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Photogrammetry vs. LiDAR: The Ultimate Comparison Guide for 2024

Updated in 2024 by Paul Posea
Photogrammetry vs. LiDAR

"Photogrammetry vs. LiDAR" - a comparison that takes us deep into the captivating realm of 3D modeling. In this exploration, we're focusing on these two powerful technologies that have completely transformed our approach to capturing and interpreting spatial data.

In the realm of drone technology, Photogrammetry and LiDAR are like the Batman and Superman of spatial data collection - each with unique superpowers and playing a crucial role in our understanding of the world from above

But what are these technologies exactly? How do they work? And, more importantly, how do they differ from each other?

Whether you're a seasoned drone pilot, a budding geospatial scientist, or a tech enthusiast curious about all things drone-related, this article is for you. 

We'll delve into the nuts and bolts of Photogrammetry and LiDAR, explore their strengths and limitations, and help you understand when to use one over the other.

What is the difference between Photogrammetry and LiDAR?

Photogrammetry and LiDAR are both techniques used to capture spatial data and create 3D models, but they do so in different ways and each has its own strengths and limitations.

Photogrammetry uses overlapping images and software to create models, making it cost-effective but less precise in dense areas. LiDAR uses lasers to measure distances directly, providing more detailed data, especially in dense vegetation, but at a higher cost.

Here’s a quick overview to better understand what each technology is capable of:


PhotogrammetryLiDAR
DefinitionA technique that uses images and software to create a 3D model.A remote sensing method that uses lasers to measure distances to the Earth.
How it WorksCaptures aerial images with high overlap and precise GPS data for each image.Shines multiple laser beams at the surface and measures the distance of each point.
Equipment CostGenerally less expensive.Tends to be more expensive due to the need for a high-accuracy GPS and inertial measurement unit system.
Data AccuracyCan provide detailed and accurate data, but may struggle with minute details or small areas.Provides highly accurate and detailed data, even in areas with dense vegetation or complex structures.
Data ProcessingRequires a large number of images and sophisticated software.More straightforward, but requires a high-accuracy GPS and inertial measurement unit system.
Measurement MethodA computed method that uses images and software.Direct measurement method that uses lasers.
Key ApplicationsSurveying and mapping, construction and infrastructure, cultural heritage and archaeology.Forestry, urban planning, disaster management.

Understanding Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry

Let's kick things off with Photogrammetry, a technique that might sound complex but is rooted in a concept we're all familiar with - photography.

But this isn't your average point-and-shoot affair. Instead, photogrammetry takes photography to new heights, quite literally!

What is Photogrammetry?

At its core, Photogrammetry involves capturing aerial images with a high degree of overlap and precise GPS data for each image.

Picture a drone buzzing overhead, its camera clicking away at regular intervals, capturing a patchwork of images that cover every nook and cranny of the landscape below. That's Photogrammetry in action!

How Does Photogrammetry Work?

The real magic happens once these images are collected. Using sophisticated software, Photogrammetry triangulates the location of every point captured in the images, stitching them together to create a detailed 3D model of the area.

It's like piecing together a complex jigsaw puzzle where the final picture is a three-dimensional landscape representation. If you are interested, you can also check out my other article about the top 5 drones for photogrammetry.

Advantages of Photogrammetry

One of the biggest draws of Photogrammetry is its cost-effectiveness. With relatively low-cost equipment, you can create high-quality 3D and 2D maps.

Companies like Field of View specialize in creating geotagging systems that provide the latitude, longitude, and altitude of every aerial image captured, triggering the camera at the proper interval to produce these high-quality maps and models.

Limitations of Photogrammetry

However, Photogrammetry has its limitations. When it comes to capturing minute details or small areas, Photogrammetry can sometimes fall short. For example, the images can blur between small areas; you'd need many photos to resolve these details.

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But don't let that deter you! Despite these challenges, Photogrammetry remains a powerful tool in the drone technology arsenal, offering a cost-effective way to create detailed and accurate 3D models.

Understanding LiDAR

LiDAR

Now that we've covered Photogrammetry let's shift our focus to LiDAR, another superhero in the world of 3D modeling. If you thought Photogrammetry was cool, wait till you hear about LiDAR!

What is LiDAR?

LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light as a pulsed laser to measure distances to the Earth. Unlike Photogrammetry, which relies on images, LiDAR uses lasers to determine point locations on the ground.

How Does LiDAR Work?

Imagine a LiDAR head shining multiple laser beams at the surface. These beams reflect into the sensor, allowing it to determine how far away each point is.

However, LiDAR requires a very high-accuracy GPS and inertial measurement unit system to know the location of a point on Earth.

