You can now 3D scan objects with any iPhone – even if it doesn’t have a LIDAR sensor

Sep 5, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

You can now 3D scan objects with any iPhone – even if it doesn’t have a LIDAR sensor

Sep 5, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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As more people have gotten into 3D printing, not to mention combining 3D objects with photographs, 3D scanning has become a big thing. Especially, apparently, when it comes to smartphones. With many smartphones featuring Time of Flight depth sensors these days, though, that’s not much of a surprise. Not all phones feature one, though, which has made things a little tricky.

Now, though, it looks like the folks at Polycam have figured out a solution that just uses the regular normal flat 2D camera of the iPhone to create 3D objects that you can bring right into your CG scenes. Unfortunately, yes, you read that right. iPhone. No word on Android yet – although there are rumours.

YouTube video

Up until now, Polycam, like most other 3D scanning apps, required a phone with LIDAR sensors – the Time of Flight depth-sensing tech found in many new phones. With the iPhone, though, that means the iPhone 12 Pro or higher. The new feature in Polycam seems to play on an old friend, though. Photogrammetry.

Photogrammetry’s a pretty common technique, even amongst the high end, but it’s a laborious process and uses a lot of computing power. Photogrammetry apps for smartphones have been pretty basic and limited so far, letting you only process a handful of images to produce a model that isn’t really that great. Polycam’s solution, though, is to send the images up to the cloud and offload the hard work from your device.

Once processed, you can share links to your objects and export your meshes to various formats for blending in with your photography in Photoshop, footage in After Effects, or clean them up in Meshlab and Blender for 3D printing.

This tech isn’t free, though. Well, you can download the basic app for free, but to be able to export meshes, you’ll need the Pro version, which is $7.99/mo, or $39 annually if you pay for a year upfront. You can find out more about Polycam and find links to the App Store on the Polycam website.

For now, for as little as I need to 3D scan with photogrammetry, I think I’ll stick to using my DSLR and processing on the desktop. But if you want to start scanning the world with your phone and incorporate those scans into your work, $39/yr is a bit of a bargain – even for somebody who hates the whole “software as a service” subscription model.

Maybe I’ll take a proper look at it if that Android version ever gets released.

Have you used Polycam’s new Photo Mode yet? How well is it working for you?

[via No Film School]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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6 responses to “You can now 3D scan objects with any iPhone – even if it doesn’t have a LIDAR sensor”

  1. Lukedwards Avatar
    Lukedwards

    iPhone only ?

    That’s a dumb move imo..

  2. Mikołaj Dądela Avatar
    Mikołaj Dądela

    Has anyone tried it to see what’s the quality like? I have an iPad with Lidar but the quality is too low to make scans of smaller object usable, so I’m still looking for alternatives.

    1. amplitude Avatar
      amplitude

      Here’s a quick scan I took: https://poly.cam/capture/63504101-C991-4FB8-B675-D3701E7B1BAE

      Have you tried scandy pro? Uses the true depth sensor for object scanning, picks up very good detail if you get up a as close as it allows. Down side is that it’s a subscription service, you do get one free scan a week.

  3. Tbidds Avatar
    Tbidds

    Photogrammetry is not scanning… It’s photogrammetry. You can certainly create a point cloud from photogrammetry because it’s the process of creating a mesh from 2D data. Mesh = polygons = vertices = point cloud. But a scan is the process of using LiDAR to create a point cloud. In general a high quality LiDAR point cloud will give you more accurate measurements than a photogrammetric point cloud. While a photogrammetric mesh will be more accurate in showing materiality than a standard LiDAR & RGB colouring will give from a high quality scanner. Rant over. Lol.

  4. Xecular Official Avatar
    Xecular Official

    There are 3D scanner apps on android already that can do the same thing without the subscription. They have a mode that automatically captures datasets or point cloud data which you can then export to your PC and use with a program of your choice rather than paying for a cloud service.