Advice on recording Mac screen for tutorials

Target is ultimately Youtube - seeing a lot of conflicting advice.

Looking for solid recommendations on settings, not software.

Should I use my Macbook Pro instead of my iMac 27" Retina? I’m confused about hardware native / Retina resolution versus scaled or display resolution.

Should I be screen recording in high resolution to preserve post-processing “punch-in” zoom options, or using lower resolution to maximize viewing on regular size screens / mobile devices by the actual final viewer/user?

Should I edit on a 1K or 4K timeline? Overlay a head shot of narration in the corner in post, or avoid it to keep it simpler?

I am not a pro but here’s my suggestion:

Use your iMac. In ScreenFlow recorder settings, select 2x of 1920 x 1080 i.e., 3840 x 2160.

Ensure that the apps you are recording are inside this region.

I use Moom for this.

You can directly publish the screencast to YouTube from ScreenFlow.

The resulting screencast will have good aspect ratio and quality.

Some of your questions are personal choice.

YouTube will compress and do things to make it work on any device, so record in a high a resolution as you are comfortable with, and let YouTube handle the rest.

How high a resolution are you comfortable with?
Higher resolutions take more dish space, which really multiples when you start backing up.
It depends on your audience’s expectations I suppose. I record videos for my students, and 1080 is fine for them. If I zoom in it gets more pixelated. No biggie.

I do a head shot at the start and end, but remove it most the time partly so I don’t have to try to keep eye contact. Plus it takes up valuable real estate.

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There are pros and cons of all of those choices. Making your first videos whatever way you do, and just keeping going and making more is a better way to start and get better. If you try to make your first video perfect it will never get published. Deadlines, shipping and repetition are great tools for improvement.

Smaller/ lower resolution will become larger on screen. once it’s on YouTube. If you can constrain what you are screen grabbing to some small area, then it will be easier for your viewers to actually see. depending on what you are trying to demo being able to watch the demo on your iPhone large enough to see, and having the user/viewer’s entire computer screen to actually follow along could be a good thing.

Starting out the MacOS built in screen recorder has LOTS of features for quite a few of your first videos.

Long term you will want to include that head shot so there is something actually happening on screen. Using software like screenflow which allows you to do this live as you record is really nice. The ability to zoom the headshot in-out and gone after the fact is also amazing. If you don’t have to work with windows user during production I really recommend Screenflow. If you have windows users in your work pipeline then you will have to use the less delightful cross platform tools.

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Thanks everyone for your input. This just a follow-up to help me narrow things down:

I think I need to clarify. I prefer not to “kick the can down the road” on these kinds of tradeoff decisions.

My personal approach is to analyze carefully, weigh the tradeoffs and make an informed decision.

This allows me to proceduralize and document the workflow. It might just be a checklist of settings and setup in Apple Notes, and later converted to shortcuts or KM macros, but I like to start with a procedure ready to go.

After some passage of time and repetition, I will revisit and see if assumptions (with gained experience) should be revisited and updated.

For me, this allows me not to be stuck in forever minor incremental changes and to move on to focus on other activities.

In this case, I don’t need tools for the mechanics of screen capture. I have existing options to capture video, and I am comfortable with my video editing toolset. So adding Screenflow or some other new one-off app is not my intent.

I don’t need to spend the money and don’t need yet another specialty tool I would use infrequently.

Not trying to lecture, just I know myself and using a few tools frequently, even with the initial learning curve, is better than having best-of-breed one-off tools for everything that I don’t frequently use as I never climb the learning curve, so it is a false optimization.

Having said that, my primary question is on resolution and capture settings versus screen size to maximize the viewing experience for the broadest audience.

I like the idea of potentially capturing on a Macbook Pro and perhaps setting the resolution lower than the default so I can capture the full app screen without constantly “moving around” to the point of interest yet have it displayed comfortably for most viewers.

What resolutions should I consider? When a Mac is set to a lower resolution, the screen is no longer crisp (I assume there is software interpolation of fonts/images, etc.) is that a problem?

Should I go with a higher resolution that is more “native,” or will a lower resolution look better in the final result? I guess that is the crux of my question.

