Photogrammetry is an ingenious technique for 3D scanning. You can capture large objects like buildings or even mountains that would be impossible to scan using other methods. Moreover, photogrammetry is also extremely affordable since you probably already own the most important piece of equipment: the camera of your smartphone. However, you also need photogrammetry software to create a 3D file of the object you have photographed.
Like many things, photogrammetry software comes in many shapes and sizes. Major software developers have published commercial solutions that are ideal for industrial and engineering applications. However, a number of programs are available for free download. To help you find the right photogrammetry software, we have assembled the following list of titles.
Do you want to learn about the basic terminology and differences between 3D photogrammetry software? Consult our FAQ at the end of this article.
This article is split into two sections. First, we introduce you to some great free photogrammetry software tools. The second section on commercial photogrammetry software tools is sorted by price.
COLMAP is a free photogrammetry software available for download from Github. You can run either from the command-line or operate it like any other program with a GUI. Like most other photogrammetry software on this list, COLMAP can reconstruct 3D objects automatically either from single-camera or stereo setups.
However, since it is a program created by researchers, COLMAP also includes many highly advanced options. These are not mandatory for those users who want to generate a quick and easy 3D mesh, but they will definitely enhance the quality. For example, you can extensively define the type of camera that was used to capture the imagery. The same is true for the feature extraction process that can be tweaked for best possible results. Although the program can export a 3D mesh, you can only work with the dense point cloud the viewport. To clean up and refine the 3D mesh, you need to work with other programs like MeshLab.
Meshroom is a free, open-source photogrammetry software that is built on the AliceVision framework. The program is built around an easy to use node-based workflow that connects all the steps to generate a 3D model. In some other programs these would have to be activated individually, but since they form one pipeline of nodes in Meshroom, you only need to push one button (“Start” at the top of the workspace).
But what’s the point of having this elaborate pipeline, when all you need is one button? Each of these nodes can be tweaked to get exactly the result you want. For example, choose the texture node to set the resolution of the texture map to fit the application – mobile gaming or high-res rendering? The more time you invest into this free photogrammetry software the better your results will be. Users of Autodesk Maya can use Meshroom directly inside this 3D modeling software as a free plugin that is also available from the website.
MicMac is an open source photogrammetry software that has been developed by the French National Geographic Institute and French national school for geographic sciences. As its sophisticated feature-set it is mainly suited to professional or academic users but it is also accessible to general users. A product of constant teaching experience and research, MicMac has proven itself as a versatile tool the has been successfully used in fields like cartography, environmental protection, forestry, cultural heritage preservation, and private industries.
Using MicMac it is possible to generate 3D models and orthographic images. In addition, the photogrammetry software can handle any type of object and any kind of scale you throw at it. It is just as capable of surveying large plots of land as of scanning small objects. It can process close-range images and aerial footage. Some of the editing tools provided even make it a feasible solution for metrology and site surveying. MicMac’s website features detailed guides and tutorials that will get you up to speed in no time.
Regard3D is a free and open source photogrammetry software that uses the structure-from-motion method to generate 3D models. Although Regard3D is free, it is still a very powerful piece of software. Indeed, it may take you while until you settle in and get comfortable with all the settings and parameters you can adjust to achieve the kind of results you want. The program even includes comprehensive tools for editing the point cloud before generating a 3D mesh. If you are new to photogrammetry software, Regard3D has your back. Its website offers all the guides and tutorials you need to get started quickly.
As indicated by its name, VisualSFM is a photogrammetry software that uses the structure from motion method to generate point clouds. Users can choose between working with the command-line or a GUI. The product of Changchang Wu, a software engineer at Google, VisualSFM builds on Wu’s own research as well as that of other researchers in the field. Although die-hard photogrammetry can go nuts with dozens of parameter settings to tweak the results, the basic process of creating a point cloud consists of no more than four button clicks. Please note that this program is only free for personal, non-profit or academic use.
ReCap is an acronym for “reality capture”. Like other Autodesk products, this one is developed for integration into workflows that rely on multiple tools. Therefore, you can export the result as a point cloud or mesh into CAD and BIM software. The software has two basic modes. One for aerial photogrammetry and another for close-range photogrammetry. In addition to photographs, ReCap can also process laser scans and align them with photo-based projects to generate 3D models. Although ReCap can register images automatically, it also allows you to pick manually to enhance the overall result.
Apart from capturing large structures in 3D, this photogrammetry software is also equipped with high-quality analytical tools, advanced editing, Fly features for UAV/drone photos, and collaborative tools. ReCap also comes with a number of data services that are designed to process the scans. The foremost data service is the Auto Cleanup that will automatically identify and remove unwanted points like people and moving objects that were photographed accidentally. Another highly useful service is the ability to convert the scan data into meshes that can be exported for processing in other applications.
