Sharing computer experiences has become a common practice among internet users and that’s why capturing the right moments on screen is a frequent activity. I often happened to send and receive images with unexpected or funny error messages, benchmark results or desktop captures. I must admit it wasn’t easy to do it without the appropriate software for this.
I have thus decided to get rid of the old-fashioned and rigid PrintScreen method and began trying out professional software applications that are specially designed for this. Screen Capture Software – ACA Capture Pro is one of them and, since the 30 days trial version of this application is fully functional, I allowed myself to explore its features and capabilities. You can also download it and try it for free.
I must admit that I was a bit reticent about this software at the beginning as I kept wondering why one should pay for such an application when there are many free products out there which are said to be doing approximately the same things. And yet, after exploring and configuring ACA Capture Pro’s features, I have agreed that a well done job can only be made by a well done software, whereas the well done software is done by professional programmers.
So let’s see then what this ‘Pro’ product can do and why should it worth the price to pay for!
The first experience with ACA Capture Pro takes place on a friendly interface that provides quick access to the main folders in which the captured files are intended to be saved. This is when you find out that the software doesn’t only create image captures from your desktop, but it can also capture icons from specified locations, flash animations and can even save video captures of the actions you take at the computer. If you somehow expect a spectacular graphic user interface then this is not the place for you; ACA Capture Pro has a common and simple design but yet it relies rather on functionality than on the visual aspect.
The main window of the application is thus divided into three basic sections. The workspace which shows thumbnails of all the saved files contains the Capture List and the Preview Image Areas that you can activate or deactivate from the View menu. The other two sections are the Main Menu bar and the Toolbar which contains icons for the most frequently used capturing tools. You can, however, customize the content of the Toolbar by adding or removing the desired tools.
Well, enough with descriptions! Time for the actual testing now! When thinking about capturing images, computers can focus more precisely on the intended subject of the picture. Be it a specific active window, a custom-sized or shaped region from the desktop, a ToolTip control, the content of a webpage, a context menu or even the full screen, ACA Capture Pro provides the necessary hotkeys for each of these elements that somehow, at some point, you will need to store or share. My first try to get a snapshot on my desktop was a bit odd and I got a little confused about the actual location of the file that was being recently created. But I quickly found the Options panel, where everything can be set and configured according to any user’s preferences.
In case you forget to do this at the very beginning, I shall tell you that the default location for the saved images is a folder named My Captures that is being automatically created in the Documents folder. Its sub-folders are the ones that you can see in the Capture List area: Image, Icon, Flash, Video and Downloading. You can always rename these folders or change their location as well as you can change the output image file name and format. The default format for screenshots is BMP, but other formats are available such as: JPG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, WMF or ICO. For making these settings you just have to click on the Tools menu, open the Options panel and then select the Save tab.
And that’s not all about image capturing with ACA Capture Pro! The Effect tab from the Options panel allows you to create wave edged screenshots, with the possibility of setting the wave diameter and applying custom background colors or shadow effects. This feature, together with the ability to create ellipse, round and polygon shaped captures, takes ACA Capture Pro far from an ordinary screen capturing software.
Before passing to the Video Recording section, I think there are few general specifications about the program’s usability that need to be pointed. We are still in the Options panel and this time it’s in the Capture tab where customization is needed. From here you can enable the application to load at Windows startup and to start minimized; you can activate a sound to be played when making a snapshot or inverse the screen color when a region is selected. One option that I found important here is the ‘Auto hide self when capturing’ as it allows you to automatically minimize the application and free up the desktop space for the screenshots you want to make.
The first curiosity that came to my mind regarding the video capturing abilities of this software was whether it could or not record another video that was being played on screen. And, to my surprise, it did! Not only are you able to create interactive tutorials by capturing real time motion on the computer’s screen, but you can also add real time vocal narration to your tutorial as ACA Capture Pro supports voice recording and also lets you choose the recording quality and the audio compression format. Again, to make it easier for you, there are three important configurations for the video recording: set the screen area to be recorded, set the record rate to 24 frames per second (it is set to 1 by default) and, most important, from the Capture menu check the ‘Enable DirectX Capture’ feature! This will allow you to record video from games or video screens.
Finally, I’m glad to say that ACA Capture Pro has worked perfectly on my Windows Vista Ultimate and it has taken up very few system resources. This way, if you choose to load the application at Windows startup, you won’t even notice that it is there, in the system tray, permanently ready to capture the screen.
One inconvenient & One uncertain thing
When testing the video recording feature I have noticed that the hotkey associated to the ‘start recording’ button isn’t working. The ‘stop recording’ hotkey is. I changed the hotkey as I thought there might be a conflict with another hotkey assignment, but it didn’t work again. So the only way the video recording process can be activated is by manually pressing the button with the mouse.
There is a little dis-ambiguity regarding the version number of this software product. On the welcome screen of the installation wizard we are invited to install ACA Capture Pro 5.60, whilst on the same window, the logo of the product shows ACA Capture Pro 5.50. This is also displayed in the About window, from where one usually gets the correct information about any program. What’s even more strange about this is that in the content of the Help Index file, we are being introduced to ACA Capture Pro 5.20. And still, by checking the Details of the installation file, you will ensure yourself that the real version of the software is 18.104.22.168.
Easy to use & Good to know
The Capture Bar that appears when minimizing the application to the system tray is quite helpful. It is small and dockable and it links to the main actions that ACA Capture Pro can perform. Plus, you can customize its interface by choosing one from the three available skins.
Be sure that when capturing the content of a webpage, which ACA Capture Pro will automatically scroll down in order to create a single image file, there are no other active windows in front of the Internet Explorer window. Otherwise, you will get a multiplied image of a window that you didn’t even want to capture.
The funny part
When trying to take snapshots with ACA Capture Pro for this review I realized that I wasn’t being able to capture the software’s interface itself as the main window was minimizing to the system tray immediately after I pressed the hotkey. It was just after a short time that I discovered and unchecked the ‘Auto hide self when capturing’ option and I finally managed to take images with the application. And still, it worked for image capturing, but not for video recording as well.
Things that could be improved
What I found a bit uncomfortable over the first twenty minutes of using the program was the delay between selecting a menu and the appearance of the menu’s content. I actually thought that something wasn’t working properly and I guess that this can be easily solved.
The default hotkeys are a bit unhandy (Ctrl + the functional ‘F’ keys) as you can’t press them at once using only your left hand and I think this is an important issue as it correlates with the efficiency of the application. They’re also not easy to remember, but still, it’s a good thing that they are customizable.
Another thing that I find questionable is the lack of immediate access to the saved files. It would have been easier for the common user to simply double click the saved file and have it open in the default image or video associate program. For the moment, the only way to view the saved file is to right-click its icon, select Shell Command and then Shell Explorer, which will open the folder that contains the selected file. This could be improved.
Regarding the popularity of alternative web browsers besides Internet Explorer, I think ACA Capture Pro could and should be adapted to their platforms and thus be able to capture web page content from Mozilla Firefox, Opera and other web browsers as well.
Snipping Tool – taking screenshots is more fun than ever