So it’s 2018 and you’re looking for free photogrammetry software for your smartphone to take your first steps into 3D Reality Capture without paying a penny?

Well, the 3D Scan Expert hereby declares that you are out of luck. The world of mobile 3D capture is no longer free. Or is it? Read on and you might be surprised.

Background Story

I originally published this popular post on June 30, 2016 when you could use 123D Catch on every mobile platform. But Autodesk decided too kill this popular photogrammetry app. In fact, it discontinued every free 3D capture app it used to offer, including ReMake (which is now called ReCap Photo and charged by a combination of subscription and per-project fees).

Also gone is the web-based ReCap 360 interface (that even worked on Android). It’s truly missed by me and many 3D capture enthusiasts because it was so easy to use and accessible.

This post originally also contained the Seene app. But this has been discontinued since it was acquired by Snapchat. It wasn’t really a full 3D capture app but it was fun, fast and free!

Meanwhile, Sony introduced a nice free 3D capture app called 3D Creator but that is strictly exclusive to recent Xperia phones (I know exactly zero people that have one). And we haven’t heard from Microsoft’s cross-platform 3D Capture plans ever since they announced it. Is it actually still in development now that Windows 10 Phone is dead? Only Satya knows…

The (almost) Free Mobile Photogrammetry Solutions of 2018

Okay, you probably Googled “Free 3D Scanning Apps” and I can’t give you exactly that. What I can give you is either a workflow that’s completely free and largely mobile, and two apps that are completely mobile and very affordable.

3DF Zephyr

Review Tutorial

  • Free: 50 photos
  • Lite: 500 photos
    ($139 with special discount*)
  • Manual Photo — or Video — Capture on Android or iOS
  • Processing on Windows PC
  • Auto & Manual Cropping
  • Sketchfab exporter
  • Best Quality

Trnio

Review / Tutorial

  • $0.99 in the App Store
  • 70 Photos
  • Assisted Photo Capture on iPhone
  • Processing in the Cloud
  • Auto & Manual Cropping
  • Integrated Social Features
  • Sketchfab exporter
  • Good Quality

Scann3D

Review / Tutorial

  • $5.99/month or $40,99/year
  • Unlimited Photos (practically ~40-80 depending on phone specs)
  • Assisted Photo Capture on Android
  • Local Processing on the phone
  • No Cropping feature
  • Sketchfab exporter
  • Basic to Good Quality (depends on phone specs)

Comparing Results

The 3 software solutions I discuss here all use their own photogrammetry algorithms so they all produce very different results.

3DF Zephyr (4K video source)

Review Tutorial

If you’re looking at the Sketchfab embeds above on a computer, keep in mind that you can view them full screen for better inspection. You can also view just the geometry by pressing the 3 on your keyboard and press 1 again to view the textured result.

I deliberately chose to only include the result from a video result for 3DF Zephyr because it better compares to the automated capture mode of Trnio in terms of ease-of-use and speed. I used a 4K video and if your phone supports that high resolution (these do) you might have to enable it first in the settings of your camera app. If your phone only supports HD video the quality will be lower. And if you shoot separate photos instead of video the quality will be higher.

Verdict

It’s clear that the capture-on-mobile, process-on-PC methods currently gives the highest quality 3D models by far. And capturing works on both Android and iOS with the default camera app (essential tip:  lock the auto-focus and auto-exposure!). Keep in mind that you’ll need to keep the video under 40-60 seconds because you can use a maximum of 50 photos in the Free version. The Lite version will give you ten times as much time or photos but keep in mind that processing will be significantly longer. Processing time and capacity also greatly depend on the specs of your PC.

If really want to go completely mobile Trnio for iOS gives you slightly better geometry quality and Scann3D gives you significantly better textures. But you probably have either an Android phone or iPhone so it’s probably not really a choice. Scann3D’s Ultra quality only works on recent high-end smartphones but the High quality is pretty merciful.

Trnio works on practically every iPhone but requires you to upload, download en wait in the cloud-processing queue multiple times which might be frustrating for some and is certainly recommended to do on WiFi.

The Scann3D workflow has the least amount of hassle, because everything is simply done on the device itself. You can do photogrammetry with just your phone, completely offline (while your battery lasts). If only it had a cropping feature..

Wrapping up

So there you have it: the only really free option isn’t an app but very nice PC software 3DF Zephyr that you can use to process the photos or videos (tip: set your phone camera app to 4K recording if it has that option!) you took with your smartphone. You can sync them to your PC using a USB cable or Dropbox or a similar service (do that over WiFi, because file sizes can be quite big).

You do need a decent PC (as in: not a netbook) for that to work, specifically one with a good graphics card. Modern Nvdia gaming GPUs are great for photogrammetry. If you can still buy one, because they’re currently all being bought by crypto currency miners.

The other two actual smartphone apps above aren’t free anymore. Trnio for iOS is now $0.99. Which is not really expensive but it’s not free. It still has some issues and is not being developed rapidly but for the price it’s a very polished app and currently the best mobile photogrammetry experience out there.

On the Android side of mobile there’s SCANN3D which technically has a free mode with basic quality processing. But since that mode doesn’t allow you to export anything it’s really more of a demo than a free app. You’ll have to pay €5,99 a month or €40,99 a year to get the export feature, and better quality processing. Still, that’s less than you pay for watching Netflix.


If you want to keep receiving updates about mobile photogrammetry solutions, be sure to follow me on your favorite social network or subscribe to my monthly newsletter below.

   


PC-Based Photogrammetry Software Reviews

3DF Zephyr Review

Windows-only. Perpetual & Free version

View Post

Agisoft PhotoScan Review

Windows, Mac, Linux. Perpetual license.

View Post

RealityCapture Review

Windows-only. Subscription license.

View Post

*Full disclosure: I do get a small compensation if you decide to buy 3DF Zephyr Lite through the discount link I provide.

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