Free Tool to Capture Surveillance Problems

By: John Honovich, Published on May 17, 2012

Getting a good image can help solve surveillance problems and quickly show people what video really looks like. While print screen is built in, this requires a number of cumbersome steps to produce a shareable image. We recently surveyed a number of screen grab applications and found a free, open source offering that significantly reduces the time and steps needed to share images. In this note, we explain and provide a 2 minute video demonstration of its use and benefits.

Instead of using Ctrl+Prt Sc, we recommend using Lightscreen. The biggest advantages it provides:

  • Define a region: Instead of capturing the whole screen, you click and drag to define an areas of interest. This eliminates having to select and crop the desired region. We think defining a region is critical because it makes it a lot easier for viewers to focus on the key area / issue.
  • No need to open an image editor: Instead of copying the screen to a clipboard, this utility can automatically save it or open up a 'Save As' prompt so you can name the file and quickly save. We recommend using the 'Save As' option because you can insert clarifications or relevant context (scene conditions, PC setup, etc.).

The short video below shows it in action:

A number of screen grabbers exist. While there may be a better one or you prefer more, many of the ones we found were either clunky, required payment or were wrapped with adware, etc.

More Options

In the comments, we have been discussing a number of other options. They are ranked in the order we found most attractive:

  • Snipping Tool - Built in to every Windows 7 PC. Add a hotkey to activate it quickly and this is a nice tool.
  • Schirmfoto - A free option with two fairly unique feature. (1) It embeds an image capture button on each application making it easy just to move your mouse over an click the button. I find this easier than selecting a hotkey plus it provides a visual reminder that the function is there. (2) It provides a direct upload option, automatically generating a public URL. Only downside on the uploads are embedded ads - See example:  http://schirmfoto.de/c8329e1188 Finally, while it's free, it will bug you for a $10 donation over and over to make the reminders go away.
  • SnagIt - Costs $50, provides a wealth of features including video recording. I find this overkill and prefer a combination of Screenr plus one of the simpler screen grabber tools.

Video Companion

For taking videos of more complex issues, we recommend Screenr. Watch our review of Screenr / video capturing.

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