are impressive in responsiveness to readers’ comments! Keep up the great work!

    @Rob (Down Under): Yes, I think you can as long as the other recorder produce a video file, you can create a blank project in ActivePresenter and drag the video there for further editing.
    For simple recording I personally like Camstudio for recording desktop apps and Mirillis Action! for recording games or DirectX apps and make further editing in ActivePresenter.

  10. Rob (Down Under)

    SoftPedia agrees with you, and the Editor gives it 5 stars.
    They also have a link to a full review.
    I won’t post the links, as a link may have been what triggered a moderation delay to a post I did 24 hours ago ? ?

  11. Rob (Down Under)

    Could one (me) install ActivePresenter PLUS one of the other easier ones (less learning curve, etc).
    Then use the easier one to record the video, and then open that video in ActivePresenter’s editor ?

  12. Paul

    WHAT!? this Ezvid? What were your criteria for “BEST”?
    + Users cannot add their own music files + All videos are 1280 x 720 resolution — no ability to modify this + Comes with a lot of bundled crapware + Has no offline installer + some more and still being considered the best?

    You need to look around a little bit more before calling something as best. ActivePresenter in #4 comment is way better than Ezvid, let alone many other great free ones.

  13. William
    Staff

    @Robert from Boston: @Robert from Boston:

    Hi Robert thanks for your kind comments. From what I can see, this tutorial is just showing you how to set your resolution for the highest quality output from Ezvid. Just to make sure I tested it out on higher resolutions and the video was always output from Ezvid as 1280×720 or below. This is supposed to be done so as to optimize videos for upload to Youtube. Hope that helps.

  14. Robert from Boston

    Just wanted to thank William for his reviews here. I haven’t had a huge need for doing screen captures with extra editing added… YET… but it has been in the back of my mind to investigate at some point, and this article gave me a good starting point.

    One bit of info would be helpful: Ezvid sounds excellent, except for the crapware warnings. Are those extra things optional, with an opt-out option when installing, or is there no way to avoid getting them installed with the program??

    I’ll check out BB Flashback while hoping to get some additional info about that issue….

    BTW… Wanna wish the very best to Ashraf and all the staff here at dotTech for the New Year ahead. I love your site, wish I had more time to participate. Keep up the good work, folks!!

  15. Rowdy

    I am a fan of dottech and appreciate all the helpful info. However, I went through the process to dnload ezvid — a real pain to get to the actual dnload. Not worth it. Think I’ll stay with BBFlashback. :(

  16. sgrams

    I have tried many free screen recorders including oCam mentioned above, it might just be my two systems but there always seems to be some jerking on playback, not smooth playback. I have even bought Camtasia and playback is rough and support blames my systems, but awhile back I tried and bought Debut from NCH and it works with smooth playback, http://www.nchsoftware.com/capture/index.html. Why it works so well I’m not sure but just in case anyone else finds poor playback this might work, it does have a free trial too, $30 right now. I hope this fits in this discussion.

  17. JonnyG

    Be careful when installing Ezvid! It wants to install a bunch of other crap during the installation process. And when you get down to actually installing it, it wants to connect to the Internet in order to continue downloading files. I had wondered how they could pack a video editor into a 1.5 MB download and when it tried to download more files, I realized that they couldn’t. With so much extra stuff going on, I decided not to install the program. Be careful.