SwiftCapture User Manual

For version 1.0.3
Written by Ben Bird

 

Table of Contents


Introduction

SwiftCapture is a powerful yet easy-to-use video and audio capture application for the Mac. Its simple and intuitive user interface allows you to effortlessly capture movies and still images from a wide variety of video input devices.

SwiftCapture also features timelapse capture, allowing you to create dramatic movies of slow-moving events such as blooming flowers, and stop-motion capture, allowing you to create frame-by-frame animations.

Video captures are saved in QuickTime (MOV) or MPEG-4 (MP4) format, which are both standard cross-platform file formats. MP4 is a very efficient and widely-supported format comprising H.264 video compression and AAC audio compression. These files can be imported into virtually all video editing software, uploaded to web sites such as YouTube, or used in HTML5 web pages.

Still image files, which can be captured using simple gestures such as copy-and-past or drag-and-drop, are captured in JPEG, PNG or TIFF format.

When you open the software for the first time, the first available video and audio input devices will be automatically chosen and you should be immediately ready to start capturing video. Other devices can be selected in the Preferences window.

 

Preferences

Video source - this menu allows you to choose between all available video sources connected to your Mac. Normally if your Mac has a built-in FaceTime or iSight camera, this will be automatically selected when you first launch SwiftCapture.

Video input / format - some devices (such as the Blackmagic Intensity Pro shown here) have multiple inputs or video stream formats that you can choose. For Blackmagic devices, you must choose the option corresponding to the format of the video stream being received by the device. For DV devices, there are some crop and scale options to 3:2 and 16:9 formats.

Video size - you can choose to specify a video size, or leave these boxes empty to use the maximum video size supported by the device.

Frame rate - you can choose to specify a frame rate, or leave this box empty to use the maximum frame rate supported by the device.

Audio source - this menu allows you to choose between all available audio sources connected to your Mac.

Audio format - here you can choose between 16-bit or 24-bit sample size, and 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz sampling frequency. For general-purpose audio capture, the 16-bit 44.1 kHz format will give you excellent results (it's the format used in audio CDs). If you will be writing the captured files to some media that uses 48 kHz sample rate (e.g. Blu-ray disks) then you should use this higher sample rate instead. Additionally, if you will be performing further processing of the audio data after capture, then you should use 24-bit sampling (if your audio input hardware supports this), for ultimate quality that will be maintained through the editing process.

Left/mono channel - choose an audio input number that is to be used as the left channel in the captured files (or the mono channel, if there is no right channel.

Right channel - choose an audio input number that is to be used as the right channel in the captured file, for stereo audio.

Image adjustments - brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness can all be finely controlled. The Cb adjustment controls blue/yellow saturation while the Cr adjustment controls green/red saturation; to control overall image saturation across all colours, set these two sliders to the same value. For the best-looking captures, you will usually want to apply at least a small amount of sharpening, in order to improve the image definition.

Capture destination - when SwiftCapture captures a movie or an image file, it can ask you each time where to save the file, or it can save it automatically to the location you choose here. Click the path control to choose the capture destination. By default, files are saved to your Desktop.

Image capture size - you can choose to capture images at full size, half size, or quarter size. The size that you set here applies to all image captures, including copy-and-paste and drag-and-drop.

Image capture format - this is the format used when capturing image files to disk. JPEG is the most space-efficient format, however it is a lossy compression format and therefore there will be a small loss of image quality (though SwiftCapture uses high-quality encoding, so this won't be noticeable in most circumstances). PNG is a lossless compression format with no image degradation, so this is a good choice if quality is paramount. TIFF is an uncompressed format, so again there is no image degradation, and also there is no compression to perform so this is the fastest format to generate, however the captured files will be large.

Image copy/drag format - this is the format used when dragging, or copying an image to the clipboard. TIFF format is normally the best to use here, as it is very fast to generate and widely supported by receiving applications.

Image capture confirmation - enable this option to play a click sound whenever you capture an image. The click sound will also be played when you add frames to stop-motion movies.

Text overlay - enter some text to be drawn at the top-left of each video frame, at the specified font size. To add the date or time, use +y for years, +M for months, +d for days, +h for hours, +m for minutes and +s for seconds, for example: +d/+M/+y +h:+m:+s.

Timelapse capture rate - the rate at which frames are captured to timelapse movies.

Timelapse playback rate - this is the playback frame rate that will be set for timelapse movies. Typically you will want a frame rate of 15-30 for fluid motion at playback.

