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  • Writer's pictureJohn Russo

The Different Options with 360-Degree Imagery

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

From 360-degree imagery to the difference between 3D scanners and cameras.

What are 360 images?

I have noticed there sometimes is a fair amount of confusion when I speak with Owners, Designers and Real Estate Professionals as to the various terminology surrounding what I refer to as 360-degree imagery. Unlike still photography, the type often associated with smart phones, 360-degree imagery provides a full spherical field of view.

Not all 360s are the same

There are various ways to capture and present 360-imagery. In fact, there are so many options I cannot possibly cover them all in this short blog. You may want to check out an ol’ standby PC Magazine best 360 cameras for 2022. At a high level there are 360 digital cameras, structured light sensor instruments such as a Matterport, and 360-imagery from 3D Laser Scanners.

360 Cameras

These instruments are often considered the most economical and easy to use solution. They are basically point and shoot. Keeping out of the picture can be tricky though, ha! Examples might include an Insta360, Ricoh Theta, GoPro, etc. You may be familiar with this type of digital imagery if you have visited a hotel’s website and clicked on a virtual tour link. Another benefit of this type of camera is many now have the ability to capture 360-degree video.

Structured Light

Matterport is a great example of a structured light solution. Folks often get confused with Matterport being a 3D laser scanner. It does not use a laser to capture its imagery, rather it relies on light sensors. Structured light technology uses a single light source that projects multiple lines on an object which are tracked by one or more cameras simultaneously. This is in contrast to a 3D Laser Scanner which emits a single beam of light repeatedly in rapid succession. While this solution can generate a point cloud which is often associated with a 3D laser scanner, measurements are generally known to be less accurate than those obtained with a 3D laser scanner. They are also subject to limitations based on the lighting conditions at the time of capture. Structured light technologies are known for the exceptionally high-quality visualization.

3D Laser Scanners

3D laser scanners have become commonplace for performing measured as-built surveys. The data they capture results in what is known as a point cloud. Most scanners also have on-board cameras that capture photo imagery that is turned into 360 virtual tours. There are a variety of types of scanners which I’ll cover in a future post. A 3D laser scanner that might be used on a building documentation project might typically be capable of two millimeters at ten-meter accuracies. 3D laser scanners range dramatically in cost depending on their capabilities and accuracies.

We just touched on just a few of the basic 360 imagery options currently available. No single solution will achieve everything. There are pros and cons to each. Deciding which one is the best solution for your needs comes down to a simple phrase I often refer to, “Intent Defines Process.” Once you define what you need, you can then determine the best solution. If you are in need of further information about any of these technologies, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly.


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