Like the name implies, the Foldio360 is actually focussed towards 360° product photography but I was curious if it could also be used to automate Photogrammetry. So I reached out to Dutch reseller Benèl BV who kindly supplied me a complete set containing the Foldio360, a portable light tent (with white, black and green backgrounds) and a smartphone tripod. This set costs €219 (ex. VAT) in the EU and $205 in the US.
I think that’s within the budget of many (creative) professionals that want to experiment with 3D capture. It’s even affordable enough for hobbyists and eduction.
The question of course is: does it work for photogrammetry? Let’s find out!
Why am I testing this?
When it comes to making 3D captures of small to medium objects there are quite a few desktop 3D scanners on the market today. Most of them can be used with an electric turntable, making it a lot easier to automate the process of making full 360° scans. Desktop 3D scanners like this are getting better, easier to use and more affordable each day. An all-in-one structured light scanner like the new EinScan-SE starts at $1199 and the eora3D smartphone-based laser scanner (that should hit the market this month) is supposedly going to retail at $419.
Another way of capturing reality in 3D is Photogrammetry — the technology that can turn a set of regular 2D photographs into a 3D model. There are a few free smartphone apps and free online services available to do this but there are also professional applications for this. The three most popular ones are Autodesk ReMake (Review), Agisoft PhotoScan (Review ready very soon), and RealityCapture.
These sophisticated programs can all produce impressively detailed models but unless you have the funds to build a rig with 100 cameras, single-camera photogrammetry is very time consuming. That can become a problem if you need to scan a lot of objects or want to experiment with volumetric 3D stop-motion animation.
I’m hoping the Foldio360 can be used to create a setup similar to a desktop 3D scanner, but using photogrammetry.
Hardware & Software
At first glance the Foldio360 is just another electric turntable. It’s 25cm in diameter, white, and weights almost nothing. Nothing special there but this one as a few very interesting features under the hood that make it ideal for this purpose.
Firstly, it can be controlled over Bluetooth with a nicely designed and easy to use Android or iOS app. Here you can set the amount of stops the turntable should make when doing a 360 degrees rotation: 24, 36 or 48. There’s also control over the speed.
Next to the rotation options, there’s a slider for the HALO EDGE light system. The what? Yes, it is as sci-fi as it sounds! On the back of the turntable there’s a transparent strip that can light up like the Millennium Falcon. When the turntable is put on a limbo (a crease-less photography background) the HALO EDGE can light up the background.
Combine the back light with the two dimmable LED light strips that are built into the supplied light tent (or any front-facing continuous studio lights) and you can create an effect where the object seems to sit in a completely white environment. This effect can be improved with the brightness slider in the app. Altogether this is a very intuitive way of getting this effect, even for beginners.
Smartphone mode & 360° Product Photography
Creating a 360° photo sequence of a product can be done within the app by just pressing the record button. After that you can upload the result directly to Orangemonkie’s Spinzam service — for free. From there you can share the result on social networks or embed it in a website like I did in the second image below.
Click and Drag the image below to rotate
This is surely a quick and easy way to create basic interactive 360s but they are basic indeed. For instance, the app doesn’t allow you to combine cycles from multiple height angles for a more “three-dimensional” presentation.
This is all nice of course, but I’m not really interested in 360 photography, or at least not to use it directly. My plan with the Foldio360 was to export the photos and load them into photogrammetry software to create volumetric 3D presentations.
Unfortunately, the exported photos aren’t full resolution — they’re just 1080 x 1080 pixels. Not completely useless for some cases but I’ll go into that in a moment. First, I want to highlight the Foldio360’s killer feature for photogrammetry: remote DSLR control.
DSLR Mode & Photogrammetry
It’s a pity that it’s not possible for the smartphone app to save full-res photos but if you want to get the most out of photogrammetry it’s generally a better idea to use better camera anyway. That’s why it’s great that the Foldio360 also has a DSLR mode.
In this mode you still operate the turntable settings with the app over Bluetooth but the LED on the front of the front of the device will send a trigger command to an external camera every time the turntable pauses. This allows you to take full resolution photos with all the settings you desire.
