Image Grabber and CameraMan

Note: This review originally appeared in the newsletter of the Southern Maine Apple Users Group (SMAUG), circa 1993. It has been modified slightly from the original version, but no effort has been made to update information that has become out-of-date since the original publication. Neither of the products mentioned in this review are still available.

Image Grabber and CameraMan are both designed to capture images from your Macintosh screen, and both succeed, but the similarity ends there. Image Grabber captures only static snapshots of the screen. CameraMan, on the other hand, can capture both static and moving images. Why would you buy Image Grabber if CameraMan does it all? Read on.

Image Grabber, from Sabastian Software, does just one thing, and it does it very well. It can capture all or part of the screen image and send the snapshot to the Clipboard, the Scrapbook, several types of files, or directly to a printer. But wait, there’s more! It can also capture images of color screens in black and white and scale the image as it takes the snapshot, both of which can help optimize the 72 dot-per-inch screen image for output on a 300 dpi laser printer (as well as reducing the size of the image file). This makes Image Grabber a great choice for producing screenshots for inclusion in written documents.

Running the Image Grabber Desk Accessory is as simple as choosing it from the Apple Menu. It can do its magic in either of two ways. “Selection grab” allows you to capture any portion of the screen by selecting it in the usual Mac way: by clicking and dragging a box around it. “Timed grab,” on the other hand, waits a number of seconds before grabbing the screen image, allowing you to capture images you couldn’t otherwise get, such as pulled-down menus. This is one of Image Grabber’s best features, and without it the program wouldn’t be worth the disk it’s written on. Why? Because the Macintosh includes a simple built-in screen-capture utility in the form of a function key (FKEY) that you can activate by pressing command-shift-3. The FKEY lacks Image Grabber’s bells and whistles and, more importantly, is incapable of capturing menus in action.

Another great feature is Image Grabber’s ability to automatically capture just the front-most window, rather than the entire screen. If you’re trying to document the goings-on in a single window, this can save a lot of editing and cropping later. Similarly, Image Grabber can be set to hide the cursor as it snaps its picture.

Its status as a desk accessory gives Image Grabber advantages and disadvantages over similar utilities that are configured as extensions or control panels. Unlike extensions and control panels, Image Grabber does not use memory except when it is active and cannot cause extension conflicts (this last point is not to be overlooked, especially on a system like mine which typically has 20-30 extensions running at once). The knife cuts both ways, however. The “timed grab” feature can be unwieldy at times compared to utilities that define a “hot key” that will capture a screen image anytime it is pressed.

On the whole, Image Grabber does its job superbly. Its range of features, simplicity of use, and lack of incompatibilities puts it ahead of similar shareware utilities. It will run on any Macintosh from the Mac Plus up and any System version above 6.0.

So what’s with this CameraMan thing, anyway? CameraMan, from Vision Software, takes screen capture one step further by capturing moving images. It can save the images as a QuickTime movie, PICS animation, or as a series of still-image PICT files. CameraMan is riding the tide of Multimedia and QuickTime into the future of media on the Mac.

CameraMan is activated and deactivated by pressing user-selectable “hot-keys.” As an extension, it gains this ease-of-use at the cost of compatibility (the manual includes a list of 11 incompatible extensions, fortunately none of which are in my extensive arsenal of extensions). Once activated, CameraMan will capture everything you do on the Mac screen until you deactivate it or run out of disk space.

QuickTime does a great job of optimizing and compressing the movie as it is recorded, but disk space vanishes quickly nonetheless. File size varies with the bit-depth of the screen, the size of the capture area, the length of the movie, and the amount of action going on on-screen. At CameraMan’s default screen capture rate of 4 frames-per-second, a 30-second, 256-color movie on a 13” screen with lots of screen action will use almost 500K of disk space. To help cut down on the amount of disk space needed, CameraMan can capture just a section of the screen, and can be configured to follow the cursor around the screen.

CameraMan can be configured through the “CameraMan App.” In addition to configuring the hot-keys used to begin, end, and pause recording (and to capture a single snapshot á la Image Grabber), CameraMan App allows you to choose the movie frame rate, area, and compression settings, the disk location for new movies, and whether CameraMan records “MacSounds” in new movies. MacSounds are simulated mouse-click, key-press, and system beep sounds and can add to the overall impact of recorded screen images.

In addition to the extension and configuration application, CameraMan includes a simple QuickTime editing program and a freely-distributable QuickTime player. The QuickTime editor is handy for adding soundtracks such as voice-overs to your movies.

CameraMan runs best on a QuickTime-capable Macintosh (any Mac with a 68020 and System 6.0.7 or better), but can record screen action as a PICS animation on any Mac from a Plus on up.

Overall, CameraMan is an excellent program, and a lot of fun to boot. Although its 4 frames-per-second record rate (which is just about all my IIvx can handle) seems a little sluggish at times, the movies it creates would make a great addition to any multimedia training or education materials. For now, the size of QuickTime movies is prohibitive, but I look forward to the day when a program’s help feature not only tells me what I want to know, but shows me as well.

Image Grabber v3.0 CameraMan v1.1
$49.00 list price $149.00 list price
4 SMAUGs 4 1/2 SMAUGs
Sabastian Software
P. O. Box 70278
Bellevue, WA 98007
Vision Software International
4633 Old Ironsides Drive
Santa Clara, CA 95054
(206)865-9343 (408)748-8411