Since I first started getting into Photogrammetry in a serious way, with my 2012 paper on using Bundler and PMVS, and throughout much of this blog’s life, I’ve been a massive proponent of free and open-source photogrammetry software. For years I used COLMAP, and then Meshroom. The latter was particularly good, offering a full pipeline from images to textured mesh.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, the commercial options have now pulled so far ahead of the open-source scene in terms of ease of use, as well as quality and speed of reconstruction. In fact, none of the open-source packages have seen any real major development or improvement in years.
I started moving over to Agisoft Metashape some time ago. I already had an academic license (which costs just $59), and not taking advantage of it’s speed so I could use Meshroom was just shooting myself in the foot. On top of that, it’s a far less intimidating interface with which to teach students photogrammetry. Admittedly, Meshroom does allow drag and drop of photos, then clicking ‘start’ and letting it go, but then to get the mesh out you need to know to double click the meshing node, or set up a complex output node, and if anything stops or crashes, it’s not clear why. It also lacks the mesh cleaning tools that Metashape has.
I’d played with Reality Capture soon after it arrived on the scene back in 2017, but I kind of wrote it off for it’s finicky interface, and it’s very high cost, despite noting it was insanely fast. But in the last year or so, Reality Capture has moved to an affordable pay-per-input pricing scheme (which I’m still not a fan of, but I seem to have accured enough credits free from various offers that that hasn’t been a problem), and more importantly, has free licensing for academic use. Both of these resulting from the buyout by Epic Games. That licensing is mildly awkward when you have a personal Epic Games account, as I do, because when I try to sign into reality capture, it opens a browser where I get auto signed into my personal account, not my academic account. A minor inconvenience.
However, that inconvenience aside, you get that same insanely fast reconstruction (though Metashape did catch up significantly), you get great mesh cleaning tools, cropping tools, the ability to reconstruct and visualize massive meshes without running out of memory, and the ability to drag and drop video files and have reality capture automatically extract individual frames.
…Just dragged and dropped them both onto reality capture, which automatically extracted frames, and I hit start:
…Then a few minutes later a pretty nice mesh considering the slap-dash input. Rendered here in blender.
Key among Reality Capture’s features is the ability to scale models by setting control points, something only possible in Metashape if you purchase the pro version for significantly more than the $59 standard academic license. This is a really useful feature for making models for science.
The big downsides are that the interface is quite advanced for teaching undergrads, and that Reality Capture requires an Nvidia GPU still, while Metashape can run on any GPU (and can run on Macs, including very well on M1 Macs). So for the time being, I start undergrads off with Metashape, then ‘upgrade’ students to Reality Capture if they really get the hang of it.
So yeah, I’m a big fan of open source and free-to-use software, but Reality Capture is just so far ahead of the competition for the moment that it’s become my go-to for non-commercial photogrammetry.