Naturally, the photos are not saved to the app in DSLR mode so you will have to get them from the SD card yourself.
The remote control uses infrared. The Sony RX100M2 I usually use doesn’t have that, so I had to use my old entry-level Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i) with kit lens. The app has control schemes for all the mayor DSLR brands but I had to tap the “refresh list” option and use the “Canon-2” to make it work. And I had to do this every time I started the app — it doesn’t remember your preference. It does work reliably, although some camera angles and positions seem to break the line of sight between the IR transmitter on the Foldio360 and the receiver on the EOS.
The DSLR feature of the Foldio360 is ideal for automating photogrammetry in three ways:
- You can take full-res photos with the finely controllable settings of a DSLR
- You can shoot RAW photos to more easily remove any remaining shadows from the images (in Photoshop and then saving them as JPGs for most photogrammetry software)
- You can shoot from multiple angles at once if you have two or three DSLRs. Infrared control is passive so all cameras will react to the singles simultaneously.
So that’s a very interesting feature for the small price. But before I go into the results I want to cover the rest of the hardware setup.
The Light Tent (and some advice)
The light tent is dubbed Foldio (Foldable Studio) 2 by Orangemonkie but the same design is sold by other manufacturers. Mine is a StudioKing SLB40W. Honestly, the design and build quality isn’t nearly as sophisticated as the turntable itself (which I would have called an Apple-ish product if it wasn’t made out of very light plastic). The tent is made out corrugated plastic sheet material held in place by a few magnets. It works and it’s very light and portable but it will certainly not last for years.
There are, of course, many options for product photography. A small foldable photo tent with two continuous studio lights won’t break your bank. I would advice you to get one that comes with two soft boxes so you can also use the lights without the tent (more about that later). I’ve written a separate post about light kits a while ago if you’re interested.
Now the moment you’ve probably been waiting for. Does it work? Yes it does! I’m using different software packages here do demonstrate the wide possibilities from free photogrammetry to advanced professional applications.
None of the applications I’m using here require markers and for most objects they work perfectly fine with just the white Foldio360 plate. But if you’re going to crop the floor plane anyway, it’s good practice for photogrammetry to use a floor plane with recognizable patterns. This can be anything but since the turntable is circular I thought it would be nice to make something special for it.
I made the PDF below by generating 12-bit targets with Agisoft Photoscan. It’s the only software that can natively recognize these targets — more about that later — but they will help other software as well in a more passive mode.
Autodesk ReCap 360 — The Free and Easy way
I won’t go into how each software solution works in this post. You can read everything about using the free, web-based version of Recap360 in this tutorial.
For this first test, I used my Nexus 5X and the Foldio360 app. I used the mobile tripod so everything is from the same angle. I exported the photos and uploaded them to ReCap 360 straight from my Android phone.
Again, the resolution of the exported photos is just 1080×1080 pixels and the maximum for a single cycle is 48. But the free version of ReCap 360 is capped (some pun intended) at 50 photos and only supports the Preview quality. So for a completely mobile workflow this isn’t all that bad. The upside is that uploading and processing these low-res photos goes very fast. Here’s the result:
If you put the Sketchfab embed above in MatCap render mode, you’ll see that the geometry isn’t mind-blowing but also not bad considering the small photos. The polycount is 22.5k and the texture map is 2K which actually makes this a great model for mobile 3D or VR applications. And again, this is a very easy and fast workflow with free software.
To use the same free software but need more quality, I mounted the Canon 550D (18 megapixels) camera on a tripod and put it in front of the Foldio360. I set it to the lowest ISO and smallest aperture to prevent noise and blurry areas so I could simply use the unedited JPGs.
I shot the dog figure from two heights at 48 turntable stops per cycle. Because of the 50-photo limit, I uploaded the odd photos from the first cycle and the even ones from the other. Here’s the result:
At 355k polygons, the mesh is very detailed. The OBJ comes with a single 8K texture, so no complains about the texture quality. The texture maps from ReCap have a lot of small islands but this 8K JPG is a great base for texture remapping.
