Webcam Capture – CamStudio

CamStudio Recording

I recently posted about making a webcam time lapse from a photo feed found on the internet.  The method I used in that post involved using a piece of free software that was designed for the task.  Today’s post is about an alternative process for when the first method doesn’t work.

First, take a quick look at the video above (webcam found here) and you’ll see the major advantage and disadvantage of this new method.  The time frame for the video is about fifteen minutes in real time.  Using the previous method, this would mean the entire time lapse video would be just under one second because the minimum capture interval is one minute.

The downside is that there is noticeable freezing in the video.  Even the best camera streams will occasionally lag due to heavy traffic.  Because this new method turns the webcam photos directly into video, it’s difficult to edit the repeating frames without video editing software.

The Software

This new method uses a free screen capture software that you might use for making a video tutorial of something on your computer.  It’s designed to capture real-time video but can be adjusted for our purposes.  The software is called CamStudio (download link).

The Webcam Feed

If you’re using this method, it’s probably because the action is too fast for the first method or because you’re having difficulty capturing the image with the first method.  If the problem is the latter, you need to determine whether you’ll need additional software.  If the feed refreshes at a regular interval without problem, you can skip this step.  If the feed is static or freezes, you will need to find software to reload the image.

I use the Chrome browser extension, ChromeReload (download link), for my webcam feeds.  It allows me to refresh a specific tab at whatever interval I choose.  There are similar extensions available for Firefox, IE, and probably other browsers.  Search for “reload” or “refresh” and you should find them.  Once installed, pick an appropriate interval so that the image can refresh as often as needed but not so often that the image capture software picks up unnecessary reloads.


CamStudio Settings

By default, CamStudio is set to record real-time streaming video.  To use it for time lapse, we’ll have to change the settings.  Select “Options” and then “Video Options.”  Pick a compression filter at the top.  For this video, I’ve used the default codec.  Next, uncheck “Auto Adjust” so that you can change the settings under “Framerates.”

Now comes the tricky part.  Find how often the webcam refreshes.  Some webcams refresh every second, others can take minutes.  Even if the webcam refreshes frequently, watch to see how often the image fails to refresh.  If the picture changes every few seconds but isn’t reliable, choose a longer interval.  For this video, I’ve selected five seconds, or 5000 milliseconds.  Next, choose a playback rate.  Remember that a rate of at least 16fps helps smooth out the action.

Capture the Feed

Once you’ve accepted the settings, click on the red record button in CamStudio and drag your cursor over the area you want to record.  The webcam should now be framed by green corners that flash when an image is captured.

Troubleshooting

There are a number of problems with this method that make the earlier method preferable.  The most obvious is that you can’t use your computer while the software is recording.  You’ll also need to disable your screensaver and any windows that might pop up and ruin your video (IM, Windows updates, etc.).  If you want, you can disable recording the cursor under “Options” to make things a bit easier. It’s also a good idea to turn off your monitor if you plan to record for long periods without a screen saver.

Start small before trying to record a video.  My first few videos were ruined by unexpected problems or by my own actions.  Any great webcam finds or videos?  Post links in the comments.

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