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Moving from Camtasia to Shotcut

by Michael Szul on tags: video editing, videos, shotcut
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We record videos.

Surprised? I know. It's not like we talk about them constantly.

Seriously, though it's been a fun ride building out the Codepunk YouTube channel to its current state. What started out as purely a bunch of programming tutorials has now evolved into an exploration of "life in the new cyberia" as our channel trailer says. Ultimately, we didn't want Codepunk to be just another review channel or just another programming channel, so we wanted to take the personality and the focus on the Codepunk podcast (which steered more towards how technology impacts culture and society) and bring that to the forefront of the videos (as well as this blog you're reading now).

Recently, I purchased a new computer (hey, look, there's a video on that too), but the computer in question is a Linux laptop. It's been 15 years since I used a Linux laptop on a regular basis, so I knew it was going to take some time to get re-acquainted, but also I was going to have to look at what I was doing on a regular basis and find the Linux alternative.

For video editing, that meant moving away from the tried-and-true Camtasia into a Linux-based (or acceptable solution). At first, I tried to get DaVinci Resolve running. Camtasia is a great piece of software for hobbyists, and you can take it pretty far, but generally, it's not for professional video editing (of like documentaries or movies); It's more for screencasts, YouTube channels, and tutorials. It handles a lot of the legwork for you, but if you want to go beyond it, you have to dive into something else. DaVinci Resolve has that something else—including a Linux version.

Unfortunately, GPU drivers are a big deal with DaVinci Resolve, and although there are quality drivers for NVidia (and rumors of good AMD drivers), trying to get OpenCL Intel drivers to play nice (on the System76 Lemur Pro) resulted in a DaVinci Resolve that crashed more than a drunk driver on a bender… and without even getting past the loading screen.

So I went looking for other alternatives and there were three that stood out: Openshot, Shotcut, and Pitivi. I decided to give Shotcut a chance first—mostly because it reminded me a lot (visually) of Camtasia—which helped me stay in my comfort zone a bit—but also because I needed a solution with a quality blend mode in order to work effectively with overlays. Camtasia isn't able to handle opacity blend modes outside of simply opacity adjustments, which tends to darken both videos and require a color adjustment to correct.

Shotcut is a cross-platform application, so although I'm referring to it here in a Linux context, it's available on other platforms, including Windows.

The first thing to bear in mind is that Shotcut is a video editor and not a video capture utility. Can it capture video? Maybe? Shotcut does seem to have the capacity of "opening" streams, and there are plugins that can make it a little easier, but as you can read from the commentary in that link, it's far from straightforward. My suggestion, would be to use a different video capture software (e.g, OBS Studio), and import that video into Shotcut. OBS has way more configuration options than you could hope to accomplish with Shotcut, and it'll save you quite a few headaches.

This, of course, is different than Camtasia, where screen recording occurs in just a few clicks.

In most ways, the timeline in Shotcut works the same as the timeline in Camtasia. You can add tracks, delete tracks, and move them wherever you want. In fact, in Shotcut, you can have two clips on the same track overlap, and Shotcut will automatically attempt to apply a transition. One missing timeline feature that I came to rely on in Camtasia is the ability to highlight a section and cut it. Camtasia has start and stop points on their timeline scrubber/indicator, whereas Shotcut just has a single scrubber. If you want to cut out a section in the middle, you have to use the "split at playhead" button twice (at the start and at the end) and then delete or ripple delete the section.

Other than that, all the timeline functionality worked as I would have expected in Camtasia, including separating the audio track from the video track, locking tracks, and hiding tracks.

In Camtasia, you do become accustomed to transitions, behaviors, and animations for applying various effects. In Shotcut, it's important to note that every single one of these is a filter. In fact, just adding text to the screen requires a filter for text. This feels cumbersome at first, but you start to get used to it. Really, Shotcut offers more manual configuration, rather than making it more automatic like Camtasia, but all the same behaviors such as fading, transitions, and various animations are still there. For advanced techniques like masking and green screen, there are filters to apply them.

For comparison, here's the first YouTube video I put together in Shotcut:

Now I did cheat a little here. The intro screen was modified from a Camtasia intro asset. I exported this asset as a video from one of my Camtasia produced videos. The same is true for the outro credits. You'll also notice that there is no lower third graphic popping up in this video.

Now, I imagine that Shotcut does have the capacity to create some of these animated graphics, but I've yet to come across where (or come across a video explaining it). It certainly isn't as simple as in Camtasia, and doesn't have a collection of ready made assets to drag-and-drop that can help accomplish this. In fact, there doesn't seem to be the sort of advanced grouping of assets that Camtasia users are likely used to.

There are however, transparent screens, text, shapes, and various transition filters. You could certainly build these yourself, but it seems likely it might be easier to build these assets in an external application and import them into Shotcut—as long as the background can remain transparent.

Considering that this is my first stab at Shotcut, I'm pretty happy with the way the video production came out now that I've transitioned to the System76 Lemur Pro laptop. I was worried that I was going to lose a lot of functionality, and have a lot of relearning to do. That definitely doesn't seem to be the case. I will have to work on those lower third graphics and animated intros/outros, but hopefully, I can become proficient in that over the course of the next few videos.

At this rate, I might not have to give Openshot or Pitivi a try short of just a quick glance around to make sure I'm not missing anything; however, I would definitely chock this one up as a win to the Linux laptop transition.