For Professional Results
Firstly, if you use Autodesk ReMake (Review) you also have free access to the 50-photo-Preview-quality cloud engine as ReCap 360. But with the added benefit of a great set of editing (so you can remove the floor surface) and exporting tools.
But if you want to get the most out of your photos — and have a fast computer with a fast, modern graphics card — you can also get a subscription to ReMake Pro for $30 monthly or $300 annually in the US and €35 monthly or €350 annually in Europe.
Or you can buy Agisoft PhotoScan (Review) Standard for $179 or Pro for $3499. I’m working on a full review of this application as we speak but for this post it’s good to know that only the Pro version supports native (pre-processing) marker detection. As I wrote in the panel earlier, markers are not necessary for most objects — certainly not this richly-detailed dog figure — but can add reliability to the workflow, especially for capturing less-detailed objects.
Capturing Reality RealityCapture
RealityCapture (Review) is probably the fastest photogrammetry tool out there. You can 3-month “Promo” license for $99 (Now with 50% Discount through Steam Summer Sale until June 5th, 2017). This version is capped at 2500 photo but that’s more than enough for using it with the Foldio360 (or capturing small to medium objects in general).
Another tool to consider is 3DFlow Zephyr. Like ReMake it also offers a Free Version capped to 50 photos. It doesn’t offer a cloud processing service, but the local processing doesn’t require a descreet Nvidia graphics card. This means it can run on basically any modern computer, albeit not very fast depending on the GPU. If you need more than 50 photos, you can choose Zephyr Lite which has a limit of 500 and costs $149 (Now 33% Discount through Steam Summer Sale until July 5th, 2017)
ReMake vs. PhotoScan vs. RealityCapture vs. Zephyr
I won’t go into all differences between these 3 applications in detail here as I’m planning a comprehensive comparison post for just that. They’re targeted at different audiences in terms of workflows and scalability. But are all great software solutions that are capable of outstanding photogrammetry results. And they all offer a trial or demo for testing purposes.
Here are the results from ReMake Pro and PhotoScan Pro respectively using the same two 48-photo DSLR cycles I used before, but this time I used all 96 photos. I used the maximum quality settings for both and choose to generate 4K texture in both cases since I think that’s more than enough for a small object like this.
The ReMake result above — in Ultra / Detailed / Fine quality — took about 1.5 hours on my system with (just) an i5 processor, 32GB RAM and Nvidia GTX 1070 (ReMake only works on Nvidia cards) comes in at 2.9M polygons and as you can see in MatCap render mode it has done a good job of distilling the sculpted hairs from the figure.
Next up is the result from PhotoScan:
With Agisoft PhotoScan set to the maximum Ultra High setting for dense point cloud generation it took longer to process the photos than ReMake but was also able to distill a bit more information (3.9M polygons) from the JPGs from my 7 year-old, 18MP Canon DSLR with kit lens.
Finally (for now) the result from RealityCapture:
The model above is processed at Normal quality and took just 24 minutes (yes, RealityCapture is fast). I’ll add a High Quality version later.
I’ll add the result from Zephyr later (I can only test so much at the same time).
Capturing something bigger
Here are some more captures of objects of different shapes and sizes. And captured with the Foldio360 in different ways. All photos are processed with Agisoft PhotoScan Pro (at High quality), since I’m review that now and I like efficiency.
So with the printed markers on the plate you’re kind of breaking the “infinite white background” effect. Photogrammetry on a turntable with a fixed camera simply needs a completely even background. Depending on the color of your object, it might even be better to choose one of the other supplied background colors. In fact, it’s even easier to setup a DSLR to make a black background totally black. This only needs a little bit of under exposure which is easier to correct once the texture is generated.
But with a black background the white sides of the light tent can come into frame. And in general the tent from this set is a bit small compared to the turntable — it only works for objects up to the size of the dog figure (10cm wide).
So to scan something bigger I discarded the light tent completely and just used a black photography background and two continuous studio lights.