The issue is that when you do not use “native” resolution, a “pixel” represented in software is not a one-to-one mapping to a real pixel in your monitor. If one real pixel is expected to display 1.25 pixels of the image (or visa-versa), that will result in a not-so-crisp image. However, screen capture software is only capturing the image in software, not as it is displayed by your hardware. Therefore, the mismatch of software pixels to hardware pixels will not be a factor when capturing.

Of course, on playback of the captured video, the mismatch could theoretically present itself. However, there is no way of knowing what resolution/pixel density your audience will be using. If your target is YouTube, then you can assume most will not have the same resolution monitor as you and most users will get some mismatch as a result. However, to avoid this problem, YouTube letterboxes the video (I assume) so that the video is displayed proportionate to the systems actual resolution (1-1, 2-1 etc). Therefore, so long as each user has their system set to match their monitor’s actual resolution, they will see the image as crisp as it could be at that resolution.

Instead of focusing on your hardware, focus on what resolution you want the final video to be. As its not possible to convert up, pick the largest resolution YouTube supports that you want to make available. Then capture an area of your screen at that resolution. When you upload it, YouTube will then convert it down to the various other resolutions they support.

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Great info/clarification.

So in summary, set my system resolution to what I deem optimal, ignore the framebuffer-to-physical monitor fudging in making that choice.

Lastly, I’ve seen various advice that Youtube prefers 16:9 aspect ratio and will letterbox anything that isn’t exactly that ratio.

Most PC and Mac monitor resolution options are not 16:9. Should I choose a resolution that is close to 16:9 or simply insure I am capturing a 16:9 window area on my screen instead of full screen (keeping the desired content within the 16:9 bounds).

It depends on what you want to accomplish. If the desire is to show the entire screen with menu bar, etc, then capture the entire screen. However, if you simply want to capture specific window(s), then for the best result, I would capture a 16:9 area with all of the content within those bounds. Again, the decision should be completely separate from your specific hardware.

Here is YouTube’s advice.

Basically, if you are unsure, go with a 16:9 ratio. It’s a pretty universal expectation that videos will work nicely like that.

But, if you want to show something differently, go ahead. YouTube will adapt to match.
I used to make very wide videos to get my slides and notes in.
Then I changed to just using my iPad’s screen and realised I had a great benefit that when students had the video and notes on one screen at once, the video naturally left space for another app. Vertical orientation would have been great for this: tall video on one side, with another app on the other (my gripe about using computers or iPads in school: students have very little real estate for placing their learning media).

This is 4k, 16:9.
This is iPad, 12:9
This is weird from my early times, 18.6:9

They all show without black bars for me.

I usually spend time trying to get things right in a plan, then enact it all at once. This was futile with video recording as there is so much subjectivity to things, and unexpected outcomes. I suggest you do your plans, but make sure you don’t procrastinate, rather get something out there (even if that is a private trial for friends/colleagues), and learn and adapt from that.

Stumbled on CleanShotX as a great video capture option for only $29 if you don’t need all the video editing and other tools of advanced apps like Camtasia or ScreenFlow.

Mentioned it just now in another thread:

The other thing to take into account is that a lot of stuff scales to the window size.

If you view the average website on a screen that’s 2560px wide, it’s going to look different than when you view it on a screen that’s 1920px wide, which will look different than 1360px, etc.

So if you’re worried about showing the whole screen, menu bars and all, you might want to adjust your actual screen’s resolution to scale all the elements appropriately for your video.

Another thing to experiment with though, and I don’t know the answer because I haven’t checked…but if you set your screen resolution to something low (say 1360x768), and you record it with a screen recorder, is the screen recording crisp? Like if you record the screen, set your resolution back to the native panel resolution, and play the recording at its natural pixel size, is it clear?

Theoretically I would think that macOS is generating the proper image at 1360x768, the screen recorder is intercepting that, and then the display hardware is upscaling it to whatever fuzzy-looking image you’re seeing. The video itself might be perfectly clear at the natural resolution, plus or minus any lossy encoding.

Just some thoughts.