Sometimes it’s not enough to enjoy the moment: you need to share it, too. And given the average Aussie internet connection is still somewhere south of garbage, screenshots are the most practical way of doing that. But there’s a million tools on PC for saving the perfect moment. Here’s 8 worth using.
AMD ReLive / NVIDIA Shadowplay
If you’ve got an AMD or NVIDIA graphics card, good news. Both GPU manufacturers have tools that utilise the GPU for recording and capturing gameplay (or anything else), and they’re fairly straightforward to use.
For AMD users, you can set the hotkey for screenshots through the Radeon Live settings. You can access that from your desktop by right clicking on empty space and then going to the Radeon Control Panel, and navigating to the section indicated above.
For NVIDIA users, it’s a fraction more complicated. Shadowplay works through the GeForce Experience middleware, which you’ll have to download, install and register an account for. Once that’s taken care of, you’ll need to navigate to the settings via the icon in the top-right.
From there you can ensure the “Share” button is enabled, which activates the Shadowplay overlay that (by default) can be activated through the CTRL + Z shortcut. That’ll take you to the options available for recording and capturing screenshots. They’re not uncompressed screenshots, sadly, although if you want the highest available quality, NVIDIA users do have another option.
Introduced with the GTX 10 series of NVIDIA GPUs, Ansel is basically NVIDIA-specific tech that adds a third-party Photo Mode that users can activate by toggling a button. Ansel basically stops time in-game and grants control over the in-game camera, field of view, brightness and contrast, a range of post-processing filters, supersampling for screenshots, and 360o photo capture.
Developers have to hardcode support for Ansel into their games, and while NVIDIA claims it’s a relatively simple process the range of games supported is still on the smaller side. The full list of games can be viewed here.
Photoshop / Premiere
Sometimes the best screenshots are taken after the fact, especially if you want a crisp, clean snap of a game in motion. The best way to do that is often to record gameplay, and then take the screenshot later.
I use Photoshop CC quite regularly at work, although that unfortunately means ponying up for the full version. To open the video file, I’ll convert the video file into a compatible container – AVI or MP4 work fine, as long as the video is originally encoded in H.264. If you can’t open the file directly, you might have to re-encode the video using a tool like Handbrake first. (Open Broadcaster Software, which I’ll talk a bit about below, has an in-built remux tool.)
Once you’ve opened the video, you can scroll along the timeline and export any still frame you choose. You can also tweak the image a little if you want to do a bit of colour grading or fix any issues with contrast/brightness.
Just note that in most scenarios, this is much easier with the full version of Photoshop. Older versions of Photoshop Elements didn’t support AVI files, although you can export still images from Premiere Elements if you need it. But you can grab full Photoshop and Premiere Pro together, and if you’re going to be cutting footage regularly enough, it might be worth the investment.
Steam has made some useful strides over the years. Since the feature was introduced platform wide in 2011, Steam’s screenshot functionality has been expanded to support uncompressed screenshots. You can enable it in the in-game section of the settings, which you can see above.
Steam can still only take one screenshot at a time, however, so it’s best used in still frames or scenes with little to no motion. It’s not the only method of grabbing uncompressed footage, mind you, which brings me to the next option.
Open Broadcaster Software (OBS Studio/OBS Classic)
As far as freeware projects go, it’s hard to go past Open Broadcaster Software‘s contribution to gaming and streaming over the last few years. But while the software still doesn’t have the ability to capture still frames.
That said, you can record uncompressed video – provided you have the storage space to accommodate – and then capture still frames from there. Most video players, like VLC or Media Player Classic, have a screen capture button. And recording uncompressed or nearly lossless footage from OBS Studio is fairly straightforward.
Once you’ve got the game footage displaying in OBS (via Game Capture, Window Capture, Display Capture or via a capture card), you simply need to have a capture folder selected in the settings. The “Simple” settings are sufficient for local recording, although if you’re looking to stream and record at the same time, you’ll want to learn more about how OBS works.
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XSplit Gamecaster / Broadcaster
If you’re not streaming with OBS, chances are you’re using XSplit. And just like OBS, XSplit has the capacity to record video for YouTube, Facebook, or whatever other program you want to play with it in.
The differences can be a bit confusing, but put simply: XSplit Broadcaster is targeted at streamers who need multiple scenes and greater control, while Gamecaster is aimed more at people who want to record and share footage.
Broadcaster has all the same tools, so if you’ve gotten a 12 month license bundled free with another piece of software or hardware, you won’t miss out. And unlike OBS, there is a dedicated screenshot function. Find out how via the video above.
Flashback Express / FBX
If you don’t want to get bogged down in settings, there are a range of lightweight freeware tools. They tend to work best if you’re playing games in windowed mode, as traditional tools have a hard time grabbing images from exclusive fullscreen applications. (Borderless or windowed fullscreen tends to work a bit better occasionally, but it’s not perfectly reliable.)
One freeware recorder is Flashback Express, which can record from multiple sources ala OBS. It also has the capacity to record select regions of a screen, if that’s what you need.
Express is the free version of Flashback, and for the most part it’s best suited for recording your desktop. If you want to record games, or take screenshots, there’s FBX.
FBX doesn’t have any watermarks or annoying restrictions, and supports up to 144 FPS recording. It’s not that well suited to recording footage though: it only works with Chrome, and is still in the beta stages. The interface is pretty clean, however, and the makers plan to introduce video editing functionality down the road.
But if you just want to capture screenshots and record files that can be used in other software, FBX will be free for life. Find out more here.
DXTory won’t win many awards for customer support and there’s a bit of a learning curve, but the recording software has been one of the more powerful tools around over the last several years. DXTory also works well with UWP and Vulkan games (something XSplit and OBS occasionally struggle with, unless you’re prepared to use the less efficient display capture mode) out of the gate.
That said, DXTory has a lot of caveats. It’ll cost you ¥3800 (~$47) to get rid of watermarks, although licenses last for life. I’ve had issues with video files losing audio sync, there’s no viewer for previewing recordings, and a lot of the options aren’t explained fully, or not explained at all.
But what you lose in ease of use, DXTory makes up for in power. The tool offers a wide range of options for uncompressed or compressed footage, screenshot capture in JPG, BMP, PNG and TGA, audio recording from multiple sources, and even the ability to write to multiple drives at once for improved capture speed (helpful if you’re not recording on SSDs).
The best function, and one that works without fail, is DXTory’s high screenshot function. Set a button in the hotkeys and DXTory will capture screenshots as fast (or as slowly) as you like.