As you can see the outer ring of markers are still visible because of the small footprint of the bust. But as most objects won’t need trackers it’s not really a problem if they aren’t visible. One thing to keep track of though is that objects cannot extend over the edge of the turntable if you have the DSLR on a down-facing angle. This is because the object can then obscure the infrared transmitter preventing the camera from being triggered. I’m not sure if the Foldio360 could handle very large and heavy objects anyway, since it’s very light-weight itself.
Of the bust above, I shot two 48-photo cycles at different angles. After that, I wanted to take a few shots from the top down but that angle didn’t allow the IR trigger to function. To work around this, I used the third option in the Foldio app that allows you to rotate the turntable manually with a set amount of degrees. So I set it to 60 and took 6 photos manually with a timer to prevent any camera movement.
I loaded all unedited JPGs into PhotoScan and as you can see below it actually worked pretty well — and in a fraction of the shooting time compared to shooting the same bust by moving around it.
Capturing a “360×360”
If you want to capture small objects, the big advantage of the combination of the Foldio360 and the light tent is the infinite white background effect I mentioned earlier. If you setup the camera correctly this allows you to keep that in the same position and shoot multiple cycles with the object in different orientations. This can be very useful if you also want to capture the bottom of an object.
For efficiency and speed (because that’s what this post is actually about) I wanted to do everything “in camera” to prevent having to edit the photos. This approach only works with dark objects, because over-exposing light objects will result in lost details in the JPGs. For those objects, post-processing the RAW files is the only option.
Keep in mind though that with a single camera position, you can also create a single mask for all photos directly in Agisoft Photoscan.
I chose the vintage Agfa Clack camera below because it has an interesting bottom (erhm… yeah whatever). And because it has a combination of light and dark parts, and also glossy areas. I shot 4 cycles of 36 photos (48 seemed a bit overkill) positioning the camera on its bottom, top, back and front respectively:
I processed the dense cloud with the High Quality setting and didn’t do any mesh editing. The only edit I did was adjust the levels of the texture to compensate for the over-exposure of the original photos. Here’s the result:
I’m very pleased with the result — surprised even! The fact that the small handles on the lens have been rendered correctly is simply awesome! Sure, the flat parts like the viewfinder and the area around the lens are a bit noisy but that’s a general problem with photogrammetry and structure-less surfaces. But the details are all there — both geometry and texture!
I’m very excited about using the Foldio360 for photogrammetry, especially considering how affordable it is. The app has a few small bugs, but otherwise works great. The big downside is the fact that the Smartphone Mode doesn’t store the full resolution photos. So no matter how good your smartphone’s camera is, you won’t be able to create a full-mobile workflow.
For anything serious, you will probably use a more professional camera anyway and the DSLR mode is this device’s killer feature. The infrared transmitter has its limits in terms of range (especially at top-down angles) but it works reliably otherwise. 48 shots per cycle is nice to have but even 36 will do for most objects, saving processing time.
The Halo Edge back light effect is great in combination with a small light tent. If you know your way around setting up a DSLR manually (which is an absolute necessity for photogrammetry, by the way) you can create an infinite white background effects in-camera and use just the JPG output to efficiently capture objects in full 360 x 360 degrees.
The light tent isn’t nearly as sophisticated as the turntable, so it’s a bit of a weird match in terms of product design. That said, it does come with a complete set of colored background and is very portable. But for this purpose, it will only work for objects up to around 10 x 10 x 10 cm.
For bigger objects, the Foldio360 will still work in front of an even photographic background. The only limit is the width of the object, because overhanging elements can interfere with the IR transmitter. But even without automatic triggering, being able to rotate the turntable by a number of degrees and manually triggering the shutter can be a time-saver.
My personal feature request would be to also support WiFi-controllable cameras like my Sony RX100M2. That would make the whole set more compact and camera placement even more flexible.
Bottom line, for €165 / $139 there are very few reasons why you shouldn’t buy the Foldio360 to automate photogrammetry of small-to-medium sized objects. It’s a fun and easy-to-use product that can be used in many ways.
Up next is my full, in-depth review of the Agisoft PhotoScan software I used for most of my tests here. Follow me on your favorite social network if you want to be the first to know when that post is live!