Looking for an affordable photogrammetry software? Photomodeler may just be what you’re looking for. Using this tool you can take accurate measurements and generate 3D models for a wide variety of purposes. Inside the photogrammetry software, you can choose between 3 different methods to generate your model: Manually match common features between images, automatically generate a 3D model from coded targets, or generate point clouds from overlapping images.
To help you make sense of your data, Photomodeler provides a range of analytical tools. You can choose between three version of this photogrammetry software. A standard version that contains the core functionalities. The scanner version that brings dense surface modeling (DSM), and motion tracking to the table. Finally, the UAS version adds support for imagery taken with drones. For a comparison of the version click here.
Pix4D is a beginning-to-end photogrammetry solution. That means it not only comprises the generation of point clouds, 3D meshes or elevation maps from imagery, but it also assists in the capture of suitable images. To this end, Pix4D has developed mobile apps for Android and iOS that turn humble consumer drones into professional mapping tools. Currently, the apps support drones DJI, Parrot, and Yuneec. As a similar solution, Pix4Dcapture controls the drone’s flight path to ensure enough overlap between the images for photogrammetry processing.
The imagery is then processed in the Pix4D software that runs on your desktop computer or in the cloud. This is where you generate point clouds, orthomosaics, elevation models, index maps, and more. To make sense of your data, the photogrammetry software boasts comprehensive analytical tools. the developer has released versions that cater to the needs of applications like agriculture, surveying, architecture, and real estate. For example, Pix4Dfields, provides tools to generate crop donation and prescription maps that can help increase your productivity, as you can focus on those parts of your fields that require special attention. What is more, Pix4D is built to facilitate collaboration. It supports sharing annotations, maps, and models via URLs.
DroneDeploy is an easy to use aerial photogrammetry software to covers the entire process from flight to finished 3D model. This solution consists of two apps: A mobile app that is used to control the drone’s flight path. Define the area you want to scan on an interactive map and set the direction the drone will follow. The app controls the entire flight from take-off to the landing.
The second app runs in the cloud and creates 3D models and maps using the images taken with your drone. You can select from various processing modes for your specific needs. You can view the result in four map layers that give you information on plant health and elevation. In addition, DroneDeploy is equipped with powerful tools that allow you to measure distances, areas, and volumes. To get the most out of your data, you can add additional features in the DroneDeploy app market.
The ecosystem of the photogrammetry software is compatible only with DJI drones. For hobbyists, DroneDeploy offers a free plan with limited features.
This professional photogrammetry software is built for user-friendliness. Its UI lowers the entry barriers for beginners and facilitates generating 3D scans with easy to use wizards that explain the process and help choose the right settings. Nonetheless, experienced users can make extensive tweaks to optimize the result and profit from extensive exporting options into many file formats.
Like other cutting-edge solutions, 3DF Zephyr is capable of aligning photogrammetry data with laser scans. This way you increase the precision of your 3D model while also retaining the texture maps. Although the usual process is completely automatic, you can intervene manually if you want to work with your scan in a CAD program. 3DF Zephyr allows you to draw shapes using the imagery as a reference. This native CAD model can be sent to programs like Autodesk Revit for BIM modeling.
The best thing about this photogrammetry software is that you can download a free version. The difference to the paid version is a cap of maximum 50 images that can be used for the reconstruction, a smaller range of editing tools. Professional should also check out the GIS and survey tools in the advanced versions.
Agisoft Photoscan is a professional photogrammetry software, that is a popular choice for GIS applications, cultural heritage documentation, game development, and visual effects production. It is suitable for both close-range photogrammetry and aerial photogrammetry.
The program includes comprehensive tools for editing the point cloud before generating a 3D mesh. This includes automatic classifications of point clouds to customize geometry reconstruction. Meaning, the photogrammetry software can distinguish between diverse objects like buildings and trees allowing you to filter them. In addition, extensive measurements tools enable mining companies, surveyors and others to conduct volumetric measurements. Among the other stunning features is the possibility to edit 4D models, which means entire scenes can be recorded in 3D and then be manipulated.
iWitnessPRO is a professional photogrammetry software that was developed with a high degree of accuracy in mind. The developer claims that iWitnessPRO is able to produce a point cloud to a mind-boggling resolution of 1 pixel! flexible: supports both close-range and aerial photogrammetry. However, to capture drone footage you need to work with external programs that cost extra. To capture your object you can choose between coded targets and structure from motion. This allows users to pick the right process according to the geometry of the object and setting. Despite this wealth of feature, the program is easy to work with when you use the automatic mode.
Since iWitnessPRO supports Ground Control Points (GCPs), it is the ideal choice for applications that need to connect measurement to external references. In addition to 3D models, this photogrammetry software can also generate digital surface models (DSMs) and orthoimages. More importantly, this photogrammetry software integrates well into larger workflows, as the data captured with this photogrammetry software can be exported into CAD programs.
