[Academic Tech] Agisoft Metashape on the M1 Macbook Pro – impressive.

My wife recently upgraded her aging 2014 Macbook to a new 14″ M1 Macbook Pro. Let me preface what I’m about to say with “I very much dislike MacOS and don’t like using macs.” Bear that in mind when I say I’ve never been more jealous of hardware. The MacBook Pro is beautiful, the screen something else (retina resolution, 120hz, anti-reflective glare), the touchpad responsive, the keyboard a joy to type on, and the speakers absolutely superb. But above all else, it is fast, quiet, and the battery lasts.

I do lots of high-performance stuff, but most pertinent to this website and most of my readers is photogrammetry. As I highlighted in my most recent software comparison, most software requires an Nvidia GPU, which immediately rules out any Mac. There’s a few pieces of non-gpu accelerated software (and a few new ones based on Apples 3D API), but Agisoft Metashape has always worked well on Macs, and they’ve even optimized to the M1 chip, so I took the opportunity to give it a go on Ariel’s MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro Specs: This is the low end 14″ machine – 8 core CPU, 14 Core GPU, 16 core Neural Engine, and 16Gb unified RAM. And a notch.

I downloaded and installed Metashape, in the usual way macs install things. I then got my 53 image standard dataset. I then made sure I enabled the M1 GPU:

Making sure the M1 is enabled for GPU processing. Note it has access to the majority of that unified ram, giving it 11GB of memory.

I set up a batch process to Align photos, build a mesh from depth maps, and then texture. In short, alignment was done at high settings, Mesh was medium depth-map quality and high face count, and texturing was at 8192. Full settings in the images below:

Settings for each of the three processing stages in the batch process.

Here’s the processing times for each step:

Allow me to do some quick maths for you: a total time of 4 minutes 7 seconds start to finish.

Now, before we look at the mesh (which was fine), let’s look at the timings on my PC desktop for comparison. This is a machine with 16gb of RAM, an intel core i7 4790k, and an Nvidia 2060 super. The CPU is getting on a bit (ok, a lot, but it is 3Ghz, 8 thread), but that’s a full Desktop GPU that’s only a generation old. Here’s how it did:

And that one is a total of 3 minutes 42 seconds.

Alignment was quicker on the M1 MacBook Pro, but meshing and texturing took a bit longer.

A 14″ laptop was able to process photogrammetric data nearly as quickly as a desktop with a big GPU. I ran this several times, and gave the Mac a good 20 minutes of processing this dataset, and the battery only went down by about 6%, and the body didn’t get particularly hot (a little warm on the bottom).

Ok, so a desktop machine is faster, and if I had a truly modern desktop with a modern CPU, it would undoubtedly be miles faster still (still waiting on that next Surface Studio). But a Desktop draws a lot more power. This tiny little machine flies.

So how’d the mesh look? Fantastic, but that’s more about Metashape’s constant improvements than the Mac specifically.

Remember when I was first testing photogrammetry software (so many years ago now) – all the software struggled with this dataset around the horn and especially around the brass name plate. Metashape has continued to improve their algorithms, and both the MacBook Pro and the PC reconstructed it almost perfectly:

So yeah, I’m really enamoured with the M1 14″ MacBook Pro. Even the notch doesn’t really bother me, I think it’s integrated into the OS pretty cleverly. And after seeing the performance, I’m almost embarrassed to use my Pro X:

If I got on with MacOS more (and I don’t, and I use it every day at work), and I didn’t enjoy PC gaming, I’d jump on a new MacBook.

More than anything though, my take away from this post is how much photogrammetry, and computing, have kept advancing.

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