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Photogrammetry vs LiDAR: A Detailed Comparison Guide (2024)

By: Richard J. Gross
Updated On: September 8, 2023

Our technologically driven world continues to amaze me! One area that never fails to pique my interest is developing and using advanced surveying and mapping tools. Specifically, I find photogrammetry and LiDAR fascinating – each with its own strengths, weaknesses, and applications. But when it comes down to Photogrammetry vs. LiDAR, which technology ultimately reigns superior? Let’s embark on this exciting comparison journey together!

To set the stage right, imagine having a bird’s-eye view of the world beneath you. Not from an airplane or drone footage but through highly detailed maps that offer a unique perspective into our surroundings’ concealed structural intricacies in astounding detail. Both photogrammetry and LiDAR make this possible; however, they go about it in notably different ways.

Intrigued yet? Picture this as a heavyweight title match – ‘Photogrammetry vs. LiDAR,’ with each contender waiting for its chance to prove why it deserves that prized belt! Through our knowledge-brimming exploration into their definitions, working mechanisms, real-world applications, and effects on accuracy levels—among other critical aspects—you’ll be fully equipped to judge who should take the trophy home! Stay tuned for some tangible case studies that might tip the scales one way or another.

Photogrammetry vs LiDAR

Comparing Photogrammetry with Lidar

When it comes to terrain and surface mapping, two technologies stand tall – Photogrammetry and Lidar. Both have their strengths but differ substantially in terms of accuracy, cost, and usability, which significantly impacts their application in various domains.

Accuracy Comparison

Accuracy is the cornerstone of any mapping system. Let’s dig deeper into how Photogrammetry and Lidar fare on this aspect.

  • Photogrammetry uses high-resolution imagery to produce digital models. This method ensures remarkable accuracy for visible objects or features that are directly in line of sight. However, it may struggle when dealing with obscured points such as those under dense foliage or behind structures.
  • On the other hand, Lidar shines right through these limitations due to its use of ‘light’ pulses. It can capture data even from areas that are hard to reach or obstructed. This results in a comprehensive 3D point cloud dataset offering absolute precision.

But remember – though Lidar wins overall on accuracy – real-life scenarios often involve trade-offs based on project needs and constraints.

Cost Comparison

Mapping isn’t always about choosing the most accurate option; economics play a large part, too!

  • With Photogrammetry, upfront costs are relatively low as you essentially need only a high-quality camera (often drone-based). The operational costs can be higher due to significant post-processing tasks associated with image alignment and merging.
  • Lidar equipment causes some sticker shock initially but proves more cost-effective operationally since collected data requires little or no post-processing, thus saving valuable time (and money!).

Balancing short-term vs. long-term costs is essential when deciding between these technologies depending on your specific project requirements.

Usability Comparison

Every project has unique demands – we need to factor those into our technology choice.

  • When visual detail is paramount – e.g., in architectural studies or cultural heritage preservation – I’d lean towards Photogrammetry for its detailed 3D visualization capabilities, generating color-rich models from images that add context to your study.
  • In contrast, if you prioritize penetrating power over rich visual detail, like in forestry applications or infrastructure projects involving bridges/tunnels – bring out the big guns.. lasers! That’s where Lidar technology shines by providing highly precise measurements irrespective of physical obstructions on the ground level.

Remember my friends! There isn’t a universal winner here – we must pick our tool based on our immediate problem at hand.

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Pros and Cons: Photogrammetry vs LiDAR

Before choosing between photogrammetry and LiDAR, understanding their strengths and weaknesses is crucial. Each has distinct pros and cons based on its operating principles, practical applications, data accuracy, technology maturity, and cost structures.

Pros and Cons: Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry revolves around the science of making measurements from photographs. It’s particularly useful in the fields of topography, architecture, engineering, even gaming! Let’s take an in-depth look into what makes photogrammetry shine, as well as some limitations it possesses.


  • Cost Effective: Photogrammetry tools are reasonably priced, making them ideal for projects with tight budgets.
  • Ease of Use: Tools used in photogrammetry are straightforward to operate.
  • High Image Resolution: When well applied, photograms can yield high-resolution imagery, which is perfect when fine detail work is needed.


  • Dependence on Weather Conditions: Poor weather affects image quality detrimentally for outdoor uses like aerial surveying.
  • Image Distortion: Images can be affected by perspective distortions that need processing to correct.
  • Requires Post-Processing: Images obtained often require post-processing to be usable data.

Pros and Cons: Lidar

It is commonly used in geospace surveying or meteorological applications, among others due to its superior ability to range distances accurately. Let’s break down how exactly LiDAR excels in this area while also considering potential drawbacks.


  • Exceptional Accuracy: Lidar systems offer supreme precision when it comes to distance measurements.
  • Unaffected by Lighting Conditions: Works excellently even under poor lighting conditions since it relies on pulsed laser lights.
  • Ability To Penetrate Certain Materials: Lidar enables the assessment of features beneath vegetation canopy or water bodies up to a certain depth.


  • Expensive Equipment And Processing Software: The technology itself, plus the required software for analysis, comes with a heftier price tag than traditional methods.
  • Requires Trained Personnel: Operation requires skilled workers due to its complexity
  • Less effective at Recognizing Colors or Shapes: Since LiDAR primarily measures the distance between objects by laser pulses rather than using visual spectrum wavelengths

Brief Introduction About Photogrammetry

Introduction About Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is an intriguing field that melds photography and measurement, offering a treasure trove of information about the physical world around us. It’s been steadily advancing over the years, leading to different techniques that have numerous applications.