This adds to the cost and complexity of LiDAR payloads. Still, the trade-off is the level of detail and accuracy it can provide.

Advantages of LiDAR

One of the key advantages of LiDAR over Photogrammetry is its ability to find holes in vegetation to get a better map of the ground. This makes LiDAR particularly useful in areas with dense vegetation where Photogrammetry might struggle to capture the ground detail.

LiDAR is a direct measurement method, which means it can provide more accurate and detailed data compared to Photogrammetry.

Limitations of LiDAR

Despite its advantages, LiDAR does come with its own set of challenges. The most notable one is the cost. LiDAR equipment tends to be more expensive than Photogrammetry equipment and it takes longer to pay off the equipment.

However, for projects that require a high level of detail and accuracy, the cost of LiDAR can be a worthwhile investment.

In the next section, we'll dive deeper into the comparative analysis of Photogrammetry and LiDAR, helping you understand when to use one over the other. So, stay tuned!

Photogrammetry vs. LiDAR: A Comparative Analysis

Now that we've explored Photogrammetry and LiDAR individually, let's put them side by side and see how they stack up against each other.

Detail and Accuracy

Photogrammetry and LiDAR can provide detailed and accurate data, but how they capture and process differs.

Photogrammetry uses images and software to triangulate the location of each point. In contrast, LiDAR uses lasers and a high-accuracy GPS to measure distances directly.

This means LiDAR can often provide more detailed and accurate data, especially in areas with dense vegetation or complex structures.

Cost and Equipment

Regarding cost and equipment, Photogrammetry generally comes out on top. The equipment required for Photogrammetry is typically less expensive than LiDAR's, making it a more cost-effective option for many projects. 

However, it's important to remember that the choice between Photogrammetry and LiDAR should also take into account the specific requirements of the project, not just the cost.

Data Processing

In terms of data processing, Photogrammetry and LiDAR also have their differences. Photogrammetry requires a large number of images and sophisticated software to create a 3D model. 

On the other hand, LiDAR data processing is more straightforward, as it involves measuring distances directly using lasers. However, LiDAR requires a high-accuracy GPS and inertial measurement unit system, which can add to the complexity of the process.

Measurement Method

One of the key differences between Photogrammetry and LiDAR is the measurement method. Photogrammetry is a computed method that uses images and software to create a 3D model. 

In contrast, LiDAR is a direct measurement method that uses lasers to measure distances to the Earth. This difference in measurement method can impact the data's level of detail and accuracy.

In the next section, we'll explore some practical use cases and applications for both Photogrammetry and LiDAR. Stay tuned!

Use Cases and Applications

Photogrammetry and LiDAR have a wide range of applications, and understanding these can help determine which method best suits a particular project.

When to Use Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is an excellent choice when you need high-quality 3D and 2D maps and models at a relatively low cost. It's particularly effective for projects that require detailed imagery, such as:

  • Surveying and Mapping: Photogrammetry is widely used in surveying and mapping to create detailed topographic maps, site plans, and digital elevation models.
  • Construction and Infrastructure: In the construction industry, Photogrammetry can be used to monitor progress, inspect infrastructure, and assist in planning and design.
  • Cultural Heritage and Archaeology: Photogrammetry is also used to preserve and document cultural heritage sites and archaeological excavations, where detailed imagery is crucial.

When to Use LiDAR

LiDAR, on the other hand, is the go-to method when you need highly accurate and detailed data, especially in areas with dense vegetation or complex structures. Some of its key applications include:

  • Forestry: LiDAR is commonly used in forestry for tasks such as biomass estimation, forest inventory, and health assessment. Its ability to penetrate vegetation and capture ground detail makes it particularly useful in this field.
  • Urban Planning: In urban planning, LiDAR can provide detailed data for city modeling, infrastructure planning, and environmental impact assessments.

Disaster Management: LiDAR is also used in disaster management for flood modeling, landslide detection, and other hazard assessments, where accurate and detailed data is crucial.

Conclusion

As we've explored in this article, Photogrammetry and LiDAR offer powerful ways to capture and interpret spatial data, each with its strengths and limitations.

The choice between the two isn't a matter of which one is universally better, but rather which one is better suited to the specific requirements of your project.

With its cost-effectiveness and ability to create high-quality 3D and 2D maps, photogrammetry is a fantastic choice for projects requiring detailed imagery and having budget constraints. 

On the other hand, LiDAR, with its high level of detail, accuracy, and ability to penetrate vegetation, is an excellent choice for projects that require highly accurate data, especially in areas with dense vegetation or complex structures.

Ultimately, the choice between Photogrammetry and LiDAR is a balancing act, weighing the level of detail and accuracy needed, the type of terrain, the budget, and the project's specific requirements. 

author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.

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paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.
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