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Straightforward Screen Shots With FastStone Capture

FastStone Capture is a lightweight tool for saving and editing screenshots.

Have you ever tried explaining over the phone or in an email what exactly isn't working on your computer? Or are you the one that's usually on the other side, trying to get the user to find and click the right button? In either of these cases, being able to share a quick screenshot can save valuable time and get your point across much more clearly. If you're looking for a straightforward and capable screenshot application, FastStone Capture ($20, 30-day free trial) just may be it.

My yardstick for screenshot applications is industry leader Snagit. Snagit is very powerful, but at $50, it costs more than twice as much as FastStone Capture (not to mention powerful free alternatives such as Screenshot Captor). Running, Snagit takes up just under 16MB of RAM on my system. That's over ten times as much as FastStone Capture takes (700KB to 1.5MB with no image loaded in the editor) .

Given its modest price and diminutive memory footprint, FastStone Capture delivers an impressive set of features. You can capture the full screen or the active window, just like you can do without any third-party application, using Print Screen and Alt-Print Screen. But you can also capture an individual interface element, such as a toolbar, button, or content area. By holding down Ctrl while capturing, you can take a single screenshot with multiple screen elements (for example, all of an application's toolbars, even if they are floating around the screen). By default, FastStone doesn't include the mouse cursor in the default, but this is easy to change.

FastStone Capture also offers a Freehand Capture mode in which you can quickly draw an irregular outline around anything you want to capture. In the many years I've been using screenshot applications, I have never found a need for such a mode. Another sophisticated mode, capturing scrolling areas, is far handier. This mode lets you capture a long document or webpage into one seamless file: Simply click in the content area and FastStone Capture will scroll it down, bit by bit, eventually producing one long image showing the entire content.

Total Commander also offers a scrolling capture mode, which I tested on a long webpage in Google Chrome. It was much slower than Snagit's scrolling capture, but handled animated GIFs better: Whereas Snagit produced multiple instances of the same GIF one after the other, FastStone Capture produced a single image that blended several animation states. It wasn't perfect, though: Ideally, it should have just picked one state and stuck with it. It also didn't do too well with a playing video, producing strange artifacts composed of several frames instead of capturing just a one frame. Still, if you need to capture a long page of static content, this option saves lots of manual labor.

When it comes to capturing screenshots, the biggest difference between FastStone Capture and Snagit is that Snagit features a complex profile system for setting up specific use cases: You can configure a profile that always applies a certain effect, produces images of a certain size, and so on. You can set similar defaults for FastStone, but not on a per-profile basis.

Once you capture a screenshot, you may want to annotate it. FastStone Capture provides a powerful and intuitive screenshot editor that lets you overlay the image with arrows, highlight areas in color, draw circles and rectangles, and generally get your point across. You can also easily blur parts of the image containing sensitive information, and apply border effects such as "torn paper." You can open any image in the editor by simply dragging and dropping it on the FastStone Capture toolbar.

FastStone Capture feels like a utility, and I say this in the best sense of the word. It stays out of the way, doesn't steal the show with graphical pizzazz or a flashy UI, and gets the job done quickly and effectively.

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