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What is the difference between LiDAR and photogrammetry?

What is the difference between LiDAR and photogrammetry?
Article Summary

Introduction to 3D Mapping Technologies

In the world of 3D mapping and remote sensing, two technologies stand out: LiDAR and photogrammetry. Both methods allow us to create detailed, accurate representations of the world around us, but they achieve this goal in different ways. Understanding the key differences between LiDAR and photogrammetry is essential for choosing the right technology for your project.

LiDAR: Laser-Based 3D Mapping

LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is an active remote sensing technology that uses laser pulses to measure distances. A LiDAR system emits laser beams and measures the time it takes for the light to bounce back from objects in its path. By combining these measurements with the known position and orientation of the sensor, a 3D point cloud of the environment can be generated. One of the main advantages of LiDAR is its ability to penetrate through vegetation and capture the ground surface beneath. This makes it particularly useful for applications such as forestry, where understanding the terrain below the canopy is crucial. LiDAR systems can also operate day or night, as they do not rely on ambient light.

Photogrammetry: Image-Based 3D Mapping

Photogrammetry, on the other hand, is a passive remote sensing technique that relies on high-resolution photographs to create 3D models. By capturing overlapping images from different angles and positions, photogrammetry software can identify common points in the images and use them to triangulate the 3D coordinates of objects in the scene. One of the key benefits of photogrammetry is its cost-effectiveness compared to LiDAR. High-quality cameras are readily available and more affordable than LiDAR systems. Additionally, photogrammetry captures not only the geometry of objects but also their texture and color, resulting in more visually appealing and realistic 3D models.

Comparing LiDAR and Photogrammetry

When deciding between LiDAR and photogrammetry, it is important to consider the specific requirements of your project. LiDAR excels in capturing the raw geometry of an environment, even in challenging conditions such as dense vegetation or low-light situations. It provides highly accurate measurements and can penetrate through obstacles to map the ground surface. Photogrammetry, on the other hand, is ideal for projects that require visually detailed 3D models with realistic textures and colors. It is well-suited for applications such as architectural modeling, cultural heritage preservation, and virtual reality experiences. However, photogrammetry relies on good lighting conditions and may struggle in areas with heavy vegetation or homogeneous surfaces.

Combining LiDAR and Photogrammetry

In some cases, the best approach is to combine LiDAR and photogrammetry to leverage the strengths of both technologies. By integrating LiDAR data with high-resolution photographs, it is possible to create highly accurate and visually compelling 3D models that capture both the geometry and appearance of the environment. This fusion of technologies is particularly useful in applications such as urban planning, where understanding the physical structure of a city and its visual appearance is equally important. By combining LiDAR and photogrammetry, urban planners can create detailed 3D city models that support decision-making, public engagement, and visualization of proposed developments.


LiDAR and photogrammetry are two powerful technologies for 3D mapping and remote sensing, each with its own unique strengths and applications. LiDAR excels in capturing the raw geometry of an environment, while photogrammetry provides visually detailed and realistic 3D models. By understanding the differences between these technologies and their potential for integration, professionals can choose the best approach for their specific project needs and create accurate, informative, and engaging 3D representations of the world around us.