Photogrammetry vs 3D Laser Scanning: Choosing the Right Technology for Your Surveying Needs

From construction and architecture to archaeology and engineering, the ability to capture the environment with accuracy is indispensable. It facilitates informed decision-making and forms the critical foundation upon which grand structures are built, accurate plans are formulated, and innovative designs come to life. With the advancement of technology, laser scanning & photogrammetry has emerged as a leading method of surveying.


Photogrammetry, a technique that derives measurements from photographs, and 3D laser scanning, which uses laser beams to create point clouds, are two distinct yet pivotal surveying technologies. Each possesses unique strengths and capabilities, making them invaluable tools within the surveyor’s arsenal. Photogrammetry excels in its versatility and cost-effectiveness, capturing large areas with relative ease. Conversely, 3D laser scanning shines in remarkable accuracy and detail, making it indispensable for intricate and complex environments.


What is Photogrammetry, and Why is it Useful?

At its core, photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs. This technique hinges on the principle that every two-dimensional photograph contains three-dimensional data. By overlapping images taken from various vantage points, photogrammetry enables the reconstruction of an object or landscape in three dimensions. The process involves capturing a series of photographs, followed by using specialised software to triangulate points on the object, thus deriving its accurate measurements and spatial relationships.


The applications of photogrammetry are both diverse and expansive. Architects use it to document heritage buildings, whereas civil engineers use it to plan and monitor infrastructure projects. Its utility extends to archaeology for site documentation and preservation, the entertainment industry for creating realistic 3D models, and even forensic science for crime scene reconstruction.


Photogrammetry boasts several advantages that make it particularly appealing. Its cost-effectiveness is a prime benefit, offering a more affordable alternative to other surveying methods. Additionally, its adaptability allows for surveying in challenging or inaccessible terrain, from rugged landscapes to intricate architectural features, without the need for physical contact. The technology’s versatility in scale also enables its application to objects ranging from small artefacts to expansive topographies.


However, photogrammetry has its limitations. One significant constraint is its dependency on lighting conditions; optimal natural light is necessary to ensure the highest quality photographs, making it less reliable in poorly lit environments. Furthermore, while it provides commendable accuracy, it may not reach the superior accuracy levels achievable through laser scanning in certain scenarios. Understanding these limitations is crucial for surveyors to determine when photogrammetry is the most appropriate tool for a project.


What is 3D Laser Scanning, and Why is it Useful?

3D laser scanning, a pivotal component of modern surveying, uses laser light to accurately capture the physical reality of an environment or object. This technology works on the principle of laser triangulation; a laser scanner emits a beam of light that, upon striking a surface, reflects back to the scanner. The device then calculates the distance between the scanner and the object based on the time taken for the light to return. By rapidly emitting and collecting millions of these laser points, the scanner compiles a dense and detailed collection of data points, known as a point cloud, which faithfully represents the scanned subject in three dimensions.


3D laser scanning is advantageous in scenarios demanding meticulous detail and high fidelity. It is the technology of choice for surveying complex industrial facilities, documenting intricate architectural details, and ensuring accuracy in heritage conservation projects. In engineering, it is invaluable for monitoring the structural integrity of buildings and infrastructures. Additionally, it plays a crucial role in Building Information Modelling (BIM), offering an exact digital twin of a structure for architects and engineers to work with.


The benefits of 3D laser scanning are multifaceted. Its high accuracy and ability to produce detailed point clouds are its most lauded features, allowing for accurate measurements and richly detailed models. This technology is well-suited for surveying complex structures and environments where every minute detail matters. It also enables the documentation of challenging geometries that might be difficult to capture through traditional methods.


However, as with any technology, 3D laser scanning has its limitations. The higher accuracy and detail come at a higher cost, making it a more substantial investment than other surveying methods. There can also be challenges when scanning highly reflective surfaces or transparent materials, as the laser light can refract or reflect unpredictably. Understanding these limitations is essential for surveyors to employ 3D laser scanning optimally, leveraging its strengths while mitigating its constraints.