IMAGINE Photogrammetry is a major player in the realm of photogrammetry software solutions, because it used by national mapping agencies, regional mapping authorities, the department of transportation, as well as commercial mapping companies. So this is the kind of software that is trusted by experienced professionals to process large amounts of data.
The algorithm of this professional photogrammetry software is capable of generating point clouds automatically and at a very high quality. Within the program, you can view your point cloud as a 3D image, perspective, or oblique view. Hexagon, the developer of IMAGINE Photogrammetry, offers this program as part of the Producer Suite – a collection of tools designed to conduct on-the-fly analysis geospatial data. Hence, it integrates well into the Hexagon pipeline of programs like the Stereo Analyst or Erdas Engine. Using tools like feature extraction object base classification help to interpret photogrammetry footage in a meaningful way. The combination of these programs is a powerful tool that can be used to gather crucial information about natural resources, infrastructure, natural disasters, and more.
Another major 3D software developer who has published his own take on photogrammetry software is Bentley. Given Bentley’s portfolio of sophisticated BIM and CAD software tools, it is no wonder that its ContextCapture is capable of generating 3D models of entire cityscapes without human intervention. Hence, the program is suitable for large infrastructure projects and sites of large size.
Creating 3D models is made easy with a wizard that guides users through the entire process. ContextCapture supports fusing models generated with aerial photography with detailed images shot on street level to increase the level of detail. Alternatively, users can combine photogrammetry with laser scanning for additional accuracy.
To make sense of your date, this photogrammetry software provides the ContextCapture Editor. It enables users to edit meshes, generate cross-sections, extract ground and break-lines. Of course, you can enrich your model GIS and engineering data to support the design process. Render 3D animations and fly-throughs of the 3D model to create engaging presentations and publish it to a custom web viewer for effective communication with collaborators and stakeholder.
The way photogrammetry software usually works is the following. First, the program automatically registers the shared points between every image and then calculates the distances between them in 3D space. The result is a point cloud that you can transform into a 3D mesh. Some more advanced programs also provide tools for cleaning up the point cloud to enhance the overall quality.
In order for photogrammetry software tools to work properly they need sufficient data within the images. The structure from motion technique makes use of natural features like bark of a tree and other dense textures. Other programs use coded markers. These are useful to scan objects that are poor in features to process or have a reflective and/or transparent surface. If applied correctly, coded markers can yield a higher accuracy than the structure from motion technique.
Most photogrammetry software is strictly designed to generate a high-quality 3D mesh or point cloud. However, some programs also provide their own analysis tools within the workspace to allow the user to perform measurements, annotate the map, or enrich the data. Solutions like this are often used by infrastructure companies, forestry, coast-line management and similar agencies.
The default setup of photogrammetry is a camera that is held by a photographer in his hands or mounted on a tripod for extra image stability. It is also known as terrestrial photogrammetry, as the imagery is usually taken from street level. Using a close-range photogrammetry setup is suitable for scanning small-scale objects. In theory, larger structures can also be scanned with close-range photogrammetry. However, often features like roofs are inacessible from the street level. In these cases it’s wise to complement close-range photogrammetry with aerial photogrammetry.
As the names suggests, for aerial photogrammetry you mount a camera on an aircraft to photograph larger structures (buildings, mountains, cities) to transform this data into a 3D model. For decades aerial photogrammetry was only an option for companies and institutions with pockets deep enough to lease an airplane or a helicopter. Aerial photogrammetry is slowly becoming within reach of smaller businesses in many industries as the prices of camera drones have decreased.
As in close-range photogrammetry, the camera takes hundreds, if not thousands of images to reconstruct the object later in the computer. In order to achieve a high-quality 3D model the pictures need to overlap by 80% to 90%. Seasoned pilots and drone-operators are able to adjust their flight-paths and speed accordingly. However, if you intend to use a drone, we recommend purchase a model with waypoint navigation software. This technology allows you to plan the exact route and its speed of your drone ahead of the flight and ensure consistent image quality.
When existing buildings are renovated, there are often no plans that can be used as a reference for planners. In these cases, photogrammetry software is a cost-effective method to create accurate plans and measurements that can be imported into CAD and BIM software to kickstart the project. Photogrammetry software is equally useful in surveying the surrounding area and creating elevation drawings.
Other exciting fields that make use of photogrammetry software are archeology and cultural heritage preservation. In the past, archeologists measured and then traced buildings and other structures on maps and plans as elevations, facades and contours. The recent wave of photogrammetry software has made opened new avenues of recording the monuments of past generations and allowed future generations to study and interpret them.
Disciplines like geology, mining, and quarrying also provide numerous applications for photogrammetry software. Compared to traditional surveying methods, this technology is an affordable method to generate point clouds and elevation maps. Professional photogrammetry software solutions provide comprehensive analytical tools to measure stockpiles and pits in a snap!
License: The text of "14 Best Photogrammetry Software Tools of 2018 (5 are Free)" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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