Stop-motion frame averaging - frame averaging is an effective noise-reduction method that involves averaging pixels from multiple video frames to create a single noise-free image. It's a good idea to use this feature during stop-motion capture in order to enhance image clarity, but make sure the subject stays absolutely still during the averaging process, otherwise it will be blurred. Here is an example taken with a DSLR camera in low lighting conditions:


Image from camera

Averaged over 40 frames

Stop-motion playback rate - this is the playback frame that will be set for stop-motion movies. Typically you will want a frame rate of 15-30 for fluid motion at playback.

Video and audio encoding for movies - the ideal encoding to use depends on what you will be doing with the captured files. The options are as follows:

Video encoding formats:

Audio encoding formats:

Depending on your selection, SwiftCapture will save either MOV files or MP4 files. MP4 files will be created when the video codec is H.264 and the audio codec is AAC, otherwise MOV files will be created. While both MOV and MP4 files can be opened and played by most video software (e.g. QuickTime Player, Final Cut Pro, VLC), only MP4 files are compatible with web pages using the HTML5 <video> tag.

Note that stop-motion movies cannot be directly captured in H.264 format, for optimum capture/playback performance and to enable the implementation of an Undo feature while capturing — something that would not be possible with H.264 encoding due to its temporal compression (so if you have selected H.264 as the video encoding format, JPEG will be used instead for stop-motion movies). Therefore, if you want to publish or share your stop-motion movies online, use QuickTime Player to export them to H.264 format before doing so, as this will give you much smaller file sizes (you'll find this Export option in the File menu in QuickTime Player).

 

Image Capture

There are a number of ways to capture the current live video frame as an image file:

Select the "Save Video Frame" option from the File menu (command-S on the keyboard): depending on your settings, you will either be asked where to save the file, or it will be saved automatically to the capture destination specified in the Preferences (which is the Desktop by default).

Drag and drop from the SwiftCapture window to another application: many applications, including the Finder, Pages, Photoshop and TextEdit, can receive images in this way.

Copy and paste: using the Copy function from the Edit menu (command-C) puts the current video frame onto the clipboard, from where it can be pasted into any application that uses images.

 

Video Capture

To record a movie, select the "Start Capture" option from the File menu (command-R). depending on your settings, you will either be asked where to save the file, or it will be saved automatically to the capture destination specified in the Preferences (which is the Desktop by default). During capture, a "drawer" will open from the bottom of the SwiftCapture window that shows the capture status. To finish the capture, select the "Stop Capture" option from the File menu (again, command-R).

 

Timelapse Capture

Timelapse is a method of video capture where the playback rate is much higher than the capture rate, so that events are played back much faster than real-time. You can start, stop or continue a timelapse capture using the options in the File menu. The parameters used for the timelapse capture can be configured in the Preferences window (see above).

For events lasting a few hours (e.g. a flower blooming) you will typically want one frame captured every few seconds. For longer events lasting multiple days (e.g. a construction project), you might want to capture multiple frames every minute or so (e.g. 10 frames every 60 seconds - meaning that every 60 seconds, 10 frames will be captured as fast as possible from the video source). Capturing multiple frames per time period in this way can add an interesting sense of activity to timelapse captures if there is some fast movement (e.g. workers moving around a construction site) contrasted with some slow movement (e.g. a building being constructed).

 

Stop-Motion Capture

Stop motion is an animation method that involves capturing a movie frame-by-frame, each time making small adjustments to objects in the scene, so that they appear to move by themselves upon playback. You can start, stop or continue a stop-motion capture using the options in the File menu.

During capture, the stop-motion window will be displayed, allowing you to see your movie as it is being created:

To add a frame to the movie, press the return or enter key on the keyboard. Click the Onion skin button (or press the "o" key on the keyboard) to overlay the current video image on top of the selected movie frame with a 50% transparency. This allows you to align objects in your scene with a particular frame in the movie, or to see exactly how the last frame looks compared with the next one, before you capture it.

Here are a few tips for stop-motion animation:

 

AppleScript

SwiftCapture supports some basic AppleScript commands that allow you to automate captures. To see all available commands, open the AppleScript Editor application from your /Applications/Utilities/ folder, select the "Open Dictionary" option from the File menu, and select SwiftCapture from the list:

 

Help

If you are having trouble getting your video input device working with SwiftCapture, please check the following:

If you are still having problems, see the SwiftCapture Online Help page, or email us and we will be happy to help.

 

Supported Video Devices

SwiftCapture supports the following video input devices:

More information is available on the SwiftCapture Online Help page