Photogrammetry vs. 3D Laser Scanning

When choosing between photogrammetry and 3D laser scanning, several factors come into play – accuracy, speed, cost, and ease of use being key considerations.


Accuracy is often the paramount consideration in surveying, and here, 3D laser scanning generally holds the edge. It can capture minute details with exceptional accuracy, making it ideal for complex and intricate projects. Photogrammetry, while accurate, may not always achieve the same level of detail, especially in scenarios requiring the utmost accuracy.


Speed of data acquisition is another critical factor. Photogrammetry can cover large areas rapidly, particularly when aerial platforms like drones are employed. Conversely, 3D laser scanning, despite being meticulous, can be more time-consuming, especially for large-scale environments, due to the need for multiple setups and scans.


Cost is an inevitable consideration, and photogrammetry is often more cost-effective, especially for larger areas. It requires less specialised equipment than 3D laser scanning, which can be a significant investment. However, the latter’s high level of detail and accuracy may justify the cost in scenarios where these factors are non-negotiable.


Ease of use is another aspect where photogrammetry often has an advantage. It can be more user-friendly, especially in rugged terrain or inaccessible areas. 3D laser scanning, while offering remarkable detail, may require more technical expertise to operate effectively and interpret the data.


When it comes to choosing between the two, the decision often hinges on the specific requirements of the project. For large-scale topographical surveys or when operating under tight budget constraints, photogrammetry may be the preferred choice. In contrast, for intricate architectural details, industrial facilities, or when the highest level of detail is required, 3D laser scanning is often indispensable.


However, it’s not always a matter of choosing one over the other. In many instances, a hybrid approach that leverages the strengths of both technologies can be highly effective. Combining the extensive coverage of photogrammetry with the detailed accuracy of 3D laser scanning can provide a comprehensive and nuanced depiction of a site or object. This collaborative synergy can lead to richer, more accurate surveying outcomes, encapsulating the best of both worlds.


At Michael Gallie, we harness the strengths of both photogrammetry and 3D laser scanning, either independently or in a hybrid methodology, tailored to meet the specific needs of each project. Our expertise in both domains ensures that we deliver the most efficient and accurate surveying solutions, reaffirming our commitment to excellence and accuracy in the field.



As mentioned above, photogrammetry is a viable option for various surveying projects, especially where budget constraints are a consideration. On the other hand, 3D laser scanning, with its exceptional accuracy and detailed point clouds, is indispensable in scenarios demanding the highest levels of accuracy and detail.


The comparison between the two technologies underscores the importance of understanding their respective strengths and limitations. It’s not merely a choice between one or the other; it’s about selecting the right tool for the right job. In many cases, a hybrid approach that leverages the capabilities of both photogrammetry and 3D laser scanning can yield the most comprehensive and accurate outcomes.


If you are seeking guidance or contemplating which surveying method suits your project, we invite you to contact us for a consultation on your requirements. Our team of experts is ready to provide tailored solutions that align with your project’s unique needs, ensuring accuracy, efficiency, and satisfaction.



1. What is the primary difference between photogrammetry and 3D laser scanning?

The primary difference lies in the method of data acquisition. Photogrammetry uses photographs to create 3D models and measurements, making it particularly effective for large areas and when working under budget constraints. 3D laser scanning, on the other hand, utilises laser beams to create highly detailed point clouds, offering superior accuracy and accuracy, especially suitable for complex and intricate structures.

2. Can photogrammetry and 3d laser scanning be used together?

Absolutely. Combining photogrammetry and 3D laser scanning can be highly effective, as it merges the extensive coverage of photogrammetry with the detailed accuracy of 3D laser scanning. This hybrid approach can provide a comprehensive and nuanced depiction of a site or object, making it an excellent choice for complex projects requiring broad coverage and intricate details.