Definition of Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is a practice where measurements between objects are determined through the use of photographs. In literal terms:

  • “Photo” means light.
  • “Gram” means drawing.
  • “meter” refers to measurement.

Simply put, it’s using light (in the form of photographs) to measure and draw.

Details about the Working Process of Photogrammetry

The process works by capturing two-dimensional images from varying angles showing the same object. Then, these photographs are reconstructed into a three-dimensional model via specialized software algorithms.

Key steps include:

  • Image Acquisition: Requires an overlapping series of high-resolution images from different perspectives
  • Orientation & Calibration: Ensuring photos align correctly with each other
  • Point Matching (Image Correlation): Identifies corresponding points within overlapping images
  • Bundle Adjustment: Optimizes camera position/orientation and 3D point-cloud coordinates for the best possible alignment
  • Dense Image Matching (DIM): Estimates additional image surface points creating densely populated point clouds
  • Orthomosaicking & DEM Generation: Allows the creating geocoded 2D photo maps and elevation models using DIM-derived point-cloud data.

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Practical Use Cases for Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry has found applications in various sectors, including:

  • Archeology: For mapping excavation sites without disturbing ancient artifacts.
  • Architecture: Facilitates complex preservation projects by providing precise measurements.
  • Forensics: Helps crime scene investigators in reenacting criminal events.
  • Film making: Offers visual effects teams real-world contexts for creating convincing CGI backgrounds.

The Evolution Of Photogrammetry

The journey traces its origin back to Leonardo da Vinci; nevertheless, human flight revolutionized photogrammetric mapping—both manned aircraft and drones have modified its landscape dramatically, increasing accessibility to intricate topographical details previously unattainable.

To sum up, photogrammetry continues evolving with every technological breakthrough, maximizing output quality while minimizing time/resource consumption, which essentially proves this technique will always remain relevant amidst swiftly progressing scientific horizons!

Also Read: Guide to Start Your Own Drone Mapping Business

Brief Introduction About LiDAR

LiDAR, an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that plays a vital role in many aspects of our everyday life.

Brief Introduction About LiDAR

This thrilling technology has experienced rapid advancement over the years and has been employed in many exciting ways.

Defining LiDAR

Standing for Light Detection And Ranging, LiDAR is essentially a remote sensing technology. What it does is quite remarkable: it measures distances by illuminating targets with laser light and then accurately calculating the reflected light’s return time. It’s like ‘echo-location,’ except it uses light!

  • With this data at hand, we can create three-dimensional representations of the Earth’s surface or other targeted objects.
  • Unique characteristics of the Laser beam can also provide additional useful information.

Discussion on How LiDAR Technology Works

It pays to understand that LiDAR systems function based on three primary components: lasers, scanners-with-optics setup, and a GPS receiver.

  • The laser emits light pulses toward targeted surfaces,
  • The scanner-and-optics setup captures this reflected light,
  • Return time measurements are recorded;
  • This data is synced with GPS coordinates to determine the precise location linked with each distance measurement.

This entire operation might sound complex, but trust me, these steps occur thousands of times per second!

Real-World Applications Where LiDAR Shines

Now, you might wonder where exactly we put LiDAR into use. Here are just a few examples:

  • Topographic surveys: A most popular application of LiDAR but not limited to earthquakes or landslides mapping!
  • Autonomous vehicles: Driverless cars wouldn’t be getting far without onboard LiDAR systems helping them see their surroundings.
  • Wind Energy Industry: Wind farms employ Lidar tech extensively because anything improving wind understanding directly translates into higher yields!

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Journey Through The Development of LIDAR

To truly understand the development journey of LIDAr, let’s travel back in time:

  • Emerged in the early 1960s— Shortly after the invention of lasers,
  • The 1980s saw a development surge thanks to computer progress,
  • In the last two decades, Applications exploded from archaeology to autonomous vehicles, given the shrinking size yet amplified power,
  • In the future – advanced applications such as solid-state Lidar anticipate continued evolution.

So there you have it—an overview tracing back history and breakthroughs that shaped current LiDAR Technology.


Deciding between Photogrammetry vs LiDAR technology isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” answer. Instead, the selection hinges heavily on the specific requirements of your project and what you need to achieve. Both technologies have merits and drawbacks, from accuracy to cost-effectiveness and usability.

As aerial data collection continues to evolve, we’re likely to see the blending of photogrammetry and LiDAR techniques that capitalize on the strengths of each method. By understanding how each system works as well as their respective capacities in real-world applications, you can make an informed decision that ultimately boosts productivity in whatever project at hand.

Remember – technology is an enabler, but choosing the right one requires careful consideration of project objectives, cost constraints, and desired accuracy levels. The key here? Stay open-minded and select the technology that best fits your unique situation! After all, success lies within choosing wisely – not necessarily choosing like everyone else.

Richard J. Gross

Hi, my name is Richard J. Gross and I’m a full-time Airbus pilot and commercial drone business owner. I got into drones in 2015 when I started doing aerial photography for real estate companies. I had no idea what I was getting into at the time, but it turns out that police were called on me shortly after I started flying. They didn’t like me flying my drone near people, so they asked me to come train their officers on the rules and regulations for drones. After that, I decided to start my own drone business and teach others about the safe and responsible use of drones.

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